The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The 4th Sunday of Lent – Year C

“The Prodigal Son”

The parable of the Prodigal son given to us by Jesus in today’s Gospel is really a beautiful story. It is a story about sin and hard Heartedness. A story about repentance and unconditional forgiveness.

When we hear a parable like this it often helps us to compare our own lives to the lives of the characters in the story. For example, let’s take a look at the younger son, the one called the prodigal son.

This younger son had a dissatisfaction with his present life. A sort of longing for something else. Perhaps he was bored with his lifestyle and felt he needed to get away and experience a little excitement in his life.

Maybe he felt stifled and so perhaps he felt that he needed to leave home, to get away from his parents and experience the excitement and pleasures that the world seemed to offer.

He had a longing for something and perhaps wasn’t too sure what it was that he was looking for. Often we too have a longing and are not too sure what it is that we are craving for.

And so maybe this son felt dissatisfied. Maybe his Heart was restless. And so he asked for and received his portion of the inheritance and took off for greener pastures.

He felt certain that the world and it’s pleasures would offer him the peace and satisfaction he was searching for.

And so he had to get away and get out there on his own and find out for himself what the world had to offer – away from the control of his father.

His father respected his son’s free will, gave him what he asked for and let him go.

And so after the young son had squandered all his fortune and was desperate he had to make a decision...

The bible tells us that He said “I will rise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18)

And so it was up to the son to make the decision to come back. The father was not going to force him.

That is the decision that we all have to make. At some point in time we have to decide. Do we stay with all the false happiness that the world offers or do we go back to our Father?

This image of the younger son that Jesus gives us in this parable is shocking but really it is just a symbol of the mess we can get ourselves into when we blindly follow the selfishness of the world.

When I foolishly think I can make it on my own without God or His grace, I become like the prodigal son. When I begin to believe that the really important things in this life are based upon what I do, upon my own abilities. When I insist on things being done my way, then I become like the prodigal son.

I demand what I believe is rightfully mine and off I go. This independent, self-sufficient approach to life is the fundamental sin of many of us. It is the refusal of grace. It is Adam and Eve reaching for the apple of happiness all over again.

But, self sufficiency can only take us so far, then sooner or later, like the prodigal son, we run into a brick wall. We run out of money, we run out of pleasures, we run out of drugs, we run out of time and we discover that in spite of all our temporary pleasures, we are still unhappy.

No matter how great they are at the time, none of the pleasures of life are lasting. After all is said and done there’s still something missing in our lives.

In 1965 the Rolling Stones released a hit song entitled “I can’t get no satisfaction”.

This song sums up our search in life for happiness based on the temporary pleasures that the world offers us.

After we have finished taking our pleasures, after we have finished eating our apples, we find to our unhappiness that a few hours later – we are still hungry.

We can’t get no satisfaction. And so we continue our search – because everyone seeks happiness, everyone was made for happiness. But not everyone knows where to look and so we search.

Our addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink; and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love.

There’s a lot of truth in the statement “An alcoholic tries to find God in the bottle while a drug addict tries to find God in the needle”.

And so like the prodigal son, who found out the hard way, we too, often find out the hard way. The pleasures that this world offers are a lie, a temporary illusion that doesn’t last.

Like the prodigal son we find out that the only way to true happiness is to return to the Father. To come home. To turn to God.

Yes, if we are still dissatisfied with our life no matter what we do, if we feel there’s something missing, if we feel unhappy - perhaps we are like St. Augustine who said “You have made us for yourself, O Lord and our Hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

I am sure that each of us can see some similarities between the younger son in this parable and ourselves.

Now let‘s look at the elder son and see if we are in any way similar to him.

The elder son, despite the fact that he was with his father all those years, was shocked that his father threw a party upon the prodigal son’s return. After all these years he still didn’t know or understand his father’s Heart.

The elder son was distant from his father and aloof. He was like the Pharisees and scribes who complained about Jesus’ ministry to sinners in Luke 15:2

For years the elder brother had done the right thing but for all the wrong reasons. “Lo, these many years I have served you.” Luke 15:29

The elder son didn’t even acknowledge his younger brother as his brother. Instead He says to his father “this son of yours.” Luke 15:30

The elder son is sometimes called the prodigal son who stayed home. He is also lost but this is more difficult to see. This parable of Jesus’ is really about a loving father and two prodigal sons. When we fail to see the love that our Father in Heaven has for all his children then we are like the older son.

The attitude of the older brother towards his younger brother is a mirror-image of the attitude that the Pharisees had towards sinners.

The Pharisees were very religious people – but what’s the use of religion if it doesn’t make us more compassionate towards those who have fallen?

If we find ourselves sympathizing with the older brother then that should tell us just how much of the Pharisee is in all of us.

All of us, to a greater or lesser degree, are in the shoes of either or both the younger son and the elder son.

Which of us can say that we have always been faithful? Which of us can say that we are without sin?

Which of us can say that we have not squandered God’s grace and misused His gifts? Which of us has been merciful to others – even when they don’t deserve that mercy?

Which of us would like to be treated by God according to His strict justice – don’t all of us need more of God’s mercy than His justice? Is He not the merciful Father?

It’s so important for us to understand that the father did not force his mercy on his son. The father’s mercy was always there – the son needed only to turn away from sin and return to his father.

But he did need to do that in order to receive the father’s mercy. He needed to repent and to come back. The father did not force him. The father only waited for him.

And now let’s look at this wonderful father, the father of these two sons.

Obviously, the father in the parable represents God, Our Father in Heaven.

God Our Father in Heaven who loves us so much that He throws a party whenever we come back to Him.

You see, love is a risk. Love depends so much on the response of the other person. Yet, God has taken that gamble with us.

What is God’s reaction when we don’t respond to His love? The prophets tell us that God feels like a spouse who has been abandoned by their mate when we forget about God.

Does God ever grow tired of loving us? No! God keeps believing in love and in our potential to respond to His love.

God wants to find me much more than I want to find Him. God is not the patriarch who stays home, doesn’t move and expects His children to come to Him and to apologize for their bad behavior. God does not wait for us to beg for forgiveness and our promises to do better.

No. God is the Father who leaves the house, who ignores His dignity by running towards us. He is a Father who pays little attention to apologies and promises of change.

Rather He is a Father who runs towards us in order to bring us to His table. A table that He has richly prepared for us.

Our sin always gives us a warped outlook on life and on God.

God made us in His own image and likeness but since the Fall of Adam and Eve, we have made God into our own image and likeness.

Jesus parable about the Prodigal son and the picture He paints for us of our Father in Heaven is a beautiful image of a loving merciful Father coming towards us to meet us with arms wide open, always ready to forgive and to forget.

Only Jesus, the sinless one, could paint such a picture of God.

Remember what the Father says to the elder son. “All that is mine is yours”. That is the same thing that the Father says to each one of us, His beloved children.

When we repent of our sins and return to the Father, He runs to meet us and tells us “All that is mine is yours”.

Isn’t that the most beautiful statement in the whole parable?

“All that is mine is yours”.

One of the songs that I love is one that we often hear during Lent. It’s called “Hosea”. It’s a song in which we sing words of God's invitation to us to "Come back to me, with all your Heart."

This invitation to come back to me with all our heart is not always easy for us to fully accept.

The next line of the song says, "don't let fear keep us apart," but I wonder whether or not it really is always fear that keeps us apart.

For sure, it requires us not to fear, or at least to have a willingness to go forward in spite of our fear.

But it seems to me there’s something more.

Something more like the statement of St. Augustine's, "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet."

“I want to come, Lord, but not yet completely. Not yet really with all my heart. Maybe only just a little bit or maybe a lot, but just not all the way”.

“There are some things here I'd really rather not put aside for your sake. I’m not quite ready to give you everything Lord.”

I think part of the invitation of Lent, then, is to focus on what is it that makes it difficult for us to fully embrace God's love, to fully respond to the invitation to come back with all of our heart.

We have to look at what is causing us to hesitate? What are we worried about giving up? What part of our lives have we not surrendered completely to God?

God is patient. He has waited a long time for us. And He'll keep waiting for us to figure it out. Like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, He is standing ready and willing to run towards us to welcome us with open arms, when we do decide to surrender everything to Him.

“Come back to me with all your hearts – don’t let fear keep us apart. Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life”.

That is Jesus’ message to us today. If we have strayed, He invites us to come back home to Him. All will be forgiven if we repent of our sins and forgive one another, and surrender completely to Him.

He is waiting to tell us “My child, all that is mine is yours”.

Today we are invited to think deeply again about these words of Jesus.

When we turn from our sins and come home, He will run towards us saying “Come back to me with all your Hearts –

I forgive you. I love you. All that is mine is yours”.

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

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