Like a Lost Lamb
(Painting, 'The Lost Sheep' by Alfred Soord, 1868-1915)Be quiet, little lost lambStop your fearful tremblingThe heart of the Good ShepherdKnows there is one lamb missingFrom his safe, loving foldHe will come for you soonHis perfect vision sees The tracks your small feet madeAcross the verdant pasture He knows the sweetnessOf the poisoned spring you choseTo quench a thirsting soulSoon his footsteps will soundUpon the rocky soilHis tender hands will moveThe thorns that hold you fastHigh upon his shoulder,He will bear you home.
--Virginia Walden Hogue (Poem 'Lost Lamb,' reprinted with permission from Maryknoll Magazine, March 2005)
So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:3-7)
A GROUP FOR SINNERS
The Confraternity of Penitents is a confraternity (group that exists with the permission of a bishop) of penitents (sinners who are sorry for their past sins and who are praying for God's grace to do better). The CFP is not a bunch of holy people. It's a group of Catholics who want to be holy and who are willing to do whatever it takes to turn their lives over to God.
Repentance isn't a one shot deal. It's a continual process. We can hope that the little lost lamb, once found by the Good Shepherd, learned his or her lesson and stuck with the flock from then on out. Sticking with the flock would keep the little, senseless creature close to the Shepherd. However, knowing how dull witted sheep are, it's quite likely that the lost lamb strayed again and the Shepherd had to head out into the desert once more.
Note how gentle the Shepherd is in carting the lamb home. We don't hear of any beatings or of penning the poor creature up or hobbling it with chains to keep it from running off again. Gentle love is the antidote to racing off on one's own, even if that love has to be repeatedly given until it penetrates through a thick skull into the heart.
ANTIDOTE FOR DISCOURAGEMENT
We get discouraged if we fall back into sin. Maybe if we could admit the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales, we'd be more patient with ourselves (and with others who also fall). "If we knew well what we were, instead of being surprised at seeing ourselves fallen, we would be surprised how we could even stand." You see, we are still human and will remain so until we quit this earth. Only when we reach eternity will our humanity be transformed so that it will no longer be capable of sinning. In this life, we've got to be patient with ourselves.
All this does not mean that we are ho-hum about sin. We do the best we can, with God's grace, to keep from ever sinning again. We stay away from the occasions of sin. We avoid those situations that cause us to lose control. We squelch our urges to get back at others, to show how smart we are, or to make ourselves look better by making someone else look worse. We keep to the discipline of our lives, even when we don't feel like it. We pray even if we are tired. We forgo the food we ought not eat and are moderate in our diet and dress. We keep from splurging on things we don't need and try to use the money to help our neighbor, even if we don't have an particular concern for him, because we know it's the right thing to do. Much of the spiritual life is doing what's the right thing to do, even if we don't feel like doing it.
The little lamb got into trouble by doing what he felt like instead of what he ought to have done. And he discovered, as we all eventually do, that the green grass on the other side of the fence has got some nettles in it. Trouble is that sometimes it's embarrassing to crawl back under the barbed wire and rejoin the crew that never crossed the boundaries. That's why the Good Shepherd comes looking for us. He makes it easier to come back because He's with us.
CARRIED ALONG HOME
When we recognize that we are being carried on the shoulders of the Shepherd, away from sin and into life, we can take heart. When the Shepherd picks us up, we might try to kick and bleat, but we can sense His grip on our struggling spirits and we know He's taking us someplace else. When we settle down and let Him have His way, we might find ourselves back in a flock of penitent souls, many of whom know exactly what it was like in the pasture we once thought was so superb. That's the value of a community like the Confraternity of Penitents. Those of us in this flock aren't going to look askance at the new lamb just carted in from the edge of the cliff or the depths of the briar patch. Chances are, some of us once frequented those spots and know all about them. How special it is to be among others who understand and who can look up to the Good Shepherd and see Him smiling down with an all-knowing, gentle grin!
If you're out there, afraid of what you've gotten into and confused that life isn't what you thought it ought to be, maybe it's time to start bleating for the Shepherd. He knows where you are, but if you call for Him, He knows you're ready to be found and will come a-running. Allow Him to pick you up and bring you into a better life. The flock He carries you to might not be the one you left, but you can be sure He's there with it. What more could you want?
Madeline Pecora Nugent