Reflecting God's love
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
-Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
The mercy of God is upon us, in the person of Christ, the epitome, the image of God’s love for his people, for his creation, but do we even recognize, so much more reflect that love?
Since February of this year, more than 10 old churches have been burned deliberately and desecrated in France, according to the Catholic News Service. The latest of this spate of burning was the 19th century church of St. Sulpice, which took more than a century to finish, and the mother church of the Society of the Priests of Saint-Sulpice or the Sulpicians. They have done a lot for the church and for the communities where they were planted as missionaries, including the founding of the city of Montreal in Canada.
What has the church done to merit such acts of hatred? A church is supposed to be a place of refuge, a sanctuary for people who are lost in the pains of our busy and uncaring profit-oriented society, a place where they are supposed to encounter God, but for people to start burning our churches, this is not just about hate, this is because they don’t feel God’s presence in the church.
A church is God’s house, where everyone, regardless of creed, of religion, of faith, of belief, should feel that something holy is present in the place, and it doesn’t need anyone to do some catechesis just so people of other faith or belief would respect our place of worship.
They don’t experience God’s mercy in our church, and almost always it reflects on their experience of mercy from the people who goes to that church, who frequents that church – and our being strict and self-righteous can lead to people experiencing a punishing and judgmental God.
In today’s Gospel we hear of a very famous story – that of the prodigal son, or is it about the prodigal father? What Jesus is telling us, is showing us in this story is that Our Father is a merciful Father who will lavish us with his love if only we return to him.
The story shows us what our attitude should be if we are truly sincere in our being repentant, just like the prodigal son.
The son, who squandered his father’s wealth, realized that the happiness of the world is temporary. So, what did he do? He first looked into himself. What have I done? Is this the life that I want to live? What should I do?
With all humility, he accepts his fault and resolved to amend his ways, not feeling entitled that he is the son of a rich man, but feeling downcast, considering himself to be one of the servants.
“I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”
St. Therese of the Child Jesus once realized that God must be very merciful. She thought that if her father here on earth, who is also a saint, both parents, Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin, would allow her to sit on his lap when she sins, then how much more would Our Father in heaven show us, give us His mercy and love. After all, He gave us His son to suffer for our sins, to be the ultimate sacrifice that would lead us, that would show us how we should be loving each other. The kind of love that is pleasing to God.
Our Father is just as merciful to us, but of course, we must first come to the realization that we have sinned. We must first recognize our sins, that we are sinners, that we have squandered the gifts that God has given us, that we have been arrogant enough to feel that we are entitled to His treasures in heaven without recognizing our responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.
As we have heard in our second reading, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
God has given us the ministry of reconciliation – every time we confess our sins, every time we come to mass and receive the absolution from our priest, every time we forgive those who have offended us, every time we receive forgiveness from those whom we have offended, we have been reconciled by God and we are given the opportunity, as our Psalmist would say, to experience, to taste and to see the goodness of the Lord.
Today, let us be reconciled with Our Father, who, with so much love, would run to us when he sees us returning to our home. He does not even need to hear our windy and sorrowful words of regret, because he already knows what is in our hearts – all we need to do is to just go home, go home to Him and to feel His love. We are loved.
And so we ask ourselves, are we a reflection of that love, of God’s love to and for others, especially those who are in pain, or have our churches become a symbol of institutionalized hate, self-righteousness, and judgment?
Photo: From the net (CNS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany|Reuters).