In the Gospel of St. Luke (Chapter 15), the Lord looks at us. We see ourselves standing there, under His gaze.
Then Jesus speaks:
"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
When He looks at each soul in this story, do I look back at Him through the eyes of the repeat offender, that "lost sheep" that just keeps wandering off? Or does He see me there, among the many who look at Him from my distant place "in the desert"?
As always, when the Savior speaks, there are limitless spiritual depths and meanings and He addresses the millions of other souls in millions of life circumstances who hear Him and who look at Him down through the centuries. Every one of us is uniquely loved by Him and He speaks to every one of us in our uniqueness wherever we find ourselves this day.
The Lord Jesus searches out the repeat offender. This tells me that God never gives up on me despite my endless offenses against His Sacred Heart, every day of my life. He Himself deserves all the credit for seeking me and saving me. Yet, when He rescues me, it's His great joy to share His mighty love with others, all those whom He has invited to pray for me. When I am given the grace to “come back” to Him, it's because He has also heard the prayers and pleadings for me which have been raised like incense from countless other souls. Souls who are great great grandfathers, great aunts, our living children, the souls who pray for us who don't know us but who offer daily petitions for everyone who won't pray in their lives and don't do penance.
All of this countless host of pray-ers are drawn into the Sacred Heart of the Shepherd as He heads out to seek me, caught in the nets of my sin. And He utters a great shout of victory which they all hear when He catches hold of me and lifts me up high. And they all join in His celebratory joy. They are His "friends and neighbors" and He waits to reward them with Himself.
As for me... He has brought me home to be among you again.
And what of those 99 who are "in the desert" and are silently watching Him leave to go find me? In Sacred Scripture, 99 is a number that speaks to progress and enlightenment in the spiritual life. If I am numbered among the 99, if our Savior is seeing my face looking back at Him from those 99 in the desert, then I am in a privileged place. I'm not lost. I'm "in the desert".
Once again there is much to learn from Christ's words in Sacred Scripture. The ‘desert’ is indeed a place of spiritual enlightenment and progress but the conditions in this desert seem harsh and painful. They involve purgation, spiritual dryness in a wilderness that reveals to me how deeply I'm ruled by my senses, how my pride dictates my actions, how my disordered will enshadows the Will of God from me. It's the place where I learn how my life choices have de-formed my soul. And it's the place where Spirit Lord is re-forming me in order to trans-form me when grace allows me to let fall all of the disordered desires of my soul, where I abandon my all to Him, where my prayer becomes unitive with His, where His Will becomes my will to share with other.
"No longer I but Christ Who lives within me" (St. Paul).
And I can pray with St John of the Cross:
"If you desire to be perfect, sell your will, give it to the poor in spirit, come to Christ in meekness and
humility, and follow him to Calvary and the sepulcher".
With Christ, I can now claim the soul of the repeat offender, and of the 99, and of all of my family who were and who are and are who yet to be born.
And my joy within the Sacred Heart of the Good Shepherd will be complete because He and I are One.