06 March 2010

Boundless Mercy

It has often been remarked that today's Gospel about the prodigal son should really have been named after his compassionate and merciful father. True enough.

If we consider the three main characters: the father, the prodigal son and the older son, we might notice different times in our lives where we have identified with each of the characters. Sometimes we are the one who has transgressed and acted foolishly. How many times have we rehearsed our apology over and over, to ourselves, as the prodigal son did? In the Gospel account, the son didn't even get a chance to finish the last line of his well-practiced apology before his father ordered the servants to bring him a robe.

At other times, perhaps, we are awaiting the return -- physical or otherwise -- of one who has strayed. Maybe we have parted hearts with a friend who has injured or offended us and we stand ready to welcome someone back into our life. One can almost imagine the "merciful father" peering out the window every day, hoping to see a sign of his son in the distance. When we find ourselves in his shoes, we model the Lord's mercy by showing compassion to the penitent soul who has returned to life.

Last and certainly not least is the uncomfortable role of the elder son. Most of us feel a certain shame when we realize that we, like this pouting sibling, have dug our heels into the quicksand of moral superiority. We have convinced our egos that we are blameless and that another is not worthy of the mercy shown to him. Our self-righteousness occludes our ability to perceive a situation from the vantage-point of the merciful father and ultimately, from the vantage-point of our Heavenly Father. In these moments, let us ask for the gift of magnanimity so that we may be generous in forgiving others and exceedingly lavish in showing mercy.

"So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marveling that you fell;—there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart."
St. Francis de Sales

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