The parable of a lost sheep shows vividly how God's logic is different from ours. Who would leave a large flock of healthy animals, on which one's annual income or ruin depend, to look for a stray sheep that may be already lost?
In animal farming you always have a margin of loss, calculated into the overall cost and thus, unless promptly recovered, this one item of property can be written off.
Can you imagine a building contractor who spends a day looking everywhere for a lost two-by-six board when he has a good stock of identical boards nicely stored? In this industry one allows for a probable loss of up to 20 per cent of building material. We are resigned to losses, and we even plan for them.
At the university we have an "attrition rate" reflecting the number of students who leave school by the end of the academic year. If they turn to us for help, they get it and usually overcome their problems, but some just vanish and fail to respond to emails.
Jesus, however, plans to lose not even one soul and will risk anything to save it. In my own life, he often literally dragged me out of dangerous situations by yanking me hard by "my fleece" - be it the fleece of my heart or my mind.
Sin always brings suffering in its tow and you cannot wander away from the flock and come back unscathed. How much pain we would spare ourselves and others if only we would listen to God and the Church.
'Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not . . . go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
From my vantage point as an old, scarred sheep, I often see other, younger sheep stealing towards the hole in the fence, or outside the safe zone of the Church, or even heading in brisk trot towards the wolf-infested forest.
I am not the only one in the flock who sees this but I cannot help noticing that more and more of my companions on God's meadow refuse to bleat even a single warning for fear of being branded "intolerant."
Any decent prayer book has a list of "sins against the love of neighbour" which states that it is sinful to" keep silence when others sin," to "assist in sin," to "allow sin" and to "defend the sin of others."
Yet we stay silent even when faced with serious sins of family members, friends and biblical "neighbours."
As a result:
Divorces in family are met with sympathetic (for both sides, regardless of each person's behaviour) silence at best, encouragement at worst. "Why should you waste your life with her/him?" is the norm even among practising Catholics.
Faced with a crisis, we forget that we were told to bear the cross and follow Jesus. I have seen couples saved by sheer faith in Jesus and his cross. They sacrificed themselves like he did, they carried the cross through crisis after crisis, and eventually their marriage blossomed into a renewed, warm relationship with happy children.
A girl moves in with a man – and the whole family accepts it even though they know cohabitation before marriage in the Church is a sin and that this couple is heading for disaster because they are totally incompatible.
Yet bleat – and loud! – we should.
A young woman plans to marry a dedicated atheist. She is head over heels in love, but her chosen one will wed her only if the ceremony takes place on a beach or in the park. He is committed to his non-faith. Do we help her to stay equally committed to her faith?
What do we do in such a situation? Maybe we sigh silently, but because "she knows what she is doing, she is of age," we refuse to stand for Catholic marriage. We even fail to warn her that if her "life's love" does not respect her faith, he will never truly respect her – as his wife or even as a human being.
She says "she will pray anyway." But, poor thing, she does not know that in time, her faith, unsupported by the sacraments and cut off from Sunday Mass, will inevitably crumble and dissipate.
All religious symbols and pictures, First Communion photos, and even the family Bible gradually vanish from the house, removed by the one family member who claims such religiosity is disturbing. All Catholic, practising inhabitants do not dare say a word.
A boy is pulled out of religion classes before Confirmation so he may attend a soccer game. "Oh, he will choose if he wants to believe in that when he is grown and can think for himself," says the progressive mom.
Silence or meek mumbling from all Catholics in the family, and the topic is quickly changed.
On and on it goes, as if a spell of cowardly behaviour fell on us and we are unable to shake it. We must start bleating much louder or else we may face an unpleasant surprise after we die, despite our faithful church attendance and generous donations.