Question: At a funeral, the priest consoled a grieving family of a man who had died in rather serious sin by reading the parable of the lost sheep, and said that precisely because this man was a lost sheep, Jesus would take him home. It seemed he was saying the man was saved simply because he was lost. Is this true?
— Name withheld, Baltimore
Answer: No. The image of the lost sheep indicates Christ’s desire and effort to save all of us. However, merely being a lost sheep is not an indication of being saved. Rather, we must have a willingness to be found. Hence, the Lord’s desire to save us does not cancel our freedom.
Funerals are difficult moments, and both clergy and people are in a sensitive place. But while there is an instinct to console, it is not really possible or proper to always give clear assurance that the beloved who has died is with God.
Our best stance is to pray with confident assurance that the Lord loves our deceased more than we do and wants to save them.
That said, no one warned of judgment and the possibility of hell more than Jesus. In many parables and teachings, he clearly indicated that many were in serious danger of being lost (Mt 7:13; Lk 13:24, etc). This is not because he is mean or severe, but because we have hearts that can be obtuse and stubborn. We can harden our hearts against God and the values of his kingdom. There are many in our world who do not want to love their enemy, live chastely, forgive those who have hurt them, or esteem and love the poor. But these are kingdom values that are celebrated in heaven. The “narrow way” to salvation is the cross, and there many who are unwilling to embrace its demands or conform to the challenging values of the kingdom.
So the Lord seeks the lost but will not compel them to answer. We who live should pray for the departed, ask mercy on their behalf and a speedy purification for those who are saved but in purgatory. Funerals are also moments to cultivate a proper urgency to attend to our own salvation and become more firmly committed to seeking the Lord who alone can save us.
Unity and division
Question: A family member who does not agree with many moral teachings in the Bible dismisses my mentioning of them by saying Jesus wants to unite us all, and that I am divisive in quoting these things.
— H.K., Catonsville, Maryland
Answer: Jesus does want to unite us, but he wants to unite us in the truth. Thus, though he desires to unite us, he also said, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three” (Lk 12:51-52).
In other words, Jesus acknowledges that his teachings will divide. His truth must cut away error and be the actual basis for unity, rather than a contrived notion where no one upsets anyone else. Jesus is spoken of in Scripture as a great cornerstone: “Therefore, its value is for you who have faith, but for those without faith ... ‘A stone that will make people stumble and a rock that will make them fall’” (1 Pt 2:7-8).
And thus we see that division is unavoidable, not because of Jesus, but because of the rejection of his truth.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to email@example.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.