"Be ye converted to the Lord your God, because He is good and merciful," he yields himself up as conquered, he sheds tears over his transgressions, and a most notable conversion is often the result. If any of you, my dear young people, find yourselves in the unhappy state of sin, and are putting off your conversion from day to day, when you hear to-day's Gospel, treating of the mercy of God; of how much He desires the conversion of sinners; of how well they shall be received into the fraternal bosom of Jesus, I am sure you will abandon the ways of sin and become a victim of divine love.
The Pharisees and people of bad repute were pressing about Our Saviour and listening attentively to His sacred words. But they took occasion to criticize the conduct of Our Lord, and said of Him,
"This man receives sinners, and eats with them." Our Lord knew their thoughts, and refuted them
with the parables of "The good shepherd" and " The woman and the lost groat."
My dear young people, could Our Lord have given greater proof of His desire that the sinner may be converted and repent? Even in the severe law of the Old Testament, repentance was possible and the wicked invited to conform themselves to it. "I desire not the death of the wicked." "O house of Israel, be converted and do penance." Were these not beautiful expressions of God's sympathy for the poor sinner; do they not show us that the sinner should be converted and live? But much more plainly does the parable of the good shepherd teach us this desire of God.
My dear young Christians, have you ever gone away from God by falling into sin, by giving up the sheepfold of the good pastor? No doubt there are some among you that have. This Good Shepherd did not delay an instant, but rose and went forth into the wild desert of sin to look for you in every place, watching over you, and inviting you to come back. What caresses and kindness did He not shower on you, just to make you look up at Him and recognize Him again! What inspirations did He not infuse into your hearts! What bitter hours of compunction did you not sometimes feel! To what disgrace you were reduced: loss of honor, loss of everything, so that you had to cry out with the prodigal son, "I perish with hunger." When you were the most miserable and abject creature on the earth, did He give you up in disgust? No; the lower you had fallen, the greater was His mercy: even though fallen very low, you were still His lost son. He approached you in the kindliest manner, and said.
"My son, we stand in such relation to each other, that we ought to love each other. Why are you deaf to My entreaties? Why do you continue to commit sin? Not a day passes but you commit new sins. The earth with all its creatures cries to Me to pour My vengeance on your head; but I wish to pardon." Why does the merciful Lord wait so long? The answer is plain from what we have seen: in order that you may have time to be converted and live again in His grace. Will God really forgive us? Can any one doubt that God will not pardon us? Oh, I have been so sinful; from my very childhood I began to offend Him; in fact, my sins have become more numerous than the hairs of my head. Will He still pardon me? Ah, my dear children, do not add to your other sins one which is the blackest of all: the mistrust in God's mercy, by the sin of despair. To despair is nothing
less than condemning yourself to hell. If He did not desire to forgive, why has He waited so long, and so patiently? His desire is to pardon you, provided you are really contrite; provided you say with the prodigal:
"Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee." No sooner have you said these words with a heartfelt sorrow than He has already wiped out the account of your sins. "I will not remember all his iniquities." He will place the kiss of peace on your forehead, He will give you back your heavenly inheritance. He will give all the angels a great feast on this occasion. "I say to you there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance." You shall be more dear to God the greater your sins have been. Is this strange, my good young people?
Magdalene was a public sinner, her reputation was very bad; but after her conversion she became dear to Our Lord. How privileged she was in loving Him! how He defended her, and raised His hands in benediction and absolution over her! "Thy sins are forgiven thee, go in peace." Never afterwards did He mention her faults. Margaret of Cortona had also led a scandalous life, but after her conversion Our Lord appeared to her and said, " Thou art My beloved sinner," and told her He would make use of her to bring back other sinners. But I certainly hope I shall not be misunderstood, nor that some may say: "If God is so merciful, I can continue in my dissolute life; at some future time I will ask Him for mercy, and He will pardon me." If such should be an excuse for our sins, God in His justice would withdraw His mercy: it is one thing to ask for mercy for sin, but quite a different thing to remain in sin because God is merciful.
No, my dear young people, never abuse the mercy of God, because then you will excite the wrath of the Almighty against you. Once God has pardoned you who knows whether He will pardon you again; there is certainly a limit to His mercy, otherwise you might say with truth that God encouraged you in your sins. Because God is so merciful will you offend His goodness? Should you not be grateful for past kindnesses?
Ah, my good children, let us hate ourselves for our miserable conduct; let us chastise ourselves for having so long abused the divine mercy. Turn to your Father and throw yourselves into His arms, and He will carry the dear lost sheep back to the fold.
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900