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The Prodigal Son

In 11 The Constant Church on 2013/07/21 at 12:00 AM

• Shortly before he died, the great Dutch artist Rembrandt painted one of his most beautiful works, which is entitled The Return of the Prodigal Son. While the original version of this painting is in St. Petersburg, Russia, we have a copy of it in our confessional, which I encourage you to visit!

• In this painting we can see a young man in tattered clothing and sandals, kneeling before his elderly father, leaning his head into the father’s breast in repentance. And the father, in turn,embraces the son with his age-stiffened hands in an act of sublime mercy.

• This story, of course, is the subject of today’s Gospel. And it’s a marvelous Gospel story, isn’t it? I love this Gospel because it reminds us that there is always hope for the sinner.

• This story tells us clearly that no matter what we’ve done in life, we have a loving Father who will always take us back with compassion. This should give us all great comfort!

• While there are many angles from which we may look at the Gospel, I want to focus today on the aspect of reconciliation and forgiveness that forms the heart of this Gospel story.

• St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that God’s omnipotence – the fact that He is all-powerful – is most perfectly and fully expressed in His mercy. In other words, God’s uses His omnipotence in order to forgive us our sins.

• It’s a powerful thought, is it not? To think that of all the ways that our Lord could manifest His omnipotence, He uses it to forgive us and reconcile us to Himself. We see this symbolized today in the person of the father of the prodigal son.

• Despite the numerous sins committed against him by the son, when he sees his son coming from afar he runs after him; and in that moment sin and mercy meet. And the mercy of the father is so overwhelming that the son can barely finish the confession he has prepared.

• And not only does the father forgive, but he calls the servants to bring him new clothes, sandals, and a ring. He orders the slaughter of the fattened calf and a party ensues, for the father wishes to rejoice in the reconciliation he is now experiencing with his son.

• Brothers and sisters: This is how our God deals with us. This is the God we worship! This is the God we believe in.

• Yet we cannot see in the father simply an image of our Father in heaven; we must also see in him a model for us to follow in forgiving others.

• One of the more difficult parts of life is learning how to handle the hurts and offences that occasionally occur in our dealings with others. Because we humans are flawed and sinful, we often hurt one another: sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.

• But regardless of whether the people who hurt us mean to do so or not, our duty as Christians is to forgive always. For the true Christian, there can be no conditions on forgiveness.

• We must be willing to forgive, even when the person who hurt us has no remorse or contrition, even when the person who hurt us does not desire our forgiveness.

• Indeed, to harbor grudges and to hold on to past slights is truly a very selfish act that will never do anything for us except make us miserable. Anyone who holds onto a grudge in this life will never be happy and peaceful.

• Rather, we must always seek to be peacemakers, looking for ways to reconcile with those who have hurt us.

• And the reason we must forgive is simple: it’s because God has forgiven us. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading today, God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ. God does not count our trespasses against us but seeks to be reconciled with all of us.

• In turn, we must have the wherewithal to get over our selfish and proud emotions and extend that same mercy to others. For indeed, my brothers and sisters, if we don’t forgive others inthis life, we have no reason to expect that our Lord will forgive us in the next.

• Moreover, when we humble ourselves enough to forgive those who have hurt us, we are freed from the bondage caused by our negative emotions. Forgiveness makes us free. It increases charity within our hearts. And best of all, it makes us more like God.

• Contrast the father in this story with the older son who is holding on to his grudge. Who is happier? Who is more at peace? Who would you rather be?

• But this Gospel today is not simply about the mercy of the father; it is also about the conversion of the son. The son undergoes a powerful change of heart in this parable in order to be reconciled with his father, and we must be willing to do the same.

• Yet keep in mind that conversion always comes at a cost. Pain is always involved because conversion of any kind is a matter of dying to self in some measure.

• It was not easy for the son to change. It was only the terrible misery of his condition that forced him to take the courageous steps to free himself from the slavery into which his sin has cast him

• But like the son, we must be willing to recognize our sinfulness. We must recognize the ways we have hurt others. We must learn to admit our wrongs and failures. We must be willing to ask for forgiveness. And we must be willing to make amends.

• In his misery the son recognizes how he has wronged his father. The son then decides to admit his wrong and ask for forgiveness, and he is willing to become his father’s hired worker in order to make reparation for his sin.

• Likewise, we must be willing to take these difficult steps when we hurt others. While doing these things can be very painful, they are necessary. And we cannot allow our pride get in the way of trying to reconcile with those whom we’ve hurt.

• Like the prodigal son we must humbly acknowledge our wrong-doing and seek reconciliation with those around us.

• But above all, we must seek reconciliation with God and with His Church, as St. Paul encourages us to do. While it’s so very important that we make peace with one another, we must also be willing to reconcile with our Lord through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

• Confession cleanses us from sin; it makes us a new creation, as St. Paul says. Confession reconciles us with God and with His Church. And it helps procure for us the grace to avoid future sins.

• Along with prayer and frequent worthy reception of Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the best preparation we can make for Heaven.

• My brothers and sisters, is there anyone in this world in need of your forgiveness? Is there anyone against whom you are holding a grudge? If there is anyone in your life who needs forgiveness, then grant it and experience the freedom and peace that forgiveness brings.

• And if there is anyone to whom you owe an apology, then make it. Humble yourself, admit your wrong-doing, and do your best to make amends. Life is too short for us to be at odds with one another, and eternity is too long for us to spend it separated from God.

• So let us all reconcile with one another while we still have time in this life.

• But most importantly, let’s make it a point to reconcile ourselves with our Father in Heaven, and with His Church. And in so doing, let us each become a new creation in Christ.

Copyright 2010 by Reverend Timothy S. Reid

Reverend Reid is pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic  Church in Charlotte, NC

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