‘there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.'”
Prayer for the Conversion of Sinners.
Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful Savior of the world, we humbly beseech You, by Your most Sacred Heart, that all the sheep who stray out of Your fold may in one days be converted to You, the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end.
Look upon us O God,
Creator and ruler of all things,
and, that we may feel the working of your mercy,
grant that we may serve you with all our heart,
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Ex 32:7-11, 13-14
The LORD said to Moses,
“Go down at once to your people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’
“I see how stiff-necked this people is, ” continued the LORD to Moses.
Let me alone, then,
that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.
Then I will make of you a great nation.”
But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,
“Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt
with such great power and with so strong a hand?
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,
‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;
and all this land that I promised,
I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’”
So the LORD relented in the punishment
he had threatened to inflict on his people.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 210 After Israel’s sin, when the people had turned away from God to worship the golden calf, God hears Moses’ prayer of intercession and agrees to walk in the midst of an unfaithful people, thus demonstrating his love.1 When Moses asks to see his glory, God responds “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘the LORD’ [YHWH].”2 Then the LORD passes before Moses and proclaims, “YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”; Moses then confesses that the LORD is a forgiving God.3
CCC 2577 From this intimacy with the faithful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,4 Moses drew strength and determination for his intercession. He does not pray for himself but for the people whom God made his own. Moses already intercedes for them during the battle with the Amalekites and prays to obtain healing for Miriam.5 But it is chiefly after their apostasy that Moses “stands in the breach” before God in order to save the people.6 The arguments of his prayer – for intercession is also a mysterious battle – will inspire the boldness of the great intercessors among the Jewish people and in the Church: God is love; he is therefore righteous and faithful; he cannot contradict himself; he must remember his marvelous deeds, since his glory is at stake, and he cannot forsake this people that bears his name.
1 Cf. Ex 32; 33: 12-17.
2 Ex 33:18-19.
3 Ex 34:5-6; cf. 34:9.
4 Cf. Ex 34:6.
5 Cf. Ex 17:8-12; Num 12:13-14.
6 Ps 106:23; cf. Ex 32:1-34:9.
No doubt most people who read or hear of this ingratitude which the Israelites showed toward God are shocked and disgusted. How could they forget the good God who set them free from the slavery of Egypt and worked so many extraordinary miracles to do so, and promised them a home-land, a country that would be their own, on the one condition that they would be loyal and obedient to him?
How could they turn away from their divine benefactor and accept the idol of their previous slave-Masters as their God? But we must remember that they had been brought up practically as pagans in Egypt. Any recollection that they may have had of the God of Abraham was very hazy, if many of them had even heard of him. Yet, it is true that what Yahweh, the God of Abraham, whom Moses had again brought to their notice, had done for them so recently should not have been forgotten so quickly. They were an ungrateful people, “Stiff-necked” God called them, and stiff-necked, ungrateful, and proud the vast majority of them remained, down through their history.
The intercession of Moses, however, saved them on this occasion. God was moved to mercy by the prayer of one faithful member of an ungrateful race. He would still fulfill the promise given to Abraham. He would still send “the blessing,” the One who would intercede not only for Abraham’s descendants but for the whole human race. The One who would reconcile mankind to God and make us all sharers in his divinity by sharing in our humanity, was Christ our Lord.
The Israelites indeed were ungrateful and disloyal to God who had done such great things for them. He has done greater things still for us Christians and yet we too are often ungrateful and disloyal. We may not set up graven images or golden calves to take God’s place but we turn our own vices into idols and serve them as our God. Our pride, our desire for worldly wealth, our ambitions for power, our sensual pleasures, become our idols. How often do these push God out of our thoughts and out of our lives and calculations. We have all, at one time or another, succumbed to one or other of these vices and gravely insulted God and Christ our Savior. Every time we committed a mortal sin we deserved to be cut off forever from the inheritance that Christ won for us. We have a mediator more influential than Moses could ever be. He is Christ, the Son of God and our brother in the one divine Person. He is always interceding with the Father on our behalf, and no sinner, no matter how serious or how numerous his sins, should ever despair. There is no prodigal son, no matter how long he has been absent from home, that the Father will not receive back because of Christ’s intercession. The one danger is that the prodigal may delay his return until it is too late. If he does, even the all-merciful, all powerful God cannot pardon him, for he cannot then ask for pardon.
Grateful Christians, and a large majority of them are grateful, will serve God willingly because of what he has done for them. They will follow Christ, who took the hard road to Calvary for their sake, and they will carry their own crosses cheerfully behind him, because he has asked them to do so. There is no place for idols in the hearts of the true followers of Christ. They love the Lord their God with their whole heart and their whole mind, because he loves them with an infinite love. And they love Christ his divine Son, who not only died that they might live, but is always interceding for them at the throne of God’s mercy.
Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
(Lk 15:18) I will rise and go to my father.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
I will rise and go to my father.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
I will rise and go to my father.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
I will rise and go to my father.
1 Tm 1:12-17
I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he considered me trustworthy
in appointing me to the ministry.
I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of these I am the foremost.
But for that reason I was mercifully treated,
so that in me, as the foremost,
Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example
for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.
To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God,
honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 142 By his Revelation, “the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company.”1 The adequate response to this invitation is faith.
CCC 545 Jesus invites sinners to the table of the kingdom: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”2 He invites them to that conversion without which one cannot enter the kingdom, but shows them in word and deed his Father’s boundless mercy for them and the vast “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents”.3 The supreme proof of his love will be the sacrifice of his own life “for the forgiveness of sins”.4
1 DV 2; cf. Col 1:15; I Tim 1:17; Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14-15; Bar 3:38 (Vulg.).
2 Mk 2:17; cf. l Tim 1:15.
3 Lk 15:7; cf. 7:11-32.
4 Mt 26:28.
St. Paul spent his Christian life regretting his sinful past and wondering at the infinite mercy of Christ, the Son of God, who not only forgave all his past sins but showered his graces on him so abundantly. He realized that his past crimes against Christ, whom he judged as an impostor who was perverting the Chosen People of God, and also his persecution of the Jewish converts to Christ, were caused by his own pride. Yet he blames himself for the ignorance which caused this pharisaical pride in him, while Christ on the other hand excused him because of this ignorance. The conclusion he rightly draws from this is that there is no sinner so wicked but can be forgiven, and will be forgiven, if only he listens to the call of Christ.
There is a consoling lesson here for all of us. We have all sinned in one way or another. We have all offended Christ. We have not offended him as seriously as Paul did perhaps, but then Paul did not know who Christ was at that time. We can have no doubts as to the identity of Christ. St. Paul’s conversion and his absolute dedication to the work of telling the world who Christ was, is alone a convincing proof for use of the divinity of Christ. That the fanatic defender of Judaism, a member of the strict sect of the Pharisees, whose basic doctrine was the strictest monotheism, could turn around and preach the divinity of Christ demanded more than a miracle. It was in fact, something greater than a miracle. It was the very appearance of the Risen Christ in person to him on the road to Damascus.
This appearance of Christ, and his converse with him, convinced Paul that Christ was the Son of God who had assumed human nature in order to live amongst men. By his perfect obedience to his father as man, he had earned for all men forgiveness of their sins and sonship with God: he, Christ, had become their brother. From that moment Paul, who up to now had thought that Christ’s claim to be God was absolute blasphemy, became the most convinced preacher and the most fearless defender of the divine sonship of Christ.
While we thank God for having given us this most convincing proof of Christ’s divinity in the conversion of St. Paul, let us not forget to imitate the same Paul in his life-long sense of sorrow for the offenses he committed against Christ and his followers before his conversion. We too have offended Christ and with far less excuse than Paul had. Christ’s mercy is there in abundance for us also. He came on earth to bring us sinners to heaven. He will bring us there if only we allow him. He has left us in his sacrament of penance all the means necessary to wipe out our past offenses, and if penance is not available to us, he will accept a sincere act of repentance made directly to himself.
Our God is a God of love. He wants to share his eternal happiness with us. To do this he planned the Incarnation through which our lowly human nature was united with the divine nature in Christ. Mankind was raised to brotherhood with Christ and therefore sonship with God and inheritance of heaven. The God who has shown such infinite love for us does not want any of us adopted sons to lose the eternal happiness he has planned for us. He wants us all in heaven, and there we will be, if we are found free from serious sin when leaving this life.
What man could be so foolish, so utterly uninterested in his own eternal welfare, as to refuse to put on the wedding-garment of grace which will admit him to heaven? The merciful, generous God not only gives it freely to him, but implores him, for his own sake, to accept it.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.
“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbors
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 545 Jesus invites sinners to the table of the kingdom: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”1 He invites them to that conversion without which one cannot enter the kingdom, but shows them in word and deed his Father’s boundless mercy for them and the vast “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents”.2 The supreme proof of his love will be the sacrifice of his own life “for the forgiveness of sins”.3
CCC 589 Jesus gave scandal above all when he identified his merciful conduct toward sinners with God’s own attitude toward them.4 He went so far as to hint that by sharing the table of sinners he was admitting them to the messianic banquet.5 But it was most especially by forgiving sins that Jesus placed the religious authorities of Israel on the horns of a dilemma. Were they not entitled to demand in consternation, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”6 By forgiving sins Jesus either is blaspheming as a man who made himself God’s equal, or is speaking the truth and his person really does make present and reveal God’s name.7
CCC 1423 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father8 from whom one has strayed by sin.
It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.
CCC 1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father:9 the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy – all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life – pure worthy, and joyful – of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart Of Christ Who knows the depths of his Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.
CCC 1443 During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God’s forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God.10
CCC 1468 “The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.”11 Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.”12 Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.13
CCC 1700 The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son14 to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity.
CCC 1846 The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners.15 The angel announced to Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”16 The same is true of the Eucharist, the sacrament of redemption: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”17
CCC 2795 The symbol of the heavens refers us back to the mystery of the covenant we are living when we pray to our Father. He is in heaven, his dwelling place; the Father’s house is our homeland. Sin has exiled us from the land of the covenant,18 but conversion of heart enables us to return to the Father, to heaven.19 In Christ, then, heaven and earth are reconciled,20 for the Son alone “descended from heaven” and causes us to ascend there with him, by his Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension.21
CCC 2839 With bold confidence, we began praying to our Father. In begging him that his name be hallowed, we were in fact asking him that we ourselves might be always made more holy. But though we are clothed with the baptismal garment, we do not cease to sin, to turn away from God. Now, in this new petition, we return to him like the prodigal son and, like the tax collector, recognize that we are sinners before him.22 Our petition begins with a “confession” of our wretchedness and his mercy. Our hope is firm because, in his Son, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”23 We find the efficacious and undoubted sign of his forgiveness in the sacraments of his Church.24
1 Mk 2:17; cf. l Tim 1:15.
2 Lk 15:7; cf. 7:11-32.
3 Mt 26:28.
4 Cf. Mt 9:13; Hos 6:6.
5 Cf. Lk 15:1-2, 22-32.
6 Mk 2:7.
7 Cf. Jn 5:18; 10:33; 17:6,26.
8 Cf. Mk 1:15; Lk 15:18.
9 Cf. Lk 15:11-24.
10 Cf. Lk 15; 19:9.
11 Roman Catechism, II, V, 18.
12 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1674.
13 Cf. Lk 15:32.
14 Lk 15:11-32
15 Cf. Lk 15.
16 Mt 1:21.
17 Mt 26:28.
18 Cf. Gen 3.
19 Jer 3:19-4:1a; Lk 15:18, 21.
20 Cf. Isa 45:8; Ps 85:12.
21 Jn 3:13; 12:32; 14 2-3; 16:28; 20:17; Eph 4:9-10; Heb 1:3; 2:13.
22 Cf. Lk 15:11-32, 18:13.
23 Col 1:14; Eph 1:7.
24 Cf. Mt 26:28; Jn 20:23.
The lesson that these stories, made up by our Lord himself, has for us is clearly a lesson of hope and confidence in the infinite mercy of God in his dealings with us. We are all sinners in one way or another. We have all gone astray, got lost like the sheep and the coin in those stories, sometime or other. What is worse, we are all capable of going astray from God again at any moment. If we had only the justice of God to deal with we might well despair, our chances of reaching heaven would be slight indeed.
We are dealing, however, with a God of infinite mercy, who loves us with a love we cannot grasp or understand. All this infinite mercy of God is there for our benefit as long as we have the breath of life in us in this world. The whole of the Old Testament is full of examples and proofs of this mercy of God for man. It is in the New Testament, however, which begins with that almost incredible act of divine mercy, the Incarnation, that the infinite mercy of God for all mankind is seen in its fullness. The coming of the Son of God on earth in our human nature, his teaching, his sufferings and death, his resurrection were all accomplished for us, so that we could rise glorious from the dead and share the joys of heaven, to which we have no claim whatever, except the merciful goodness and generosity of God.
God does not need us to make his existence happy. He is all-powerful, all-perfect, all-happy in himself. Because he is a God of love, a God of infinite generosity, he wants to give us a share in his happiness. At times one must wonder how any man who knows of God’s generosity and of what that generosity has led him to do for us, could ever think of abandoning that loving God, or get lost in futile earthly folly. Yet that does happen when we sin grievously.
God does not cast us out forever as sinners unworthy of his gifts. Instead, he foresees such folly on our part, and has left us lessons of encouragement, as in today’s parables, and set up in the Church ways and means to carry on his work of mercy for weak, mortal men. During his life on earth, Christ dealt mostly with sinners–he said he came to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He told the Pharisees that it was the sick who needed a doctor, not those who were well. The Pharisees in their pride thought they were not sick but they were, and he was only too ready to heal them too if only they would let him.
He spent his days then among sinners, the tax-gatherers, the robbers, the adulterers, the usurers. The twelve special friends he chose from amongst his followers had more than their share of human failings. James and John were more interested in getting good profitable positions in the earthly kingdom which they thought he would set up, than they were in heavenly things. Peter shamelessly and openly denied him on Holy Thursday night to save himself from the clutches of the Sanhedrin. Judas actually sold him for thirty mean pieces of silver. Yet, he never uttered a harsh word against any of these sinners. He forgave the weaknesses of his Apostles and they became the solid foundation of his Church soon afterwards. He offered Judas forgiveness when he called him “friend” in the garden of Gethsemani. But Judas did not avail of his generous offer.
We are all sinners to a greater or lesser degree. With this knowledge and conviction, which any true Christian must have, of the infinite mercy of God, no sinner need ever, and should never, despair. No sinner was ever lost and no sinner will ever be lost, because of his sins. Sinners are lost only because they will not trust and believe in God’s mercy and turn to him to ask for pardon.
Not a day passes but our merciful Father sends out and calls to us his erring children to return to our Fathers household. Today, one of those calls is in the very words of the parables you have heard. There may be another call for the sinners amongst us. There may not. Heed this one and the other call will not be necessary. Turn to God today with a truly contrite heart. God will do the rest.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission of Franciscan Press.
The Personal Dimension of Forgiveness
As sin, despite all our bonds with the human community, is ultimately something totally personal, so also our healing with forgiveness has to be something totally personal. God does not treat us as part of a collectivity. He knows each one by name, and he calls him personally and saves him if he has fallen into sin. Even if in all the sacraments, the Lord addresses the person as an individual, the personalist nature of the Christian life is manifested in a particularly clear way in the sacrament of Penance. That means that the personal confession and the forgiveness directed to this person are constitutive parts of the sacrament… Of course, the confession of one’s own sin can seem to be something heavy for the person, because it humbles his pride and confronts him with his poverty. It is this that we need: we suffer exactly for this reason: we shut ourselves up in our delirium of guiltlessness and for this reason we are closed to others and to any comparison with them. In psychotherapeutic treatments a person is made to bear the burden of profound and often dangerous revelations of his inner self. In the sacrament of Penance, the simple confession of one’s guilt is presented with confidence in God’s merciful goodness. It is important to do this without falling into scruples, with the spirit of trust proper to the children of God. In this way confession can become an experience of deliverance, in which the weight of the past is removed from us and we can feel rejuvenated by the merit of the grace of God who each time gives back the youthfulness of the heart.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
O Lord, reprove me not in your anger, nor chastise me in your wrath.
Have pity on me, O Lord, for I am languishing ; heal me, O Lord, for my body is in terror ;
My soul, too, is utterly terrified ; but you, O Lord, how long?
Return, O Lord, save my life ; rescue me because of your kindness,
For among the dead no one remembers you ; in the nether world who gives you thanks?
I am wearied with sighing ; every night I flood my bed with weeping ; I drench my couch with my tears.
My eyes are dimmed with sorrow ; they have aged because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all evildoers, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping ;
The Lord has heard my plea ; the Lord has accepted my prayer.
All my enemies shall be put to shame in utter terror ; they shall fall back in sudden shame.