Carmel Mongey SSC finds a rich vein of knowledge about God’s motherly love for us all in a parable from St Luke’s Gospel and she suggests an Ignatian approach to exploring this text.
Three of the most beautiful love stories of all time are set side by side in the gospel of St Luke. Two of the stories are always being written about, marvelled at, sung, prayed through and cherished – the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Lost (Prodigal) Son. I suggest that by praying through the third story, the somewhat neglected one, we may come to a deeper realisation of the mother-love of God.
Joy in heaven
In Luke, chapter 15 we read about the lady who has ten coins, and loses one. She lights a lamp and sweeps the floor until she finds it. As in the other stories she, too, calls in her friends and neighbours to rejoice with her because she has found it. And each time Jesus’ message is, ‘Just so, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine good people who don’t need to repent.’
For centuries people have seen the symbolism Jesus uses in the first two stories. The father of the prodigal son is an image of God, our loving Father. The man searching for the lost sheep is Jesus, the good shepherd who will give his life for his sheep.
The lady who lost the coin – who is she an image of? She too, of course, is an image of God, of the mother-love of God. Jesus is leading us to see that in God, every good and wonderful kind of love is multiplied infinitely: father-love, mother-love, the love of spouses and friends. We need to accept all those kinds of love from God. Men, women and children need to experience the mother-love of God.
After the Christmas events, St. Luke tells us that ‘Mary treasured all these things in her heart’ (2:19). We need to do the same. In time, we will become more like her in our ability to mirror God’s mother-love to others.
A method of praying a gospel story
What now follows is a healing way to pray a gospel story as taught by St Ignatius. It can lead to deep peace, hope, compassion and joy.
1. Choose a quiet time and place. In imagination, you will sit with Jesus as he tells the story to you. But even before you see him, relax in his love. Breathe in God’s love and joy, quietly, deeply. Breathe out all your cares, saying in your heart, ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’ Say it slowly, in time with your breathing. (After reading each paragraph now close your eyes and take time to see and live the scene.)
2. Picture a quiet, safe, beautiful place, and go there to meet Jesus. Wherever you choose, he will be with you there. He said, ‘Come to me, all you who are tired from carrying heavy burdens, and I will refresh you.’
Suppose, today, you are waiting for him by a stream, near a village in his home province of Galilee. You are sitting on the bank, with your feet dangling in the water. It refreshes and relaxes you as it flows over your feet. Listen to the sound of the stream flowing merrily over the stones. Feel the thrill of waiting here for Jesus to come.
Take time to see all the colours around you, to feel the grass, to admire the trees and the fields, to see and hear the birds. The sun is warm but there’s a cool breeze here by the stream. Thank God for his beautiful creation. Thank him for your life, and for his constant love, and for this time to sit here, actually waiting for Jesus to come.
3. You see him coming towards you along the river bank. Eagerly, you hurry to meet him. You notice how he’s dressed, the colours he’s wearing. See his warm smile as he comes nearer, his arms outstretched to welcome you. You hear the delight in his voice as he speaks your name, and thanks you for giving him this time. His touch is welcoming, strong, caring, healing. Spend some wonderful moments with him.
4. He sits beside you on the riverbank, while he tells you the story of the lady who had ten coins. Now, as you sit with Jesus, see the image he is giving you, and be in the story. Ask the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of love, to enlighten your heart and mind – to cast light on the deep meaning of this story for you. Ask Our Lady to help you open your heart to the motherlove of God. Realise that Jesus is telling you that the lost coin is you at some time of your life. Maybe even now.
Be the coin
You are lying there in the in the dust of an earthen floor. The house is dark. The floor is cluttered and uneven. Like every other coin, you were made to shine. Why then are you here, covered with dust? What is this dust that clouds your image? Is it sadness, worry, anger, guilt, pain, loneliness, even despair? Or is it just a little coating of dust, suggesting that you haven’t had much time to enjoy God’s love and closeness during the past days or months or years? Or is it that you feel God is hiding from you?
You need to spend time every day, even in the darkness, waiting, hoping, trusting. The mother-love of God will break through to you. ‘Can a mother forget her baby? But even if she did, I could never forget you.’ (Is 49:15).
And notice what the Bible says next: ‘I have carved you on the palm of my hand.’ Every coin is engraved with an image. What image do you bear? The very first chapter of the Bible tells us that we are all created, male and female, in God’s own image. So we are carved by God’s own hand, in his own likeness.
You are precious
What a destiny is yours, planned from all eternity! You are precious. You are made to shine, reflecting the glory of God. But just now you are clouded over and hidden away. Take heart. God’s mother-love and father-love will never give up on you. Know that you will be found.
Now there is a glimmer in the darkness. You see a lovely lady, lighting her lamp. She had ten coins, but she has lost you. Just now she thinks only of you. See the motherly concern on her face. Why are you so dear to her? Hasn’t she nine others?
In Jesus’ days, the mark of a married woman was a headdress made of ten silver coins, linked together by a silver chain. For years, a girl would scrape and save to get together her ten coins. The headdress was like a wedding ring with us. When she had it, it was so much part of her that it couldn’t be taken away even to pay a debt. It was her treasure. See yourself as one of these ten precious coins, so dear to the lady. You have a value far beyond money. She could have said, ‘I’ll sweep the house in the morning to find it.’ But no, she can’t wait.
God seeks us everywhere
Your spirits leap up when you see her taking a broom. In the light of her lamp she sweeps back and forth, into every corner, around every obstacle. This lady looking for her coin, is God looking for you and finding you, now that your faith has been awakened. The lady sees her coin glinting in the light of her lamp. (You had prayed, ‘Holy Spirit, enlighten my heart. Shine the light of your love on me’). Tenderly she lifts you up, stroking you to remove the tiniest fleck of dust.
In her hands you are safe, you are loved, you are cherished. Tell her how you feel. Rest in her hands for a while. Contemplate her beautiful face. She holds you close to her heart. Once again, you mirror God’s image, God’s love-light. Suddenly, you realise you are not a coin any more. You are you, transformed by her love.
The lady’s marriage crown is complete. In this reunion with her, as so often in the Bible’s imagery, you are a privileged guest at the wedding feast. Heaven will be the final and complete union with our loving God. And heaven begins here, when one awakens to this mystery.
The lady invites you and all your friends – as well as her friends to celebrate, singing and dancing with pure delight. Her love enfolds you. All she wants of you is to accept her love, to believe in it even when your life is clouded over. Then you will certainly love and trust her in return.
Jesus joins in
Jesus himself, who has guided you through this story, joins in the celebration. God is one. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in love. Each loves us. It is not that the Holy Spirit alone loves us with motherly love. You can see from the gospel that Jesus loves us with tender, motherly love, with strong fatherly love, with the love of brother and friend. ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.’ On 15=13,14).
When you open your eyes, spend a while enjoying the closeness of God, the mother-love of God. Express your love and trust and thanks in whatever way your heart tells you.
Tomorrow, or another day, Jesus will lead you into this story again. Perhaps you will be in a different beautiful scene – by the lake, in a boat, on a hillside, or in a garden or woodland clearing. The coin may be:
– some other lost or needy part of you, in your present life or in the past. We need God’s healing every day
– someone you find it hard to love – someone you need to forgive
– someone or some group now lost in sin, in addiction, in rebellion
– some people who are oppressed, rejected, anguished, broken, or those responsible for the misery of others
– a whole nation – any nation – where God’s image is clouded over.
This article first appeared in Spirituality (Jan-Feb 1996), a publication of the Irish Dominicans.