the power of love

Mar 6, 2021

Today’s reflection is available in two forms, written and as a 20 minute prayer reflection. below and at this link. The gospel readings itself is included in the Lectio Divina for today at this link.


This gospel passage is not about a prodigal son, nor even about two dysfunctional sons. Certainly there was a prodigal and an older brother, both immature and sad.

But this wonderful passage is really about a parent who knows how to love.

I had started to write my own reflection on this then recalled that a few years ago (14 March 2010) Pope Benedict explained the parable better than anyone I have ever heard or read reflecting on this great story.

So I’m happy to let Benedict provide today’s food for our faith:

Pope emeritus Benedict reflects:

“This passage of St Luke constitutes one of the peaks of spirituality and literature of all time. Indeed, what would our culture, art and more generally our civilisation be without this revelation of a God the Father so full of mercy?

It never fails to move us and every time we hear or read it, it can suggest to us ever new meanings. Above all, this Gospel text has the power of speaking to us of God, of enabling us to know his Face and, better still, his Heart.

After Jesus has told us of the merciful Father, things are no longer as they were before. We now know God; he is our Father who out of love created us to be free and endowed us with a conscience, who suffers when we get lost and rejoices when we return.

For this reason, our relationship with him is built up through events, just as it happens for every child with his parents: at first he depends on them, then he asserts his autonomy; and, in the end if he develops well he reaches a mature relationship based on gratitude and authentic love.

In these stages we can also identify moments along the person’s journey in their relationship with God. There can be a phase that resembles childhood: religion prompted by need, by dependence. As a person grows up and becomes emancipated, they wants to liberate themselves from this submission and become free and adult, able to organise themselves and make their own decisions, even thinking they can do without God. Precisely this stage is delicate and can lead to atheism, yet even this frequently conceals the need to discover God’s true Face. Fortunately for us, God never fails in his faithfulness and even if we distance ourselves and get lost he continues to follow us with his love, forgiving our errors and speaking to our conscience from within in order to call us back to him.

In this parable the sons behave in opposite ways: the younger son leaves home and sinks ever lower whereas the elder son stays at home, but he too has an immature relationship with the Father. In fact, when his brother comes back, the elder brother does not rejoice like the Father; on the contrary he becomes angry and refuses to enter the house.

The two sons represent two immature ways of relating to God: rebellion and childish obedience. Both these forms are surmounted through the experience of mercy. Only by experiencing forgiveness, by recognising one is loved with a freely given love a love greater than our wretchedness but also than our own merit do we at last enter into a truly filial and free relationship with God.

An Invitation:

  • Set a few minutes today to prayerfully re-read Benedict’s reflection allowing yourself to be moved in mind and heart as he invites us to appreciate the real meaning of this often misunderstood story.
  • You can read today’s scriptures at this link.
  • Great to have your comments, Thanks to those who share their own reflections. This is a great inspiration for all of us.

Here is the reflection above as an audio, expanded to be a 20 minute time of guided prayer.

And here is today’s gospel as a 20 minute Lectio Divina.



  1. John,
    As usual, sincere thanks.
    My journey is one of one step forward,several back. I do know throughout ut I am loved

  2. Is it Rembrandt who has the painting of the father, now an elder, with his arm around his son in a gesture of love and endless welcome.

    I was struck in Pope Francis’ letter on st Joseph (subtitled ‘with a father’s heart’) where he suggests Jesus ‘learnt’ this parable from the love of Joseph for him

    • Thank you John a great reflection

  3. Deeply meaningful explanation of this well-known parable so often not really understood… easy to trace my own growth by remembering how my reaction to it has changed over the years. As a young person it upset me that the hardworking son seemed to be treated unfairly. After some very difficult times I came to take reassurance and comfort from the joyful greeting the other son received despite behaving badly. And now I have more understanding of how this parable can lead to a closer personal relationship with God as well as a general description of becoming a mature Christian. The latter will help me answer questions a nonbeliever has been asking me. Thank you.

  4. Good morning Fr. John.
    As soon as I started reading the reflection this morning my mind went to the wonderful memory I have of Henri Nouwen’s book – The Return of the Prodigal Son – with the Rembrandt painting on the cover.
    Complete and unconditional love.
    This book changed my life for the better. Thank you for the Reflection.
    This morning time with you starts my day with great joy. SKJ

  5. Wonderfull from Benedict, a very natural process that our own children go thru with us, very human
    Exactly our journey with the Father whom first loved us to allow us the freedom to go thru all that doubt and rebellion to finally enjoy the fillelial love.
    Love must be freely given and freely received, fhankyou Fr John
    Ps I played yesterdays reflection at our mens breakfast.

  6. Thank you John for your excellent studies. Of course neither son had a “mature” relationship with God.None of us do. We continue all our lives to drift in and out of prodigality for that very reason. Pope Benedict’s own journey illustrates this well. Perhaps those best able to help others without judgement and with compassion, are those for whom the far country is not a strange destination.
    I wonder too whether Jesus the Son, leaving the Father and being crucified in a far country, to return again to his home is not a useful metaphor for us all?
    Keep up the good work, John.

  7. Thank you for Benedict’s reflection on this scripture’ opening my mind and heart to a wider appreciation of God’s relationship with me.

  8. Powerful food today. The scriptures, particularly this story, tells us about the radical relationship we have with God. To encounter mercy we need to encounter a person, Jesus of Nazareth. Following Pope Benedict’s illumination, Pope Francis invited us to spend 2015 reflecting on God’s mercy to discover that mercy is a person, not an abstract idea. “Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness….” Misericordiae Vultus. Thanks John for the audio of the merciful father shared today.

  9. The reflection and the lectio divina are powerful in knowing and experiencing God’s love for me. Today’s message was verse 18, that I must rise and move away from my messy difficulties, be truly sorry for my shortcomings and have the intention of moving towards Jesus and he will do the rest in drawing me close to him. Thank you Fr. John.

  10. On Monday evening we have a meeting with parents of children in the Sacramental Programme currently preparing for Fisrt Reconciliation. The meeting is centred on this parable of the Loving Father with two lost sons. We plan to use some of the comments of Pope Benedict that you have shared with us. We look forward each day during this Lenten season to the reflections you feed us with.

  11. Thankyou for the words
    of pope Benedict’s, Fr John


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