The Great Gift of God’s Mercy

My dear friends,

Lent is a Season of Mercy; a time to experience anew the merciful love of God in the places where we feel weak; and at the moments when we fall or struggle with temptation. It is at such moments when we need God more than ever. This is the invitation of grace: urging us, in the experience of sin and weakness, to throw ourselves right into the embrace of God’s mercy. For some it can be hard to believe that God loves them at such moments. We all have the tendency, like Adam and Eve, to hide our sins and weaknesses from God and others. St. Theresa of Lisieux once said that what hurts God most is not our sins, but our lack of confidence in His mercy. God knew that trust would be difficult for us. To help bolster up our confidence, Jesus used parables to help us understand what God is like toward the weak, the lost, the sinner. One of the most beautiful of all Jesus’ parables is no doubt the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” I would encourage all of us to take time this week to reflect on this parable, found in chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, so that together we can know more deeply and completely the gift of God’s mercy toward us and approach Him with greater faith and trust.

For a son in Jewish culture to ask for his father’s inheritance, which was usually given and divided after a father’s death, is equivalent to wishing that one’s father was already dead. If this was true for the younger son, then we see that he is already distant from his father within his own heart, and his leaving to a far off land is merely a reflection of his inner disposition. Though this younger son was living in the home of his father, the father was not cherished and welcome in the home of his heart. Sin becomes possible only when we forget how precious we are to God, when we distance ourselves from the beauty of His love and the immensity of His goodness. This is what made it so easy for the younger son to leave and why he fell so quickly and easily into a dissolute life-style. When our hearts are not drinking daily from the wells of divine intimacy, we try to compensate for this lack of love by trying to fill the space with things that can never take the place of God. There is a divine size hole in our hearts that only God can fill. Not all the pleasures and things of the world could ever satisfy this thirst and need for God.

But the detail that caused the greatest surprise in those listening to this parable was not the coldness and selfishness of this son, but the reaction of the father when the son returns. When the younger son finally comes to his senses in the pig sty, penniless, hungry, and tired, it is the memory of his father’s goodness that awakens his desire to return home. But just how good is his father?  Perhaps he never knew. He is not expecting to be welcomed back as a son; he feels far too unworthy of that. His only hope is that the father will at least let him come back as one of the hired servants. But Wow! Is he in for a big surprise!

His head hardly pops up above the road coming over the horizon when the father spots him. Just how good and merciful is his Father?  The father answers this question by immediately closing the distance that lay between them, running toward his wayward son with arms outstretched, joyfully and gratefully welcoming him with an embrace and sealing his love with a kiss on his tear stained cheek. And it would not be at all surprising if, for shear joy, the father covered his face with kisses.

When the father puts a ring on his child’s finger, the best robe over his shoulders, and sandals on his feet, all these gestures say loudly and clearly that the father has fully restored him to the freedom and dignity of a son.

Can the point Jesus is trying to make in this parable be more clear? Is it possible that God is really like the father in this story? The resounding answer is Yes!! God is truly that good and merciful, beyond our expectations, always surpassing what we imagine. This is the same God who awaits us in the sacrament of Reconciliation. This is how He loves those who humbly come to confess their sins, awaiting us is the same tender mercy that longs to embrace us.

With our minds and hearts uplifted by this teaching of Jesus, may we approach Him and His Father with greater confidence and trust, especially when we feel weak, lost, and burdened by sin.

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