SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  PHILIPPIANS 3:3-8; PS 104:2-7; LUKE 15:1-10 ]

The Catholic Church as a single Christian Church is the biggest in the world with more than one billion members.   In Singapore too, we have about three hundred and eighty-eight thousand people who claim to be Catholic.  While it is great to know that we have so many adherents to the Catholic Faith yet not many are practising their faith or even attending church services.

The irony of the Catholic Church is that we have quantity but we lack quality.  Many are not well formed in the faith.  Most do not have a sense of community or belong to any Catholic group, formal or informal.  Some do not even have Catholic friends to share their faith with, or have someone to journey with them in their faith.

Without encouragement and support, they either drop out of the faith or become nominal Catholics, coming for services only on special occasions.  They do not have any real relationship with the Lord other than uttering some formula prayers that they had learned.  Of course, when it comes to praying the scriptures, it is totally alien to them.  They are easily swayed by the arguments of other faith denominations when challenged on the Church’s doctrines, as they are not able to explain what they believe.  Unable to deal with the secularistic and relativistic views of the world, they fall easily into the snares that the world presents to them as sources of happiness in life, pleasure, money, power and status.

Indeed, negligence will lead to indifference and then hostility.  We find this situation happening before our very eyes but many of us chose to turn a blind eye to this reality.  We know that many young people leave the Church after the sacrament of confirmation.  Without ongoing formation in their faith, how can they ever grow in maturity in faith?  Without being involved in the Catholic community, who can give them support, especially for those who come from non-Catholic families?

Why are we indifferent to the stark reality in the Catholic Church?  Why is it that we cannot feel with the sadness of God and with Christ for those who are lost?   

Firstly, it is because we cannot identify with the pain, the suffering and the loneliness of our fellow Catholics.  We cannot feel with them in their struggles.  Some feel marginalized and rejected, especially those with same sex orientation, those who are divorced and those who are struggling with sins.  They feel judged, condemned and ostracized. We do not empathize with them when they feel the absence of God or when they feel the community had abandoned them.  Indeed, do we understand what it means to be lost and confused and rejected?  We only need to put ourselves in the position of the lost sheep.  How would the sheep be feeling, all alone, wandering, looking for direction home, and anxious over the wild animals hunting them for food?  How would a young boy who lost his mother feel?  Surely, we all have the experience of being lost and confused!  And worst of all, there is no one who is willing to give us direction, to help us or to show us that they care.

Secondly, we do not feel with the shepherd who lost one of his sheep or the woman in today’s parable who lost one of her drachmas.  When we lose something or someone whom we love dearly, it always brings us much pain and anxiety.  So we can imagine how worried the shepherd must have been, and the woman as well.  Those of us who have lost things know how frustrating it is when we cannot find them, especially when something is of great sentimental value.  The drachma might not have been worth much in monetary value but in terms of beauty and joy, it is worth everything.

So if we have not done anything to bring back the lost sheep, it clearly shows that we do not know the heart of the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  If we do, then we would quickly help to find the lost sheep as well.  It is natural for us to love those whom our loved ones love.  This is because we seek to do anything that can make our loved ones happy.  If we love Jesus as we claim, then we should also be loving all our brothers and sisters; especially those who have left us and are lost in their faith and direction in life.   To do nothing to bring them back to Jesus means that our love for Jesus is not sincere.  We only love ourselves and what Jesus can do for us, not what we can do for Jesus.

Thirdly, we do not make our brothers and sisters our own.   Our mentality is that they are not ours.  They belong to Jesus and so it is not our responsibility.  What if the one who is lost is our own child, would we not search for that child?  Every parent loves his or her child.  Even if there are twelve children, and if one is missing, the parent would feel anxious and look for the child till he or she is found.   The truth is that we always give attention to the weakest.   If a parent has ten children and one is weak because of illness or physical mobility, it is natural that the parent would give that particular child more attention, not that the others are not important but that child needs more help.  So too, when there are wounded sheep, lost ones, confused and led astray, these are the ones we have more responsibility towards rather than just taking care of only the healthy and strong ones.  Sadly in our community, we tend to care only for those who are active and neglect those who do not contribute to the church or do not come because they do not add value to our lives.  We cut them off like dead branches instead of attempting to reach out to them and help to revitalize their faith.

Today, the gospel invites us to go out and actively search for the lost members of our family.  They could be your immediate loved ones, your friends, your colleagues or former members of your church ministry.  With tact and compassion, we need to reach out to them, not so much to convert them but to give them the love of Jesus, to offer them the fullness of life and love in Jesus.  They are seeking for true meaning in life.  We who have Jesus can offer them the greatest of all gifts, faith in Him who is our life.

How can we do this?  We begin by being friends with them.   We need to connect with them and hear them out, their pains, struggles and aspirations.  When possible, we can invite them to join our Catholic community for fellowship.  Like Jesus, we must welcome sinners and tax collectors.   Like Jesus, we do not judge, condemn or label them.   We can encourage them as we get to know them better by sharing our personal faith with them, what Jesus means to us and how He has been a source of inspiration and strength in our lives.  When the occasion permits, gently invite them to join our renewal and conversion or healing retreats.  The last thing we should ever do is to approach them with doctrines and the laws or use threats.  St Paul tells us in the first reading that the laws could not save him.  It was the love of Jesus, His mercy and forgiveness.

Indeed, the joy of bringing someone back to the Lord and to the right path is worth the sacrifices.  That was how St Paul felt when he said, “But because of Christ, I have come to consider all the advantages that I had as disadvantages.  Not only that, but I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”   To give life and hope to someone is what is desperately needed in our times.  St James tells us, “if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”  (Jms 5:19f)  The truth of course is found in Jesus.  Conversion is not just a change of opinions but to come to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved