Today’s Wednesday general audience in word and image
VATICAN CITY — Using the familiar image of the Good Shepherd, Pope Francis today provided us with an important lesson: we should never give up on anyone while they are still alive.
Knowing that one of the greatest problems facing the world today is a despair of God’s grace, at today’s Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope underlined that “until the last moment, God is searching for us.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, only with death is separation from God definitive (CCC 1021, 1035).
In our daily lives, we might encounter “lost sheep,” people who are separated from God. Pope Francis did not shy away from pointing out this objective problem. “In our Christian community someone is always missing and has left, leaving his place empty,” he said. This might make us despair of the person’s salvation: “Sometimes this is discouraging and leads us to believe that it is an inevitable loss, an incurable disease.” But there is a divine plan for this person: the plan of mercy, which is effective through repentance and forgiveness when “Jesus draws near to sinners.”
St. Dismas, the “good thief,” is a classic example of a “lost sheep” who was brought back to the fold at the very last minute. Invoking the Gospel figure, the Holy Father exhorted: “Think of the good thief…. Only in the eyes of Jesus is no one definitively lost.” To anyone looking at the dying thief without mercy, his damnation would be a foregone conclusion. But the eyes of faith and hope know that God’s grace can transform a sinner in an instant: “The perspective,” Francis said, “is entirely dynamic, open, stimulating and creative.”
Jesus still prayed for those dying with him, seemingly abandoned by all. Our Lord remained a missionary, a good shepherd, even on the Cross. As Pope Francis emphasized: “No distance can keep the shepherd away; and no flock can renounce a brother.” With grace working, the thief repented of his sins and tried to bring another “lost sheep” back into the fold: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Lk 23:40-41). Then, with his last breath, he expressed faith in Christ’s saving power: “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42).
In light of God’s never-ending love, Pope Francis encouraged all Catholics to avoid the “throwaway culture.” God never discards anyone, he said.
Just as the Good Shepherd desires to save each person, and searches out the lost one-by-one, so the Christian community should not “close the sheepfold” to those who sincerely desire God’s mercy. The result is a communion of love. “Finding those who are lost is the joy of the shepherd and of God, but it is also the joy of the entire flock!”
To read the full text of Pope Francis’ Wednesday audience catechesis, click here.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.