I must have written and spoken dozens of pieces on today’s gospel account of the loving parent, more often referred to as the Prodigal Son. I spent some time in recent days writing today’s reflection, seeking to present this great parable of Jesus in a way that was indeed food for the faith of FFF readers.
Finally, last night, I gave up and then remembered one of the most helpful reflections I have every read, given by Pope Benedict to those who gathered for the Sunday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on a Lenten Sunday in 2010.
So instead of trying to be original I am simply going to share his text with the prayer that it is as inspiring for you as it has been helpful for me.
Pope Benedict: Sunday 14 March 2010, St. Peter’s Square.
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 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; 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 their parents: at first the child depends on the parents, then asserts their autonomy; and, in the end if the child develops well they reach a mature relationship based on gratitude and authentic love.
In these stages we can also identify moments along each person’s journey in their relationship with God.
There can be a phase that resembles childhood: religion prompted by need, by dependence. As people grows up and become emancipated, they want 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 faithfulness and even if we distance ourselves and get lost God continues to follow us with his love, forgiving our errors and speaking to our conscience from within in order to call us back home.
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.
Image above: Eric Kilby
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DROP IN AT A GATHERING:
Monday 13 March 2023 (and every Monday)
10.00am at Moko (Kudos) in the Bush Inn Centre Christchurch (Directions) Trish
Tuesday 14 March 2023
10.30am at Zenders 44 Hopkins Road, Newstead, Hamilton (Directions). Christina
And watch this space for one coming up in Fairlie, South Canterbury.
Wow! So beautifully put! Thank you for sharing Father John.
Beautiful. The experience of mercy changes everything.
Certainly the mercy we receive when we’ve gone off track & come back is by far more real and healing than any of our attempts to earn God’s favour by trying to obey a set of rules.
And we are far more real to ourselves and God.
Thank God we can emulate this with our own children and others.
I find myself connecting with the older brother several times over the past few days. Forgive me Father.