How far will our Lord go to save a single soul? There are billions and billions of souls that have been given existence, does our Lord truly care for each and every individual soul? Would God, a loving Father, who created all persons in existence and endowed them with an immortal soul, knitting each individual soul in its mother’s womb, be willing to write off a vast number of those souls because they are pagan, because they are sinful, because they do not yet know the depth of his love for them? Are there “acceptable losses” in God’s eternal plan of salvation? Does God know that “you can’t win them all”? Can God come up with a plan that provides for the salvation of every soul in existence? The Wisdom writer speaks to the love that God has for all souls in being: “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” (Wisdom 11,23-26) God, who can do all things, exercises his great power in mercy, forgiveness and love. In his providential care for all living beings, God loves and sustains all things and strives to preserve all he has created.
God is a lover of souls. Each and every individual soul that God brings into being is loved by him with an everlasting love. God never forgets a single soul that he has created. God grieves over every lost soul. If a mother had twelve children and one was taken from her by some tragic event, would she merely say, “O well, I have eleven other children” ? Certainly, she would always feel the loss of the child that was taken from her. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to his people, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” (Is 49,15f)
This personal love of individual souls seems like madness to us. How can there be a love so great and infinite? Is God’s love truly stronger than death itself? Is the love of God such a crazy love? St. Catherine of Siena, in her Dialogue, takes up this reflection: “O eternal Father! O fiery abyss of charity! O eternal beauty, O eternal wisdom, O eternal goodness, O eternal mercy! O hope and refuge of sinners! O immeasurable generosity! O eternal, infinite Good! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are Life itself, and everything has life from you and nothing can have life without you. Why then are you so mad? Because you have fallen in love with what you have made! You are pleased and delighted over her within yourself, as if you were drunk [with desire] for her salvation. She runs away from you and you go looking for her. She strays and you draw closer to her. You clothed yourself in our humanity, and nearer than that you could not have come.” (Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena) For Catherine, God is not only a “lover of souls” but he is a “mad lover!”
John outlines the plan of God, the mad lover of souls, for the salvation of all souls: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3,16f) God’s plan is a universal, “catholic”, plan in that it is meant for all people of the world. It is not only for the good and deserving but God’s mercy goes out to all who are in slavery to sin, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5,8f)
In Luke’s gospel, Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, knows only a world of loathing, condemnation and hatred. Being a small man, he climbs a tree because he wants to “see who Jesus was”. Perhaps he had heard of his ability to give new life and that he was truly “a lover of souls”. Will God notice this small and sinful soul? Jesus immediately sees him and calls him by name down from the tree and then brings his gift of new life and salvation to his house. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Lk 19,10) Zacchaeus receives his gift with joy and makes reparation for all his sins. Crazy to have so much love for a soul that is so lost in sin, but that’s who God is.