Saturday of the Third Week of Lent – Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
I’m sure that we’ve all heard the parable of the Prodigal Son before, but if we’re not completely overwhelmed by God’s great mercy, then perhaps we’ve missed some of the details, some of the ways that Christ tells us just how much God loves us. So let’s consider three details, three little things that Christ points out in the parable, so that we can meditate more on God’s mercy, and then see how it is we can live out that mercy in our own lives.
These three details are: what the son did, what the father was doing when the son came back, and what the father did for the son.
First, what is it that the son does? We know that the son takes his money and leaves the father, wasting his money on whatever, chasing what seemed pleasurable and good at the time. However, sin can never satisfy anyone for very long, and we see what sin really does when the son goes to feed swine (which would have been a very nasty job), and actually wants to eat the nasty food that the pigs do. Here we can see three things that sin does to hurt us. First, sin confuses us, and makes us go after the nasty things of this world, things that can never satisfy for very long. Secondly, sin is also emptiness, and it leaves us empty when we turn to it. Thirdly, sin lowers us. The prodigal son started out as a beloved son, and then, after his sins, found himself in the pigpen with the pigs. Saint Augustine says that we become like what we love; the prodigal son lived like a pig, loved pig things, and hence became a pig, as it were. However, the prodigal son doesn’t stay there. Jesus tells us that he “came to his senses”: there is a sense in which sin really distracts us and prevents us from seeing clearly. When he is able to break free, he heads back to his father’s house.
This leads to our second point: what was the father doing? Jesus tells us that “while he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.” This can only mean that the father was on the lookout for his son. He was waiting for him to return. This is the way God’s mercy is. We know from Scripture and from first-hand experience that God’s merciful love is “a prior love: He loved us [first] (1 Jn 4:10). I wasn’t anything but rather nothing, and He loved me before I existed. He gave His Son to save me, even before I was called into existence. [Think about this for a moment; God paid a debt for me before I had even racked it up. To think, too, that He called us into existence fully knowing how sinful we would be before we were that sinful. He didn’t have to, but He did, fully knowing the ugly thing that I would become through my sins. That says something about our dignity as children of God, and what great hopes He has for us].” God is always waiting to take us back to Himself. He is always waiting for us to return.
We can think of some words of Jesus to Saint Faustina which should fill us with confidence in His mercy and love for us: “The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is — trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive” (1578). “I never reject a contrite heart” (1485) – note the categorical nature: “never.” No exceptions, no little lines at the end of the contract. Never. “Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul” (1777). This is the way God’s mercy is.
Thirdly, what did the father do? He wouldn’t even listen to what the son said: “I no longer deserve to be called your son.” The son thought that his sin had taken away his dignity of being his father’s son, but the father restores that dignity to him, and raises him up. The father doesn’t berate the son for his sins: he’s just happy to have him back after having lost him to sin. It seems as though the father doesn’t even remember anything that the son did wrong! Yet, this is the way God’s love is: if we think that God keeps a book with a list of sins, a sort of balance or register of the good things we do and the bad things we’ve done, then we really don’t understand God, His fatherhood, or His mercy.
The son received far more than he could have ever hoped for, but this is the way the Father’s love is for each of us. This calls to mind some quotes of Saint Therese of Lisieux: “O God, you have surpassed all my expectations.” “O God, you have surpassed all my expectations.” Or, “We can never have too much confidence in the Good God, He is so mighty, so merciful. As we hope in Him so shall we receive” “We can never have too much confidence in the Good God, He is so mighty, so merciful. As we hope in Him so shall we receive.”
So, what does this mean for our lives? In Saint Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” This reconciliation isn’t hard! It takes place through the sacrament of Confession. Even if it has been a long time, even if you are afraid or don’t know what to say, God is waiting for you there, just as He waited for the Prodigal Son.
As we continue through our Lenten journey, let us take some time to think about the understanding that we have of God’s mercy. Do we really trust in His great love for us, in His concern for our salvation? Are we convinced that He will forgive any and all of our sins, provided we draw near to His mercy?
Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, let us ask for the grace to draw near to God’s mercy, especially through the sacrament of confession.
Saturday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time – Lk