By Father Christopher O’Connor
FOR THE LAST DECADE, I have been attending the Priests, Deacons, Seminarians Retreat at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, each June. Men come from all around the country to attend this magnificent conference with uplifting music, challenging talks and engaging fraternity. The last number of years, our Diocese of Brooklyn has had the most attendees.
One year, Dr. Mary Healy, professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, gave an insightful teaching on healing. She used this Sunday’s Gospel, the parable of the Prodigal Son, to make a point. She led us in a reimagining of the parable and asked us the question: What if the older son saw his brother before the father?
The murmurs in the crowd showed that she hit home.
“What do you imagine the older brother saying to the younger one?” she asked.
“You have some nerve coming back here! How dare you show yourself! Wasting my father’s money and now look at you. You are a disgrace, you are not wanted here. Save yourself the embarrassment and just go away.”
Can you imagine that? Maybe then the younger son would have just turned around and gone someplace to die, robbed of the one thing that gave him hope – the father’s love.
Reading the parable, you can see that actually both sons are lost. For the younger one, it is more obvious because he disrespects his father, takes the inheritance and squanders it. The older brother is filled with resentment and anger. He fails to see the good in his relationship with his father. He sees himself more as a servant than a beloved son. He won’t even refer to the younger son as his brother, instead saying to his father: “your son.” He allows his anger to consume him.
Notice how the parable ends? The father invites the older son to come to the banquet, invites him to rejoice that the younger brother was lost but now is found. It does not tell us if the older brother goes with the father. We are left to ponder what happened.
That parable was addressed to the Pharisees and scribes, but also to us. Jesus is inviting them – and us – to join with Him, to rejoice with Him, especially when the lost return home. Jesus is asking us not to pass judgement on what the person has done in the past, but where are they now.
Every year on the Monday of Holy Week, our diocese joins with the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the Archdiocese of New York for Reconciliation Monday. All of our churches are open from 3 to 9 p.m. for confessions. One of the great joys of that day is when the “big fish” come into the confessional. Those people, who have not confessed for 20, 30, 40, 50 or more years, are like the Prodigal Son. They experience such great relief and love when they are embraced by the Father’s love. At the end of those confessions, I usually tell the penitent, “Welcome home,” and the response is usually a big smile.
St. Paul challenges us in the second reading to be ambassadors of Christ “as if God were appealing through us.” He calls people to be reconciled to God. Rather than being like the older son, who scorns the wayward brother, a great way to be an ambassador of Christ this Lent would be to invite people to be embraced by the Father’s love.
Invite someone to come to confession on the Monday of Holy Week. Let them not be afraid, but confident of the Father’s love. The same love we see in the first reading where God has brought His beloved children out of the desert into the Promised Land, the same love that led Christ to die on the cross for our salvation, the same love of the father who stares into the distance waiting for our return home.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
Joshua 5: 9a, 10-12
Psalm 34: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7
2 Corinthians 5: 17-21
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
Father O’Connor is the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, Woodside.