by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
One of the kindest priests I ever had the good fortune to work with was Msgr. Jim Cooney. He was a humble man who was well-known for his unique sense of humor.
I first met him while I was making Christian Awakening #92 (a high school version of the Cursillo) as a junior at Cathedral Prep.
There were about eight of us sharing a room, and Father Jim walked in to warn us not to get too close to the heaters. He cautioned us that on a girls’ retreat the week before, one of the attendees got too close and the “radi ate her.” The collective groan we emitted was a sound he was used to.
I wasn’t quite sure one afternoon if he was joking or serious. We were in my car, and I had turned on the GPS. He kept asking me where “she” was. He realized I was puzzled and finally explained he wanted to know where the woman who was sending the directions was. He was serious.
The GPS is a wonderful invention. I admit that although I know there is not a woman watching from a tower and sending me directions, I don’t understand all the technology involved. But I have relied on it many times to either escape unyielding traffic or to maneuver unfamiliar neighborhoods. No one likes feeling lost.
There are three parables in the long form of today’s Gospel — the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. The common denominator is the searching. The shepherd searches for his lost sheep, the woman scours the house looking for the lost coin, and the father waits attentively for his squandering son.
The shepherd had other sheep, the woman had another nine coins, and the father had another son; but their hearts were intent on the missing. The sheep wasn’t evil, the coin wasn’t valueless, and the son was no less an heir. They were all lost.
In today’s second reading, taken from St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, St. Paul describes his own experience of being lost. However, he also notes that it was precisely in that emptiness that Christ called him and treated him mercifully.
There have been times in my life when I felt lost, when I was unsure what the future would hold and if I would be able to meet its demands. There were days I wasn’t sure I would be able to overcome some of the perceived obstacles in my path.
I can imagine how that sheep felt wondering if it would be found. I can imagine how that coin would have felt (if coins could feel) wondering if its value would ever be realized. I can imagine how that young man felt — seeing the pigs, which Kosher dietary laws restrict, and being so hungry as to wish to be able to eat its food, the unclean food of the unclean animal. And he knew there was a better way.
So, the sheep bleated, the coin shone, and the young man turned back to his father for forgiveness. All were met with rejoicing.
No one among us is perfect. It is neither unusual nor wrong to feel that something is missing, that we are somehow lost. Yet, that sense of inadequacy is actually God’s invitation to trust in His love. It is his call for us to bleat, shine or turn back knowing that, even when we cannot see it happening, a loving God is waiting and searching.
Readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
First Timothy 1:12-17
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.