Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fourth Sunday of Lent: Seeking, Forgiving, Celebrating
I once received a card that had a picture of a bear on the outside with the words, "The secret of happiness lies deep down within us. If we listen closely we can hear that voice calling out.” Then on the inside were the words: “Send down a chocolate doughnut.'"
Well, chocolate doughnuts might not be the secret of happiness, but the stirring in the stomach, even if it was a questionable motivation, was sufficient to turn the prodigal son of today's gospel reading back home. He remembered his former happiness, regretted his sins and just wanted some place in his father's home, even if it was as a servant.
It had all gone wrong for the boy, very wrong. It seemed like a smart move to take his inheritance and move on with his own life. Never mind that he still had a responsibility to work the land his father had given him and to support his father. Never mind that the land was a sacred portion of the family's heritage, not to be sold; the son had his own life and desires; so he sold it and moved on to what he hoped were greener pastures. He had a wild time, and made a lot of friends, all of whom forgot who he was when the money ran out. He found himself in the worst situation of his life. He knew his father wouldn't let him starve, and he had to admit that he was happier before he left his father. So he took the difficult step of turning back home. And his homecoming was more than he could ever have expected.
When we sin, it is usually because we try to convince ourselves that something, which we know is wrong, is, in this instance, right. If we have enough courage to admit it, we soon realize that we are no longer happy. We can't be at war with God and at peace with ourselves. We can try, but it won't work. And when we are not at peace with ourselves, we are overwhelmed with what we perceive is the darkness of others. This is simple transference, transference of our feelings about ourselves onto others. We are masters of transference. As a result we have a difficult time seeing beauty, truth and goodness in the world. But when we can muster up the courage to say to God, "Father, I'm sorry," and realize that God responds, "You are forgiven,” we become happy with ourselves and with our world. Yes, we still recognize sin in the world, but this negativity takes a back seat to our sense of the overwhelming goodness of God’s creation. I once heard a young lady say that after a really good confession at college she ran around the campus and had a profound realization of the beauty of the world. The joy of having guilt removed is the focus of this Sunday with its rose vestments, Laetare Sunday.
The Forgiving Father runs out to meet his son. He doesn’t wait for the Prodigal to finish his little speech. The Father is overwhelmed with joy. The son also felt the joy of being forgiven and restored to a loving relationship with the Father.
The elder son seems to have cause to be upset. He did the right thing throughout his life. He worked his portion of the inheritance, his two thirds of the property, for his father. He suffered through his brother's insulting of the father. There is nothing that gets us angrier than when someone we love is offended. But he let this anger control him.
A banquet is thrown, but the elder son refused to enter. The Father who was offended had forgiven the Prodigal. The elder son refused to forgive. In scripture a banquet is a way of expressing the intimate sharing of God's life. The Elder Son separated himself from the intimacy of his Father's love because he refused to forgive his brother. We separate ourselves from the intimacy of God's love when we refuse to forgive others who have sinned.
We all have battle stories. We have all had people who have consciously and callously hurt us. I've been offended and so have you. But if we don't forgive those who have hurt us, we will be keeping ourselves out of the banquet of God's intimacy. “Father, you don’t know what he or she did, said. I am taking my anger to the grave.” Well, that will fix them. Look, if we want to receive God's forgiveness, we have to give God's forgiveness. If we don't forgive we will end up standing outside the banquet griping and grousing, but separating ourselves from God's love. At the conclusion of the parable, only the Elder Son is absent from the banquet. And he did this to himself.
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” That’s right. He welcomes us and eats with us. He shows us a better way to live, a way to live free from sin. The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Forgiving Father and Elder Brother is a brilliant depiction of our human condition, our foibles, and the unlimited compassion that God offers us if we are willing to turn from sin and hatred.