Last weekend I was in Joplin with 11 other men from our parish. We had the privilege to present a gift to 14 men at St. Peter the Apostle Church. We were giving the Men’s Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat. At the retreat, we sang a classic Christian hymn at our Saturday Mass. It goes like this:
… Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
That hymn reminds me of today’s readings, especially the gospel on the prodigal son. I believe all 25 men at the retreat could relate to today’s gospel. Moreover, I feel confident in stating that we too, can relate and all have a story to tell.
When we hear the phrase “prodigal son,” many thoughts come to mind. Most likely, we focus on the actions of the prodigal son. We have a tendency to relate to him.
When I mentioned to my own mother that I would be preaching this weekend on the prodigal son, her first reaction was, “you were never a prodigal son — well there was that one time in high school.” And I thought to myself, just the one time. I guess I hid things well.
As parents we think of a child that has drifted away, caused us heartache and disappointment. This may be brought on by the child’s arrogance, selfishness, and/or lack of respect. It may be our own stubbornness that is at the core of this separation. However, in the vast majority of cases, all we want is for that child, that friend, or even ourselves to come back home, to reconnect. In coming together we can work on reconciliation and forgiveness.
If we focus on the father in the parable, we see a person that is generous, offers forgiveness freely and lovingly. He is welcoming and shows great mercy. For me, the father in the parable represents God the Father, Christ, and the Church. Some might argue that the Church doesn’t always convey mercy, at least not like Jesus. Probably because when we hear the word “Church,” we think of Rome, the magisterium, or even the parish priest.
So I ask the question, “Who is the Church?” I say, we, the people are the Church. We are the spouse of Christ. We are the ones called to take charge, to take the lead in offering mercy and forgiveness. We, the laity, the deacon, the priest, all of us collectively are the Church. I believe Pope Francis in his declaration on this the Jubilee Year of Mercy emphasizes this point.
And, if we focus on the older son, I would argue we behave more like this son in going about our daily lives. I know for me, I struggle with the same issues and emotions of the older son.
I/we often get angry, upset, resentful, and jealous to something or someone. I am quick temper. I become distant and have no desire for conversion of heart. It happens more often than I care to admit. I attempt to justify my actions only later to seek His mercy.
Just this past week, I had an incident happen with a stranger. Not to go into details, but I lost my composure (i.e., lost my temper) even though a jury of my peers would probably say that I was justified for my actions. Regardless, my response lacked Christianity. I am certain the other person did not see Jesus in me. Fortunately we have the sacrament of reconciliation and I sought forgiveness before Mass this weekend.
Even in our second reading today from second Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation … entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Jesus’ ministry was often about forgiveness – eating with sinners, forgiving sins publicly, gently preaching about his Father’s unbounded mercy.
In this Year of Mercy, whom do we need to forgive?
- Is there someone in the family with whom we have not spoken to?
- Is there someone at work or school who has wronged us?
- A spouse who has betrayed us?
- Is there a child who has rebelled?
One of the men from Joplin shared at one of our table discussions that he recently heard from his sister who he hadn’t spoken to for seven years. Reconciliation had begun.
Another man shared about his wife’s recent passing and that he had not spoken to their son for many years. His son came back home for the funeral service. The two of them reconciled and are speaking again.
Then another man from my own parish sought for prayers for an 88 year old retired priest friend. The priest has fallen into great illness and the prayer request from the priest was “if it is not God’s will for me to recover, I ask that you pray that I would be worthy to enter heaven.” Wow!
Can we be as generous as our merciful God? Is there anything more God-like than forgiveness?
In the ultimate act of forgiveness, obedient to his Father, Jesus gave his life for the forgiveness of our sins. This is what salvation history is all about – forgiveness.
I want to conclude my homily with a few comments on CRHP, specifically on my experience from last weekend in Joplin. All 25 of us got to share in God’s mercy. We had presentations, discussion topics, social activities, plenty of good food and fellowship. We attended two liturgies. There was laughter, joy, and much gratitude. Overall, it was a wonderful, uplifting weekend. I can’t say enough and hope the women and men of our parish signup for our own CRHP weekends taking place here, next month.
Finally, I leave you with this prayer of gratitude composed by the men from Joplin.
Almighty God, thank you for entering the hearts of these men this weekend.
Thank you for the men and women of Branson who have helped bring this retreat to our parish, and for the various volunteers who brought this weekend to fruition.
Thank you for this weekend of grace and blessing, a time of prayer, reflection and fellowship to bring us closer to you.
Grant us the ability and courage to bring this retreat to our fellow men in our parish. Help us to continue to seek you, especially when life is good.
We pray that you keep our hearts open to your love, and help us learn how to trust the path you want us to follow, and act upon it.
…May God’s Amazing Grace open our hearts to be a Church endless mercy.