Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Would I be a good priest? Would I be an effective priest? Would I be able to win souls for Jesus Christ? These were some of the questions that haunted me in my early years in seminary. And I was afraid that the answer to all of them was a resounding “No.” One day I shared this fear with my formator, a priest by the name of Fr. Pawel. And Fr. Pawel told me something which I’ll never forget. He said to me, “Nick, even if you win only one soul for Jesus Christ as a priest, so great is the value of a single soul, it will have been worth it.” Fr. Pawel came to my first Mass as a priest and I thanked him for having said those words to me, for they got me through my darkest days in seminary. And they’ve continued to sustain me during my darkest days as a priest. “Even if you win only one soul for Jesus Christ as a priest, so great is the value of a single soul, it will have been worth it.”
Jesus says in our gospel: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother” (Mt. 18:15). When someone sins against us, the purpose of bringing this sin to their attention is to win their soul for Jesus Christ. It’s not to score a point over them. The victory is not in getting them to admit that they are wrong and that we are right, but in helping them be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
St. Paul says in his First Letter to Timothy that God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). This “everyone” excludes no one—even, and especially, those who have sinned against us. Two verses after the end of our first reading, God says to the prophet Ezekiel, “As I live, says the Lord God, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion, that he may live.” (Ezekiel 33:11) God wills the salvation of the person who has hurt us the most, the person we dislike the most, the person we consider to be our worst enemy. And we must do the same. We must will that person’s salvation. We must seek to win their soul for Jesus Christ.
Why? Because they are worth it. Their soul is worth it. Jesus said to St. Faustina, “The loss of each soul plunges Me into mortal sadness. You always console Me when you pray for sinners. The prayer most pleasing to Me is prayer for the conversion of sinners. Know, My daughter, that this prayer is always heard and answered.” (Diary #1397). St. Faustina also said this in her diary: “Daily I make great efforts / To…[gain] graces for souls’ salvation, / Shielding them by my sacrifice from the fire of hell. / For the salvation of even a single soul / Is worth the sacrifice of a lifetime / And the bearing of the greatest sacrifices and torments, / Seeing how great the glory it gives God” (Diary #1435). The salvation of even a single soul is worth the sacrifice of a lifetime—even the soul of the person who has hurt us the most, whom we most dislike, whom we consider to be our worst enemy.
Now you may be saying to yourself, “But Father Nick, what if the person refuses to be saved? What if they have a hard heart and refuse to acknowledge their sins and listen to the truth? What then? Doesn’t Jesus tell us to give up on them, to treat them like Gentiles or tax collectors?” While Jesus does tell us to treat them that way, He doesn’t tell us to give up on them. After all, Jesus Himself didn’t give up on Gentiles or tax collectors.
If Jesus had given up on them, He would have never called Levi—a tax collector—to be one of his disciples (Luke 5:27). And He would never have told Zacchaeus—also a tax collector—that He wanted to stay at his house (Luke 19:5). Jesus also performed miracles for Gentiles and held them up as models of faith (cf. Luke 7:1-10, Matthew 15:21-28). Based on Jesus’ own example, then, He is clearly not telling us in our gospel to give up on the salvation of hard hearts and suborn souls. Jesus tried to win over tax collectors, Gentiles, and other sinners. He tried to lead them to salvation and the knowledge of the truth. And He eventually died for them. Why? Because they were worth it. Their souls were worth it. The salvation of their souls was worth the ultimate sacrifice.
When was the last time we prayed for someone who sinned against us? When was the last time we offered something up for someone we dislike or even hate? When someone hurts or offends us, how do we respond? Do we retaliate? Do we gossip, spread false information, or say nasty things about them in public? Do we treat them as garbage, as worthless, as mistakes God has somehow made? Or do we go to them directly and seek to win their souls for Jesus Christ? Do we pray, fast, and make other sacrifices for them? Do we acknowledge the fact that if Jesus was willing to die for them, then they must be of tremendous value—that if Jesus, who was sinless, was willing to suffer and die for them, then we, who are sinners, should be willing to suffer and even die for them too?
My challenge to all of you this week is this: Pray for someone who has hurt you; make a sacrifice for someone you dislike. Even if we win only one soul for Jesus Christ by our prayers and sacrifices this week, so great is the value of a single soul, it will have been worth it. Amen.