Have we been merciful as the Father is merciful?
During the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has asked us to do a number of things, but two stick out to me: go to confession and to be compassionate.
Through the sacrament of reconciliation we are given the opportunity to bring our sins to God, lay them at his feet and be washed in his forgiveness. Yet, how often do we find ourselves right back where we started not a few days later? And how often are we willing to forgive others the way we have been forgiven? We are called to have contrition for our sins, to express what we have done. To attempt to fix what is broken in our lives through compensation and penance. And finally, to correct our lives for the future and sin no more. Through this sacrament, we become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17); a creation made in the image and likeness of its creator.
The Gospel reading calls us to be compassionate and merciful like the Father. We can relate to each of the characters, the prodigal son, the older son and the father. The prodigal son is us when we have sinned, those times in which we have fallen away from God and are struggling to come back. The beautiful scene where he is embraced by his father, reminds us of the unending love we are given by God the Father. The older son is us when we do not want to forgive those who seek or need our forgiveness. We want to hold a grudge or even find them “unworthy”. “I have been faithful and they haven’t, why should they be celebrated?”. The father reminds the older son in the Gospel to not dwell on this, that everything he has is his, and to rejoice in the fact that his brother has come back to the fold.
While we may identify with the sons from time to time, the real focus here is the role of the father. “ I am the son of a compassionate father. I am an heir”. Henry Nouwen The Return of the Prodigal Son. As the heirs of our heavenly Father, we are called to carry on the compassion that we are so freely given. We are to strive to live in His image and be like him through forgiveness of others. We are called to be like the father, to open up our arms and just love. He did not question, or reprimand, but opened up his heart and home to the son who had squandered his inheritance.
During this Lenten season, let us ask God to help us let go of the competitive and petty nature of this world. Let us love as He has loved, and forgive as we have been forgiven.
Kim Valdez is the Pastoral Associate at Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center in Houston, Texas.