October 22, 2019

Grace that Finds the Lost

The Book of Wisdom (11:22-12:2) describes our God as being an amazingly majestic Creator that no human mind can ever fully know or understand. This text speaks of the awesome, never ending, creative, love of God. And in comparison to such an awesome God, this text says that the entire universe is seen as no more valuable than a single grain of sand or a drop of morning dew.

This reading reminds us that the only reason that anything exists at all, is due solely to the incredible love that God has for all of His creations. God needs absolutely nothing. The only thing that could possibly account for the existence of anything at all is His generosity to share His existence with His creations.

More amazing still is His mercy. Over the centuries, human nature has demonstrated a crass ungrateful attitude toward God. But God patiently waits for each and every one of His children to come to their senses and humbly admit their folly. His love is not limited to the initial act of creation. Rather, His creations continue and remain in existence because of His never ending, self-giving love. Why? Because he created everything and everyone! He loves all of His creations! And it is impossible for Him to hate anything that He has made.

The whole of creation is a constant reminder of His faithful love. For as is written in Wisdom, “Oh Lord, Your imperishable spirit is in all things.”

God’s undying love for His creation stands in stark contrast to man’s misuse and abuse of much of what God has created. Something as simple as air and water! Has the history of mankind proven that we cherish these gifts? Or have we been misusing and polluting them? Mankind has done its best to destroy the very elements that God has provided for our existence and comfort.

Be they plant, animal or mineral, they are all God’s creations and they are all God’s gifts. And we should be able to recognize the spirit of the Creator in all things. And God’s greatest creation, His greatest gift, is mankind itself. A gift that is a treasure beyond measure! But sadly, human history does not demonstrate that mankind has cherished or treasured this gift. When we consider our own actions, we have to ask ourselves, when we look into the face of another, do we see the spirit of our Creator?

The life of John Newton is a beautiful story that clearly demonstrates the incredible love and mercy of God. John Newton is the man who penned that most beautiful hymn that we all know as “Amazing Grace”.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”

John Newton was a rebellious youth. As a young man he was torn from his family and his sweetheart when he was forced to serve in His Majesty’s navy. Through a series of rebellious and unwise choices, he sank deeper and deeper into a life of bitterness and depravity. He becomes a slave, and then a merchant of slaves. He lives with the filth and obscenities of the slave trade for many years. His life was ruled by the deepest and darkest motives possible to any human soul.

As a slave trader, he lived a life motivated solely by bitterness, sensuality and greed; till one day on a storm tossed sea, John’s ship was destroyed and he was left to the mercy of the ocean. John faced the very real possibility of his own death. While he was adrift at sea, he reflected back on his life and in doing so he saw the “hand of providence” in his life. He saw and understood, for the first time, the grace of an all-loving God who has been present in every moment of his life. A grace that finds the lost! A grace that saves! And this realization turned his life around and upside down. John survived the shipwreck. And then through prayer and study he became a minister and an eloquent preacher.

Genuine pardon has the power to bring about change. The power of pardon is the power of transformation. The purpose of God extending His love and mercy is not to allow a person to avoid the consequences of their sins. It is not authentic forgiveness if problem people continue to go on being problem people. There is an element of judgment in real pardon, but, in truth, the individual judges himself.

John Newton recognized the love of God in his life. He saw the error of his ways and was transformed.

If you search through the Gospels, you will find that Jesus never once said, “Do acts of penance as a way of earning your pardon.” But He did say, “Your faith has saved you.” And, “Your sins are forgiven.” The transformation demonstrated in the life of John Newton was the fruit and not the root of pardon.

It is interesting to note that in the Gospel of Luke (19:1-10), when the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, offered to make amends for his sins, you can almost hear the joy in Jesus’ voice when He says, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” There is an awful lot of power in those few words. Take special notice of the fact that salvation did not come to just Zacchaeus, it also came to his entire household! That is an extremely important point. So all moms and dads should listen up and take special notice! Your love and fidelity to God has more power and influence over the faith lives of your children than you can possibly imagine.

The readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Wis 11:22-12:2; Psalm 145; 2 This 1:11-2:2; and Luke 19:1-10) challenge us in two ways.

First, we are invited to recognize and receive the love and mercy of God, to live in the light of His love, and through that love experience forgiveness for all of our wrongdoings.

Secondly, we are called to extend this gift of love and forgiveness to others, that they, too, may see and experience the love of God through us.

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Written by
Deacon Donald Cox

REVEREND MR. DONALD COX is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. On June 9, 1979, Deacon Don was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, an important American Father of the Second Vatican Council. He is currently assigned to St. Cornelius parish in Dryden, Michigan. Married and the father of three children and grandfather to four children, Deacon Don was born and raised in Detroit, and educated at St. Brigid Elementary School, Mackenzie High School, and Lawrence Technological University. His theological training was taken at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

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Written by Deacon Donald Cox
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