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?
Many years ago, the parish of St. Patrick’s in downtown Chicago was in real trouble. Mass attendance was so paltry that it didn’t seem possible to keep the doors open any longer. Seeing this, the new pastor, Father Jack Wall, took action. He roamed the neighborhood, met its people, and got to know them. He walked into its large apartment buildings, knocked on doors, introduced himself, and invited everyone to join him for Sunday Mass. (1)
Over time, his efforts bore fruit. The pews began to fill. Father continued inviting, hosting events and dinners at the parish, and always welcoming newcomers. In just a few years, the pews overflowed; St. Patrick’s grew from about 4 families to 4,000! (2)
At first, it might have seemed like trying to stay open was a losing proposition. Why not simply close St. Patrick’s and transfer her members to nearby parishes? Of the few parishioners left, most would have accepted reality and moved on, although some surely would have been lost.
The answer can be read between the lines of our Lord’s question in today’s gospel: He doesn’t want any to be lost. He wants the shepherd to go out and find them. Even one.
The Church takes the Good Shepherd’s intention so seriously that the highest of all her laws is the salvation of souls (3). Moreover, she has decreed that each pastor is responsible for the care of every soul within the boundaries of his parish (4). Catholic, non-Catholic, it makes no difference. Every soul matters to Christ; therefore, every soul matters to his Church.
Let us pray for the success of our pastor and every pastor throughout the world as they continually strive to seek the lost and bring them home – wherever and whoever they are.
(3) Canon 1752
(4) Canon 519