BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL
- In her novel ‘Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy’, author Rumer Godden tells an intriguing tale. The heroine of the story is Lise an English army girl who falls on hard times and becomes a prostitute after the liberation of Paris in World War II. Within a short time, she becomes the leading Madame in one of Paris’ smartest brothels owned by a man named Patrice. But Patrice soon tires of Madame Lise as his mistress and she is humiliated. In trying to help a younger prostitute escape from the same fate she suffered, Lise shoots and kills Patrice. So she is sent to prison where she encounters the French Dominican Sisters of Bethanie. This is a Community dedicated to serving prostitutes, drug addicts and vagrants; some of the sisters were once themselves such unfortunates. Lise becomes one of the Sisters of Bethanie. -Sister Lise is a prototype of the lost sheep and the lost coin in today’s gospel, reminding us that God’s grace is greater than our sins. — Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’
- In Iran, it is standard practice for families of murder victims to oversee the execution of the murderer of their family member. They are also given the choice to pardon the offender. Such was the fate of a young man who had already served seven years for killing 17-year-old Abdollah Alinejad in a street fight, according to The Associated Press.In May 2014, Samereh Alinejad watched as a noose was slipped around the neck of Bilal Gheisari, her son’s killer. This was her chance to have the vengeance she’d waited seven years to have. Instead, she and her husband stepped forward at the last minute and removed the noose from his neck. Gheisari’s death sentence was commuted and he will finish serving a 12-year prison sentence instead.
- Sandra Walker, a mother of two, lost her husband in a car accident that also caused her to have a life-changing brain injury, according to The Daily Mail. At the trial for the accident, in her court statement Walker said she sympathized with the woman who crashed into them—who herself lost a child in the accident—and gave her a hug. “I know she is going through as much pain as I am feeling. I wanted her to know that I forgive her for what she did,” Walker told WSB-TV.
- Steven McDonald was a young police officer in 1986 when he was shot by a teenager in New York’s Central Park, an incident that left him paralyzed. “I forgave [the shooter] because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart,” McDonald wrote in his memoirs. While the younger man was serving his prison sentence, McDonald corresponded with him, hoping that one day the two could work together to demonstrate forgiveness and non-violence. Unfortunately, the young man died in a motorcycle accident three days after his release; but McDonald still travels the country to deliver his message.
We see from our First Reading that while Moses was on Mount Sinai talking to God, the chosen people were acting perversely. They had casted for themselves an image of a calf, worship and sacrifice to it, giving credit to the idol for bringing them out of slavery in the land of Egypt and the Lord became very upset. God was prepared to destroy them all. But Moses implored God to have mercy and forgiveness on the sinful people. Hearing the plea of Moses, God changed his mind and decided not to destroy the people as he had originally planned.
In today’s Second Reading, too, we see how the mercy and forgiveness of God sanctified St. Paul because he had a sincerity of heart. By the mercy of God, St. Paul “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence,” (v. 12) was made “an example to those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life,” (v. 16).
Today’s Gospel also speaks of the mercy and forgiveness of God. In this case, three parables are given to declare the magnitude of the mercy of God. These are the parables of the “Lost Sheep” (vv. 3-7), of the “Lost Coin” (vv. 8-10) and of the “Prodigal Son” (vv. 11-32). Many tax collectors and sinners come to Jesus and drew criticism on the part of the Pharisees and the scribes (v. 1). They were grumbling because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
Let us meditate on the parable of the prodigal son. The parable begins with a request. The prodigal son says to his father: “Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” Here we are given our first insight concerning sin. Sin always involves the misuse of something good. For example, sins of the tongue like gossip, slander, swearing and lying all involve the misuse of something good, namely, the God-given gift of speech. Sins of the flesh are committed when people misuse the good gift of sexuality which the Lord intends for marriage only. Notice that in this story the younger son requested the share of the estate that was coming to him. He was not making an improper request. He was not asking for something evil. He was requesting something good which his father was planning to give him anyway. His sin came when he misused the good gift and squandered his inheritance on what the gospel calls “dissolute living.”
Next is what we find interesting in this regard is the fact that he does all this squandering in “a distant land.” I don’t think that was a coincidence. You see when people commit sins that they intend to repent of, they desperately try to run away from the heavenly Father, just like this boy tried to run away from his father. For us who committed sins, we make all efforts to keep them secret, that nobody knows them. But that’s a very big mistake because eventually all sins catches up with us, as this boy’s sin eventually caught up with him. In the parable we are told that he spends all his money; then a famine breaks out and he finds himself with nothing to eat. So he ends up dining with pigs.
There we have another insight concerning sin: it eventually turns us into slaves. This is something that people with sinful addictions know a great deal about. For example, a recovering alcoholic will tell you that when he started to drink excessively he was acting in total freedom but eventually it came to the point where he could not stop. He had become a slave to his sinful behavior.
Finally, praise God, the prodigal son wakes up and “come to his senses”. He repents but notice that his repentance is rather superficial. He had what the Church would call “imperfect contrition.” Imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we fear the consequences, especially hell. Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for the best possible reason because we have offended our Heavenly Father whom we love above all things. But notice that his father still forgives him. The Church teaches that our heavenly Father will do the same for us. He will forgive us of our serious sins if we go to Confession with at least an imperfect contrition in our hearts.
Once he is forgiven, the prodigal son is able to share once again in the family meal. For us that is symbolic of the Eucharist. This is why the Church teaches us that if we have mortal sin we may not receive Communion again until we go to Confession and confess our sins.
The parable is a beautiful story of love, of the love of God for us. The merciful love of God is at hand. When one is lost and has gone astray, and is found or has returned home, then the reason to celebrate is a must. For the lost is found and is restored to the fold.
We are all sinners and in one way or another have disobeyed God. It is very important to accept that one has wronged or hurt others. And the determination to correct what is good and correct. And so the son returned home to ask for his father’s forgiveness. He was forgiven and was restored in the family with his robe, ring and sandals, and a celebration where the fattened calf was slaughtered. It was a call for celebration because the father had received back his lost son, for “he was dead and now had came back to life.” But the jealous elder brother did not understand the feelings of the father, and the love of the father for his sons.
The Lord Jesus told this parable to the tax collectors and sinners and to the Pharisees and scribes who were questioning why the master welcomes the public sinners and dines with them. But the Lord has a different mindset for he comes not for the righteous but to those who shunned away and have closed themselves to God. Today, the public sinners are very obvious, as well as the modern-day Pharisees and scribes.
This is the mystery of God’s love. The Lord is always there for us in good times or in bad times, for his mercy is without end.
Let us pause, pray, reflect and ask ourselves:
Am I like the prodigal son?
Am I like the jealous elder brother?
Am I like the loving father who welcomes anyone even if he/she had done wrong?
Do I celebrate the loving mercy of God and his goodness?
Prayer: Almighty and merciful God, we thank you for your loving mercy, for always forgiving us even when we have sinned and displeased you. We ask for your strength and grace so that we can be merciful to others and forgive. This we ask through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.