Editor’s note: The following is adapted from Archbishop Gomez’s homily at St. Paul’s Church in Harvard Square, Massachusetts, Sept. 11, a Mass of the Holy Spirit to mark the start of the 2016—2017 Academic Year.

It is always wonderful to pray as a Catholic. Because when we celebrate the Eucharist — we are joined in prayer with the family of God in every part of our country, in every culture and every part of the world. And in the Eucharist we are all joined together in the worship of God with the angels and saints in heaven.

So today we are praying for students, for faculty, for all the staff and employees here at Harvard University, and we are joined in our prayer with the whole universal Church and the Communion of Saints.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells us three parables about mercy.

These parables are all familiar to us but we need to keep coming back to them. Because with the parables today our Lord is teaching us who we are. And he is also teaching us who God is.

My brothers and sisters, especially you, my young friends — there are a lot of important things that you will learn this year and throughout your life.

But this is the most important lesson for all of us — to know who we are and to know who God is. To know his love for us, his mercy, his plan.

In these parables today, our Lord is telling us that we are all like that little lamb that is lost and that coin that has been misplaced. We are like the prodigal son who leaves his Father’s house and gets lost along the way.

This is the truth of our lives. We are made for God. Made to love and to be loved. But we fall away, we separate ourselves from God — by our weakness, by our sin.

This is what happens with the prodigal son in the Gospel. He does not value the gift of his life, the gift of his father’s love.

It is always a sad scene for me when I read this Gospel. I always imagine the look on the father’s face and how he feels when his son comes to demand his inheritance and says he wants to leave home. I imagine the sorrow of the father. How heavy his heart must feel.

Of course, the son leaves and soon he gets lost and loses everything — even his dignity. 

But there is a little detail in this story that I think is the key to the whole parable. The Gospel says about the son: “So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” 

This is a beautiful image. And my question is this: How did the father know his son was coming home? He had been gone a long time. How did the father know to look at that very moment?

And I think the answer is this: He knew his son was coming home, because he never stopped looking for him. Every day when his son was away, the father kept watching for him. He would leave his door open, hoping his son would return.

My brothers and sisters, in this beautiful image, we see the truth about God. God is a Father looking for his lost son, and when he sees him — he goes out running to meet him and to hold him; and he rejoices when he finds him again.

The truth is that God has a plan for your lives — a plan of love, a plan of beauty. He wants you to do great things with your lives. And there is nothing that you can do that will stop him from loving you. He made you for a reason — so he is not going to give up on you.

Remember that always, my young friends. God does not want a single one of us to be lost. That is why he sent Jesus Christ into the world. 

St. Paul says today in the second reading: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.”

All of us can say the same thing. This is who we are. To be human means we make mistakes, we get off track, we get lost. Pope Francis says this about himself. Remember at the beginning of his pontificate, someone asked him who he was. And he said, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

This is all of us, this is who we are, my brothers and sisters. We are sinners who were lost. But God has found us and looked upon us in his mercy.

And now my brothers and sisters, God is calling us to be a witness, to be living signs of his mercy in the world. Jesus said, “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.”

This is a command to us — to put ourselves in the service of others, to grow every day in mercy and love.

May God bless all of you and your families. And I entrust you to the love of the Virgin Mary, our Blessed Mother, who is the Seat of Wisdom and the Mother of Mercy.

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