Imagine a crowded Sunday morning Mass full of young families and children. There is always a baby crying, fathers telling their children to hush or mothers rushing their young ones to the bathroom.
However, when Father Sullivan began his homily by holding up a hundred dollar bill, the whole congregation became silent.
As everyone watched him, he asked, “Who would like to have this hundred dollar bill?” Of course, everyone's hand shot up.
Then Father Sullivan took the bill and marked it with a pen. He asked, “Do you still want this hundred dollar bill now that I’ve defaced it?” Everyone in the crowd responded, “Yes!”
Then he took the bill and crumpled it up into a ball and held it up again asking, “Who still wants this hundred dollar bill even though it’s marked up with pen and wrinkled?” Again, everyone’s hand shot up.
Then he took the bill, threw it to the ground and started jumping on it. Picking it up from the floor, he held it up and asked, “Is there anyone who wants this hundred dollar bill now that it’s all dirty?” And again, everyone’s hand shot up.
With everyone’s attention fixed on him to see what he might do next, Father Sullivan looked intently out at the congregation and said, “So, a hundred dollar bill doesn’t lose its value even when it has been defaced, crumpled up and stepped on. In the same way, none of you lose your value no matter what sins you may have committed, no matter how others may have mistreated you and no matter what addictions or bad habits you may be struggling with. God loves us all just as we are, unconditionally. Like that hundred dollar bill, He will always find us valuable and loveable and will always rejoice when we return to Him.”
In a brilliant way, Father Sullivan captured the essence of Jesus’ message in the three parables that make up today’s gospel reading.
We have great value to our Heavenly Father and He will do anything to get us back.
Though there are billions of people on this planet, He knows each of us by name. Jesus tells us that God even knows how many hairs are on our head. He never gets distracted from caring about us as individuals even when there are so many other people. His love never is divided but is as strong for me as it is for you. So, when we go astray, when we choose the wrong path, it hurts Him just as it would hurt any parent whose child has done wrong. Like a shepherd, He goes after the lost sheep and like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, He waits patiently and longingly for us to return.
We can never lose our value in the eyes of God. Others may treat us as though we are worthless. We may have been told time and time again that we were good for nothing, that we couldn’t do anything right, that we were ugly or that we were dumb. Hearing it so many times, we may have come to believe it ourselves and failed to treat ourselves with the dignity and care we deserve. We may have also come to believe that God thinks we are ugly and worthless.
However, nothing can be further from the truth. No one knows us better than our Heavenly Father does. He created us and knows our innermost thoughts. He created us good. All of us have equal value and dignity in His eyes no matter what we look like, no matter what we may have accomplished and no matter what choices we have made. All of us stand before God as beloved daughters and sons. No one can strip us of our dignity or value.
Many of us fail to turn to God out of fear that He will reject us. Perhaps when we hear stories from the Old Testament like today’s first reading we think that our Heavenly Father is angry and always looking for a reason to punish us. We forget that those first books of the Bible were written thousands of years ago for a people living in harsh conditions among warlike tribes. Yet, even there we find a God who takes pity on an enslaved people and teaches them to love one another and to welcome foreigners. In fact, it is this same God who sends His Son, Jesus Christ, not to condemn us but to save us. If we turn to Him with sorrow for our sins and trust in His mercy, we can be sure that we will be welcomed enthusiastically.
There is no better place to experience this love and mercy of our Heavenly Father than through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If it has been a while since you have gone to confession, I urge you to make a point of going soon. It is a beautiful gift we have as Catholics to be able to go to a priest and unburden ourselves of the weight of shame and regret we have been carrying. In the name of God the Father, the merciful and loving One, we find healing for our wounded souls and peace. Whenever we go to confession, we come home again to the warm embrace of our loving God.
All of us have inestimable value to our Heavenly Father. Like that hundred dollar bill, we do not lose our value no matter how much abuse, rejection or shame we have experienced. Nothing we do to ourselves and nothing that anyone does to us can diminish our worth in His eyes. In fact, the greater the sinner, the more rejoicing there is in heaven when he or she repents. So, make your Father happy and come back home.