As part of my Lenten reflection I have been praying with selections from the book, “Crossing the Threshold of Mercy,” which is a compilation of quotes mostly from the writing and homilies of Pope Francis. One quote that caught my attention is appropriate to the gospel for this weekend which is from Luke 15, the Parable of the Lost Son, (sometimes referred to as the Prodigal Son.) Pope Francis wrote, “Let us never tire of also going out to the other son who stands outside, incapable of rejoicing, in order to explain to him that his judgment is severe and unjust and meaningless in light of the father’s boundless mercy.” This reminds me that we must notice there is a son missing from the party before we can even begin to try offering such an invitation. The only way to do that is to pray that our eyes be opened as to who among us is alienated by their own choice or by our lack of welcome.
The parable never tells us what that older brother chose. Jesus has left it up to the ‘listener’ to decide how to write the ending, so to speak, and therefore left the challenge for us as well: are we like the older brother who refused to enter into the banquet? Do we resent others who have been gifted in some way and who in our judgment do not deserve it? This is important for us as we examine our conscience to see if we have failed to enter into the invitation of God to let go of resentments or to be reconciled with others in any way. But there is a deeper challenge, which we can see only if we take the perspective not of the brothers or the father, but rather of one of the party-goers who is celebrating the return of the young son. This viewpoint asks us if we have noticed that there is a lack of wholeness in the body of people inside the party. It asks if we have even missed the older brother. It also asks us to find out why that older brother is choosing to stand alone in the night. This is at the heart of what Pope Francis has written.
Like the older brother, some might refuse to enter in because they are angry over some past wound, or because they do not understand the way of mercy. There are some who will refuse to act with respect and who will refuse to see that they have always had the love and mercy of the Father. These might scoff at our faith, at our attempts at doing good works, at our participation in a church family, and at our attempts at reaching out to them. We cannot force anyone to accept gifts any more than the Father forces us to accept His. Part of acting in mercy is to allow the other one the freedom to accept or reject our offer. But even more important is that we allow them the freedom to reject it without holding a grudge against them or judging them poorly. If we were to judge, we would be just like them: holding onto resentment and fear. With these we can only offer kindness and charity, hoping that our good works and the joy of being within the banquet might eventually allow them to cast aside their resentment and enter in. That means, as the Pope suggests, that we must never tire of reaching out to those who are like that older son. Jesus never stops inviting us into His mercy, so we need to ask Him to give us the grace to never stop inviting others into it as well.
May we pray for our eyes to be opened to the one standing outside in the darkness! May we not fear to enter into the darkness to invite the one outside into the light! May we persevere in our Lenten efforts no matter how we feel about the quality of the journey thus far, trusting in the mercy of God who knows the intention of our hearts! May we open our arms to those who are struggling to let go of all that keeps them from mercy and love! May we be freed from all judgment of those who will not enter into the banquet of mercy! And may we never cease in our efforts to grow in holiness because in so doing, we are indeed building up the Kingdom of God! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first photo is one of mine. It is of an active Catholic parish in Medora, North Dakota. I chose this photo because this small, humble parish was alive with people and subsequently with worship. Our church families are those who gather at the banquet to which we are all invited. We are united as members of the community, the Body of Christ.
The next image is the famous Rembrandt painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Next is another of my photos. It was taken at a farmhouse near Noto, Sicily. I chose this one because the figure seems to be walking away from the house, where the banquet is being held, symbolic of the older brother.
Last is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called El Buen Pastor. I chose this because sometimes the one trying to get into the house is the Lord Himself. We cannot get so carried away with our merry-making that we forget Him and subsequently leave Him outside. Therefore we must always be attentive to our guests, those who are inside the house, as well as the ones who we are trying to invite in. This icon can be found at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/el-buen-pastor-188-william-hart-mcnichols.html