This past Wednesday, Pope Francis had a beautiful catechesis about how we ought to treat those who have left the faith. Here’s an excerpt. I love the way that he centers the importance of taking risks in order to speak a word of love to the one who has walked away.
We have heard the parable of the lost sheep, found in chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke (cf. vv. 4-7). Jesus also speaks about the lost coin and about the prodigal son. If we want to train our apostolic zeal, we should always have chapter 15 of Luke before our eyes. Read it often.
There we can understand what apostolic zeal is. There we discover that God does not remain contemplating the sheep pen, nor does he threaten them so they won’t leave. Rather, if one leaves and gets lost, he does not abandon it but goes in search of it. He does not say, “It left. That’s its fault. That’s its business!” His pastoral heart reacts in another way: the pastoral heart suffers and the pastoral heart takes risks.
It suffers: yes, God suffers for those who leave and, while he mourns over them, he loves them even more. The Lord suffers when we distance ourselves from his heart. He suffers for all who do not know the beauty of his love and the warmth of his embrace.
But, in response to this suffering, he does not withdraw; rather, he takes a risk. He leaves the 99 sheep who are safe and ventures out for the lost one, thus doing something both risky and unreasonable, but consonant with his pastoral heart which misses the one who left. The longing for those who have left is constant in Jesus. And when we hear that someone has left the Church, what do we want to say? “Let them work it out”. No. Jesus teaches us nostalgia for those who have left. Jesus does not feel anger or resentment but pure longing for us. Jesus feels nostalgic for us and this is God’s zeal.
And I wonder, do we have similar sentiments?
Perhaps we see those who have left the flock as adversaries or enemies. “And this person?” “No, they’ve gone to the other side, they’ve lost the faith, they’re going to hell…”, and we are serene.
When we meet them at school, at work, on the streets of the city, why don’t we think instead that we have a beautiful opportunity to witness to them the joy of a Father who loves them and has never forgotten them?
Not to proselytize, no! But that the Word of the Father might reach them so we can walk together. To evangelize is not to proselytize. To proselytize is something pagan; it is neither religious nor evangelical.
There is a good word for those who have left the flock and we have the honour and the burden of being the ones to speak that word. Because the Word, Jesus, asks this of us: to always draw near to everyone, with an open heart, because he is like that.
Perhaps we have been following and loving Jesus for some time and have never wondered if we share his feelings, if we suffer and we take risks in harmony with Jesus’s heart, with this pastoral heart, close to Jesus’s pastoral heart! This is not about proselytism, as I said, so that others become “one of us”. No, this is not Christian. It is about loving so that they might be happy children of God.
In prayer, let us ask for the grace of a pastoral heart, an open heart that draws near to everyone, so as to bear the Lord’s message as well as to feel Christ’s longing for each of them. For without this love that suffers and takes risks, our life does not work.
If we Christians do not have this love that suffers and takes risks, we risk pasturing only ourselves. Shepherds who are shepherds of themselves, instead of being shepherds of the flock, are people who comb “exquisite” sheep. We do not need to be shepherds of ourselves, but shepherds for everyone.
You can read the rest of his catechesis here:
I resist or withstand starting 'to my own face' as Pope Francis did from his election and particularly on 10 June 2021 by his simultaneous accountability and amends in the cases of the Italian state Parliament "Zan" anti-homophobia bill as an unacceptable risk of fraud disrespecting his insuring his identity as a consecrated celibate married by vows to man in Christ and the Vatican state group of citizens/employees, Cardinal Angelo Becciu and nine others', alleged embezzlement of his charity donations in his ensuring his procreation gift role as a helper of his consecrated celibate family members within this family of his.
I believe that your catechesis is simultaneously ensuring and insuring your self-respect. Thank you for your giving good example.