A childhood friend of mine once visited me while I was a seminarian in Boston. Sadly, he had lost the faith that we so joyfully shared and practiced as teenagers growing up in Nigeria. During his brief visit, he blasphemed our Lord Jesus Christ, insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary, and mocked Catholic faith and morals right in my face. I was both angry and disappointed with him and did not get in touch with him for several weeks after that visit. I thought to myself, “He is not a friend of Jesus. He hates Jesus’ beloved mother and all that the Body of Christ believes and stands for. How can he still be my friend?”
By the grace of God, I was moved to examine my relationship with this my friend in prayer and it dawned on me that my attitude was less than that of a true friend of Jesus Christ. Being a friend of Christ is more than loving those who love Christ; but being a friend of Christ means that I must be concerned about all that Christ is concerned about and there is nothing that Jesus Christ is more concerned about than the salvation of every single soul in this world. This graced insight moved me to re-establish my relationship with my friend and to stay connected with him, always hoping that he will regain his lost faith.
The Gospel passage comes immediately after Jesus told the parable of the Lost Sheep (Mt 18:10-14) to emphasize the fact that we are not to “despise one of these little ones.” Jesus is the man who “leaves the ninety-nine on the hills to go in search of the one that went astray.” He takes every possible risk to save even one sheep and He is filled with joy only when He finds the lost sheep. This is what Christ Jesus is concerned about, what He is ready to risk all for, what gives Him joy – the salvation of each single one of us. Likewise, if we are His true friends, we too must be willing to take the risks, search patiently for, and rejoice when our brethren in sin and error are restored to true friendship with God in Christ Jesus.
Without being these authentic friends of Jesus Christ, we cannot fulfill what Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel. Only authentic friends of Jesus, those who are concerned for the salvation of souls like Jesus is, will not gossip about another’s failures when they are sinned against but will take the risk of being rejected and “go and tell him his fault in private.” Only those who really care for souls like Jesus did will search for witnesses to help bring the erring one back to the fold. They are even ready to involve the church in this endeavor to save even one soul. They do all these not to soothe their ego or to appear in the right, but to “win over the brother” simply because they are concerned about what Christ Jesus their friend is concerned about – the salvation of every soul, ours included. Only such a true friendship will sustain us in this our vocation of bringing every single soul to Christ, beginning with our own soul.
The First Reading shows the Prophet Ezekiel, a friend of God, who is also called to be concerned about what God is concerned about – dissuading the Israelites from their wicked ways and leading them to conversion. God’s love for His people is expressed in a passionate warning offered through the voice of the prophet: “When you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.” The prophet will save himself only by “warning the wicked and trying to turn him from his wicked ways.”
Like the prophet, a mark of our holiness and genuine friendship with Christ Jesus is our willingness to identify with our fallen brethren and to seek to restore them to that true friendship with God that we enjoy. In the words of Blessed Fulton Sheen, “The greater the sinlessness, the greater the sense of the responsibility and awareness of corporate guilt.” Jesus, the sinless one, united Himself with us sinners to bring us to share in His own divine life and holiness. How then can we pretend to embark on this journey to holiness and sanctity while we remain unconcerned about the salvation of others?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, by His grace we are now Jesus’ friends. (Cf Jn15:14) But are we concerned about what Jesus Christ is concerned about? What sacrifices are we willing to make and what are we willing to risk so as to bring back the erring to the path of salvation by our hopeful words, good examples and our constant and patient prayers for them? Do we find our joy in the return of the lost to the Lord or in our being in the right? Or are we so scared of offending others and losing our acceptability before them that we choose to live in our own self-righteous bubbles? Have we condemned the strayed ones as being dead to us because of the pains that they have caused us? How can we turn a blind eye to the erring and strayed and still claim to be friends of Jesus Christ whom we know as “the good shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep?” (Jn 10:11) The lost and erroneous live and work with us daily. Our salvation depends on how patiently and lovingly we invite them to journey with us to holiness.
I love to pray the prayer that the Angel of Peace taught the three visionaries in Portugal in 1917: “My God, I believe, I love, I hope and I adore you and I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not love, do not hope and do not adore you.” I still remember the exhortation of Our Lady of Fatima to the same visionaries, “Pray and make sacrifices for sinners.” This prayer and exhortation always renew in me the sense that I cannot be a true friend of Christ if I am unconcerned about what Christ is concerned about. As I make Acts faith, hope, love and adoration, I also have the duty as a friend of Christ to intercede for and make sacrifices for those who do not believe, hope, love or adore the Triune God as they ought to. I am so grateful to Our Mother Mary for being such a patient guide for us along this way of true of true friendship with Christ Jesus. May we learn from her example and maternal heart to truly care about what Christ cares about.
“Where two are three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.” Our Lord is indeed in our midst in this Eucharist to strengthen our bond of friendship with Him by the gift of His Spirit. He wishes to set this world on fire with divine love through our hearts. We have heard His words to us today. We shall receive the imprint of His grace in this Eucharist. As we become one with Him and enter into His sacrifice in this Mass, we can powerfully bring about the conversion of many sinners and win the grace of perseverance for the just. But our concern for the strayed cannot end with this Mass but must be complemented by our patient words to them and joyful fidelity to Jesus Christ.
If after this Eucharist, we still remain uncaring and unconcerned about the salvation of one single soul for whatever reason, if we remain unwilling to risk anything to bring every soul to Christ, if we do not find our joy in their restored relationship with Jesus, then we must question if we are indeed true friends of Jesus or not.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!