by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
THE PHRASE, “I WAS just a bit of flotsam in the sea,” is recognizable to all “I Love Lucy” fans. It is from the episode titled, Lucy’s Last Birthday.
Thinking that everyone had forgotten her birthday, Lucy goes off to a park to have a good cry when she is suddenly surrounded by “The Friends of the Friendless,” a group dedicated to finding those who feel alienated from others and helping them feel less alone. After she tells them her story of being forgotten, she convinces them to join her at the Tropicana, the nightclub where her husband Ricky was working, to teach her husband a lesson. They enter the crowded club with Lucy on the drum and joined voices singing, “We are friends of the friendless, yes we are,” and Lucy begins her tale of woe, “I was just a bit of flotsam in the sea…”
As she continues unraveling her story, she notices a candle-covered cake and many of her friends. She brought her band into a surprise party organized in her honor. Although surrounded by love, she felt herself somehow neglected. Coming into the party, she realizes just how cared for she was.
‘Rejoice With Me’
The long form of today’s Gospel, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Scribes when they criticize His reaching out to tax collectors and sinners, contains three parables and one addendum. In each parable, the highlight is on the joy at retrieving something lost. The man who finds his lost sheep invites his friends, “rejoice with me.” The woman who finds her lost coin invites her friends, “rejoice with me.” The man whose prodigal son returns orders his servant to “bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast.” Yet, Jesus tells us that this joy pales in comparison to the joy in heaven at a sinner’s return.
Losing something can be a frustrating experience. Knowing that something is not where it should be (or was 10 minutes ago) and being unable to figure out where it may be now can cause genuine anxiety. I remember a priest rummaging through a sacristy one Sunday looking for a vestment that was not “where it should have been.” When he finally found it and questioned why things are always in the last place you look, his mood was hardly tempered by my response: “Things are always in the last place you look because once you find them, you stop looking.”
Finding and Being Found
Anyone of us who has ever lost a book, a key, a wallet, a passport – knows how frantic the search can be as well as how comforting it is when the sought-after object is found. Frightening, too, is the feeling of being lost ourselves. Before MapQuest and GPS, directions often relied upon word of mouth and trusting another’s experience. Many a novice driver feels a tremendous calm upon arriving home after a circuitous route. I know that I have often felt victimized by detours and wrong turns only to feel relief at the sight of a familiar landmark. Finding and being found are joyous moments.
In His ministry, Jesus was a “Friend of the Friendless.” He sought out those who were lost and alienated – the disabled, the lepers, the adulterers, the tax collectors, the known sinners – to let them know they have a place in the kingdom, that they are not alone. In the prayer composed by Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy, he prays that all those who approach priests seeking God’s mercy will feel ”sought after, loved and forgiven by God.”
The message that Christ sought out the lost – and that on both sides there was great joy upon the lost being found – is coupled with a call to action.
In our society today, there are many who still feel marginalized by the Church. Of course, in any community that bears Christ’s name, all are welcome. But there are many who still do not feel welcome.
Those Who Are Not There
I cannot imagine Christ telling the divorced and remarried, criminals, the homeless, addicts and alcoholics, homosexuals or transgendered, or any ethnic group that they are not welcome to a seat in His Temple or a place at His table. He cannot teach those who are not there. He cannot forgive those who are not there. He cannot invite those who are not there to come closer. He cannot tell those He loves that He loves them if they do not come close enough to hear.
The addendum to the parable of the prodigal son, which tells us of his elder brother’s disappointment at his father’s joy and generosity, is highlighted by the father’s invitation to come in and share the joy. The elder brother, like Lucy in the park, could not see the love that was his. Lucy brought her new friends to the Tropicana where they joined her birthday party, but we never know if the elder brother shared his father’s joy.
In this Year of Mercy, we have a twofold invitation. We are called to see the areas in our lives where we are lost and turn to God’s mercy for forgiveness. We are also called to invite others to that same mercy and offer them our hands in friendship. When we forgive those who trespass against us as we wish to be forgiven, when we love others as God has loved us – how great will be the joy in heaven!
Readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14
Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Luke 15: 1-32 or
Luke 15: 1-10
Msgr. Joseph P. Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.