During the Lenten season some years ago, I had a very deep experience that changed the way I see every person I encounter in my life. I was flying from Philadelphia to Washington DC; a pretty short flight, about 35 minutes. As I entered the plane (which was very small with propellers; I could barely stand up straight inside), I looked for my seat, and the person sitting beside it immediately caught my attention: he was a young man, maybe 25, with piercings in his ears and face and covered with tattoos… And when I say covered with tattoos, I mean it. All the parts of his body that could be seen were filled with figures: drawings of dragons, skulls, serpents and all types of symbols that I couldn’t even see clearly because they were all crowded and almost overlapping each other. As the plane took off, he was just staring out the window, and I was staring in awe at his arms…
I was reading and praying during the flight and he was completely silent, but I couldn’t just leave the plane without talking to that young man. So when we were just about to land, I turned to him and asked, “Why do you have that?” pointing at his tattoos. He answered me, “Because I want to, because I like it; it’s cool.” “What does your mom think about it?” I asked. He glanced at me with total annoyance and said, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” I looked at his fingers and I realized that on each one of them there was a capital letter, so I asked him, “What do those letters mean?” He turned to me, and for the first time I saw his gaze – it was sad, it was lonely, it was indifferent…but in need of affirmation. He turned, and in an ironic voice said, “When you unite the two hands, it says something.” So he did – he put both of his hands together and there I could read: LOST SOUL.
My heart sank. I almost had tears in my eyes, and I said to him, “But you are not lost!!” He looked at me and said, “Oh yes, I am.” I repeated with more conviction, “NO YOU ARE NOT LOST!!” So I pulled out a holy card that I had of Jesus Christ crucified and ask him if he believed in Christ. He looked at it with skepticism and just turned to the window. I asked him to promise me that he would keep that picture of Our Lord crucified in his wallet, just to remember that there is a God who has loved him, redeemed him, and saved him. He replied by saying that he could not keep promises, but took the holy card and placed it in his jeans pocket. By this time we were exiting the plane, and I never saw him again.
But the next morning I offered my Mass for him and I have been praying for him ever since, because I believe that one day I will see him in heaven. I don’t think he is lost; I actually think he is searching. I don’t think he doesn’t care; I actually think he cares much more than he pretends. What he needs is someone to care for him, to commit to him, to teach him that he is loved and has an immense value in the eyes of God. This event stayed in my mind, in my heart, and especially in my prayers, for days and weeks, up until today. I still remember my lost soul – that’s what I call him: my lost soul. I will pray for him every day until I see him in heaven. It was no coincidence that God allowed me to sit next to him; no coincidence that we were traveling at the same time, that we were able to meet, that I happened to have the holy card of Christ crucified…
So all of this reminds me of that parable that Christ tells in the Gospel about the lost sheep. The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 to go to find the one stray!!! This is the love of Our God, this is the heart of Our God, and this is what we are contemplating these days of Lent… He leaves everything behind, he risks it all, just to go and find that lost sheep, and once he finds him, he puts him in his arms, embraces him, and takes him home. What an incredible God we have!!! Who can doubt his love? Who can feel so lost that there is no hope to escape a life of sin, misery, rejection, self-hatred or pain? Who is really lost?
I believe that while there are souls who pray, that while there are people who care for one another, there is NO LOST SOUL. ALL SOULS HAVE HOPE. The only moment that they could be lost is in the moment of their death, when they freely reject the love of Jesus. But while they are alive, while we can be with them, NONE OF THEM, as crazy, as far, as sinful, as mean as they could appear…none of them is lost. Actually, every soul has been REDEEMED by Christ, has been bought at a very high price: all the blood of Christ shed on the cross. The joy of my consecration is to be able to reach many souls – many lost souls –give them love and hope, and tell them that they are LOVED; they are truly and personally loved.
So the next time that you think of your brother who is into drugs, your husband who is addicted to pornography, your sister who has depression, your cousin who has no job, your friend who was abused, your boss who has done a messy deal…. Don’t judge them, don’t think they are lost, don’t give up on them. Christ has redeemed them and he loves them, so see them with the eyes of Christ and pray for them. Believe in them – believe that miracles can happen and that they start in your own heart… Many means also need to be set in place to help them, but in your heart at least, the first means is there: belief and hope. Christ the Good Shepherd never leaves his flock unattended; he is faithful. Beg him to convert each of our hearts and help us find him in this Lent; through our personal conversion, we can reach others and show them the very heart of Christ – his love, manifested in a special way in his passion…. No one has greater love than to give his life for a friend.