Friday, May 16, 2014

We Are Beloved

It has been a while since I posted my last blog but life has been very busy and some health problems have also interspersed themselves into my life.  Be that as it may, I wanted to share some thoughts about one of my most favorite stories from the New Testament - the story of the Prodigal Son.
I recently reread the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen's wonderful book entitled Home Toniight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Nouwen wrote this book after spending a number of hours contemplating the painting of Rembrandt known as The Return of the Prodigal (pictured here). It made me reflect again on how that parable plays out in our lives.
There are three main characters in the story: the son who returns home ashamed for the way he left, taking his inheritance and wasting it, the elder son who cannot understand the loving mercy of his father, and the father himself who runs to the wayward son, embracing him and welcoming him home.  How are we related to the characters in this story?
I am sure that we all have found ourselves at one time or another in our lives, having done something we shouldn't have done, or failing to do something we should have, and wondering if we can be forgiven for our behavior.  Have we felt that forgiveness might not come to us?  This story, however, reminds us that our God will always welcome us home no matter what we have done or failed to do.  What a blessing to know that we are so beloved.
More often than not, howver, we probably find ourselves in the position of the elder son - feeling that we have been doing what has been asked of us and resenting those who fail to live up to our standards.  How often have we judged others in our righteousness?  How often have we been like the pharisee in another Gospel story who stands before God reminding him of how good we have been and feeling so far above the sinner who quietly asks for God's mercy?
How many times have we been like the forgiving father in the story?  Are we ready to forgive those who have wronged us in some way or do we continue to harbor anger and resentment in our hearts?
I know I was moved by the answer recently given by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, when asked to describe himself and his immediate answer was "I am a sinner."  We are all sinners and in need of God's loving forgiveness which is always there for us.  But, in turn, we must be open to forgive others.  As the Holy Father states in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, "At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it."
How welcoming are we, then, to the sinner?  How welcoming are we in our churches to invite in those who have fallen away for one reason or another?  Our new bishop in our Diocese of Albany, New York, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, wrote this in his latest column in the diocesan newspaper:  A Church professing a Gospel of forgiveness must always be ready to seek forgiveness.  A Christian, who believes in the real personal presence of Christ needs to stand ready to witness how Christ has rescued him or her from sin - if in no other way than by forgiving other sinners.  Perhaps sinners will come back to church when it is the place where all repentant sinners can find a home - where the rest of the Gospel can be heard from and beyond the pulpit and the pew more loudly and clearly than words alone can ever preach.
May we ever strive to be like the father in the parable, ready and willing to accept the sinners who may have offended us and being people of forgiveness because forgiveness has so often been shown to us.