Saturday, March 22, 2014

One of the most difficult things to give away is kindness; it usually comes back to you.

For there are three ways of performing an act of mercy: the merciful word, by forgiving and by comforting; secondly, if you can offer no word, then pray - that too is mercy; and thirdly, deeds of mercy. And when the Last Day comes, we shall be judged from this, and on this basis we shall receive the eternal verdict. - St Faustina

Gospel text (Lk 15,1-3.11-32):
Tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus, all of them eager to hear what He had to say. But the Pharisees and the scribes frowned at this, muttering: «This man welcomes sinners and eats with them». So Jesus told them this parable: «There was a man with two sons. The younger said to his father: ‘Give me my share of the estate’. So the father divided his property between them. Some days later, the younger son gathered all his belongings and started off for a distant land where he squandered his wealth in loose living. Having spent everything, he was hard pressed when a severe famine broke out in that land. So he hired himself out to a well-to-do citizen of that place and was sent to work on a pig farm. So famished was he that he longed to fill his stomach even with the food given to the pigs, but no one offered him anything. Finally coming to his senses, he said: ‘How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will get up and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against God and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants’. With that thought in mind he set off for his father's house.

»He was still a long way off when his father caught sight of him. His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said: ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son...’. But the father turned to his servants: ‘Quick! Bring out the finest robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and kill it. We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and is found’. And the celebration began. 

»Meanwhile, the elder son had been working in the fields. As he returned and was near the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it was all about. The servant answered: ‘Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father is so happy about it that he has ordered this celebration and killed the fattened calf’. The elder son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him. The indignant son said: ‘Look, I have slaved for you all these years. Never have I disobeyed your orders. Yet you have never given me even a young goat to celebrate with my friends. Then when this son of yours returns after squandering your property with loose women, you kill the fattened calf for him’. The father said: ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad’».

Luke’s Gospel of the Prodigal Son, however, reminds us of two powerful truths: how joyous we should be to have a kind and merciful God and how difficult it is for us humans to be kind and merciful to one another.

The three perspectives of the Prodigal Son parable show us how difficult – and profound – this whole “kind and merciful” thing really is.  We might try to figure out which figure represents “me” in the story, but all of the angles offer a chance for reflection.

The younger son: When selfishness leads, as it always does, to emptiness and misery, do I surrender to God?  Do I have the humility to admit fault and return home?  Am I open to the mercy and kindness others may show me?

The elder son:  Do I feel entitled because I do things “the right way?”  Do I think my work ethic and good fortune in life give me priority over those who cannot conquer their own challenges?

The father: When others abandon me or thanklessly squander what I offer, do I embrace them when they return?  When people self-destruct, lose their way, or succumb to weakness, am I there with a kind hand to hoist them back up?  Is my heart open to forgiving those who need mercy?

Let us pray for the generous heart of the father, the humility of the younger brother, and the work ethic of the elder brother.  Let us try, like the Lord, to be kind and merciful.

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