Strayed

THE NOW WORD ON MASS READINGS
for December 9th, 2014
Memorial of St. Juan Diego

Liturgical texts here

 

IT was almost midnight when I arrived at our farm after a trip to the city a few weeks ago.

“The calf is out,” my wife said. “The boys and I went out and looked, but couldn’t find her. I could hear her bawling towards the north, but the sound was getting further away.”

So I got in my truck and started to drive through the pastures, which had nearly a foot of snow in places. Any more snow, and this would be pushing it, I thought to myself. I put the truck in 4×4 and started driving around tree groves, bushes, and along fencelines. But there was no calf. Even more puzzling, there were no tracks. After a half hour, I resigned myself to waiting till morning.

But the wind was beginning to howl, and it was snowing. Her tracks may be covered by morning. My thoughts drifted to the packs of coyotes that often circle our land, taunting our dogs with their eery counterfeit barks that often pierce the night air.

“I can’t leave her,” I said to my wife. And so I grabbed a flashlight, and set out again.

 

THE SEARCH

Okay, St. Anthony. Please help me find her tracks. I drove to the periphery of our property, searching desperately for any sign of hoof prints. I mean, she couldn’t just disappear into thin air. Then suddenly, there they were… appearing out of the bush for just a few feet along the fence line. I took a wide berth around the trees and back toward the fence line which began to head north for over a mile. Good, tracks still there. Thank you St. Anthony. Now please, help me find our heifer…

The wind, the snow, the dark, the howling… all of it must have disoriented the calf. The tracks took me through fields, marshes, over roads, through ditches, over train tracks, past wood piles, on top of rocks… Five miles had now gone by on what had now become an over two hour journey into the night.

Then, all of a sudden, the tracks disappeared.

That’s impossible. I laughed, looking up into the night sky for an orbiting spacecraft and a bit of comic relief. No aliens. So I retraced her steps, back into the ditch, through some trees, and then back again to where they suddenly stopped. I can’t give up now. I won’t give up now. Please help me, Lord. We need this animal to feed our children.

So I took a wild guess, and just drove up the road another hundred yards. And there they were—hoof prints re-emerging for just a moment beside tire treads that had covered her earlier tracks. And on they went, finally taking a turn toward town, back through ditches and fields.

 

THE JOURNEY HOME

It was 3:30 in the morning when my headlights caught the glow of her eyes. Thank you Lord, thank you… I thanked “Tony” as well (whom I call St. Anthony sometimes). Standing there, disoriented and fatigued (the calf, not me), I suddenly realized I hadn’t brought a rope, lasso, or a cellphone to call for help. How am I gonna get you home, girl? So I drove around behind her, and started to “push” her in the direction of home. Once she gets back up on the road, I’ll just keep her moving on it until we get home. She’ll probably be relieved to be walking on flat ground.

But as soon as she crested the crown of the road, the calf insisted on going back into the ditch, back in circles, around stumps and trees an rocks and… there was no way she was going to stay on the road! “You’re making this hard, girl!” I called out the window. So once she calmed down, I stayed behind her, coaxing her a little to the left, a little to the right, through ditches, fields and marshes until, finally, after over an hour, I could see the lights of home.

About a half mile away, she smelled her mother’s scent and began to bawl again, her voice hoarse and tired. When we got back into the yard, and the familiar corrals came into view, she lept and ran to the gate, where I let her in, and she went straight to her mother’s side…

 

PREPARE THE WAY

We all know what it’s like to get lost, spiritually lost. We wander away from what we know is right. We go looking for greener pastures, lured away by the voice of the Wolf who promises pleasure—but delivers despair. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. [1]cf. Matt 26:42 And even though we know better, we don’t do better, and so, we become lost.

But Jesus always, always comes looking for us.

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? (Today’s Gospel)

This is why the prophet Isaiah writes: “Comfort, give comfort to my people…” Because the Savior has come precisely for the lost—and that includes the Christian who knows better, but doesn’t do better.

So Isaiah goes on to write:

In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! (First reading)

You see, we can make it difficult for the Lord to find us, or we can make it easy. What makes it easy? When we level the mountains of pride and the valleys of excuse; when we mow down the tall grasses of lies we hide in and groves of self-gratification where we pretend to be in control. That is to say that we can quickly help the Lord find us when we become humble. When I say, “Jesus, here I am, all I am, as I am… forgive me. Find me. Jesus help me.”

And He will.

But then, perhaps, comes the harder part. Getting home. You see, the way has already been prepared, trodden down and well-traveled by saints and sincere souls alike. It is a highway in the desert, a straight path to the Father’s heart. The path is the will of God. Simple. It is the duty of the moment, those tasks which my vocation and life demand. But this path can only be tread by the two feet of prayer and self-denial. Prayer is what keeps us firm on the ground, always taking a step towards Home. Self-denial is the next step, which refuses to look to the left or the right, to wander into the ditches of sin or explore the voice of the Wolf calling, calling…. always calling the Christian off the path. In fact, we have to reject the lie that it is our destiny to repetitively become lost and then found and then lost again in a never-ending cycle. It is possible, by the Holy Spirit and by the act of our will, to always remain on “green pastures” near “restful waters,” [2]cf. Psalm 23:2-3 despite our flaws. [3]“Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1863

In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost. (Gospel)

Brothers and sisters, we are the ones who make the spiritual life complex, first by our wandering and second, by taking the long way home. This is why Jesus said that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of God—the gate that leads to everlasting life—because the path can only be found in the first place by trust.

This Advent, let Jesus lead you by right paths, rejecting the temptations to wander into impurity, greed, and self-gratification. Do you trust Him? Do you trust that His Way will lead you to Life?

When Joseph led Mary to Bethlehem, he took the safest, surest route… where they met the One who was looking for them all along.

 

A song I wrote about letting oneself be found…

 

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1. cf. Matt 26:42
2. cf. Psalm 23:2-3
3. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1863
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