This year the Diocesan Priests Retreat, held at Mariannhill from 5-10 October, was given by Fr. Bob Jones SVD and was called an Earthen Vessel retreat.
There are two points Pope Francis mentioned in a couple of his recent daily homilies which I want to emphasise and link with
TODAY’S GOSPEL [LUKE 15: 1 – 3. 11 – 32]. There we read the famous parable of The Prodigal Sons. I use the word sons deliberately because both sons were prodigal – the elder no less (perhaps even more so) than the younger.
In the first homily Pope Francis said:
“there is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future as long as they repent.” (recall last week’s reference to the Lord’s use of this word) What as splendid summary of today’s parable! However, I do not wish us to ignore the connection of the parable with opening words of OUR OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [JOSHUA 5: 9a. 10 – 12] – “this day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Certainly the younger son’s father rolled away the reproach from him. Now, I have always been frustrated that the parable does not record the final state of the elder son. Did he repent of the manner in which he reproached his father? Did he eradicate his jealous envy of his repentant brother? Perhaps the lack of a clear indication hides the lesson we have to learn?
Indeed, the younger son had a past and he enjoyed a future because he repented
. “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you’ … .” It is valuable for us to recall last Sunday and Moses’ stated intention of turning aside and going to see the strange sight of the burning bush. He did and, because God saw him, found himself standing on holy ground. The father of the younger son (still at a distance), “saw him … embraced him and kissed him. … for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” A new and future life emerged. Many of us have felt in our hearts the sheer relief (as if a huge burden has been taken from our shoulders) after a truly repentant celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We have not only felt something special but our minds are suddenly relieved of stress. We have had an experience of God’s mercy. “This day I have rolled away the reproach from you.” Heart and mind – as a living person we have found peace in the Father’s welcome …. “and they began to make merry.”
However, what sort of future did the elder son enjoy?
“He was angry and refused to go in.” Now we read that “his father came out and entreated him.” He was asked to turn, go inside and experience the joy of the entire household – to be a real, living part of it all. It is the same invitation (not a demand) on offer to so many outwardly good, faithful Christian-Catholics who are carrying (burdening themselves) baggage that excludes them from a full, happy and joyful participation in the believing community.
Now we face the challenge of the second point made by Pope Francis. In another homily he said that “Christians must not stop at ‘that’s the way it always has been done’ (otherwise it means their hearts are closed and they succumb to self-worship). Life is half-lived, patched-up and mended with things added onto structures that are not open to the voice of the Lord.”
The elder son had a
half-lived life, patched-up and mended …. closed to the voice of his father. He had forgotten what in fact he had never lost – the richness and joy of being a member of the household, never experiencing the joy of possession – “son you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” In fact, in truth, the elder son had also taken “his journey into a far country.” He may well have not changed his location but the reality was that he had been far away for a long time. He was invited to go in – go through the holy door and be inside the father’s house, to become a happy and contented member of the family – to feel at home.
The younger son had experienced what it meant to be at home, knew what was missing from his life and turned aside and around. He went back. The elder son
“heard the music and dancing” but had to ask “what this meant.”
In the end, did he ever “come to himself?” Was he also not ‘prodigal’ – recklessly wasteful.