18 Sep Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting this homily on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it: ‘tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
We have just heard what is commonly known as the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, the Parable of the Lost Younger Brother, and the Parable of the Lost Older Brother.
But much celebrating as well…these four parables could just as easily be called The Parable of the Found Sheep, the Found Coin, the Found Younger Brother, and the Parable of the Merciful Father.
There is so much joy at the end of these parables.
When the Sheep is found:
“7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7). Imagine! ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents!’
When the coin is found:
“10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) Imagine! The courts of heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents.
When the Lost Younger Brother returns:
“23 Get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found! And they began to celebrate.’ (Luke 15:23)
These parables place before us the limitless mercy of God.
The Parable of the Lost Younger Son both provides us with a parable of the limitless mercy of God and a parable of repentance. The Father says “Let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Repentance brings life! Repentance brings joy! JOY in the heart of the sinner and Joy in the heart of God.
What is the common element in all four of these parables: The Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, The Lost Younger Son and the Lost Older Son?
The common element is that the Lost are sought out and found. The sheep is valued so much that the shepherd knows it is lost, searches for the sheep until it is found. The woman values the coin so much that she knows it is lost, and searches for it until it is found. And more poignantly: the father values his sons so much that despite their despicable behaviour toward Him He seeks them out. God seeks out the lost, because no matter what they have done he does not stop loving them.
The Gospel says as the younger son was returning: “…while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
His Father saw him while he was still far off. His love for His Son, despite the terrible way his son had treated him, had Him watching, waiting, hoping for his return…and the minute he saw him he was filled with compassion, ran, put his arms around him and kissed him.
Three parables that end very happily, very joyfully. God values the Lost…He seeks them out…Repentance causes the courts of heaven to rejoice.
Given the prospect of such heavenly delight, let us make the most of the great Sacrament of repentance, of Confession. Only there can we fully recover our true value. Only there can our inner peace be restored, our joy. Only there is our transcendent dignity restored. Only there.
But what about the fourth parable? The parable of the Older Son. Many of us would say…What about it? He has done nothing wrong? He has stayed home. He has done his duty. Done everything the Father has asked of him. All true. But, sadly, he has done all of this without love.
His resentment of the Father’s forgiveness of his younger brother is very strong: He spits out: “ ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ He is so eaten up with envy and jealousy that he can’t even say my brother… “when this Son of yours.” He fails in charity. He fails in love. He is so self-focussed, so consumed with envy and jealousy, that he can’t love his brother; so self-focussed he can’t see his Father’s love for him. He works expecting to be compensated. He is stiff-necked like the Israelite’s in the first reading from Exodus. He has created a false God. That false God is that he deserves something in return. Thus, he is self-righteous. Demanding justice. Yes, he has done his duty…but without love.
Remember the formal definition of love from St. Thomas Aquinas…. Love is seeking the good of the other as other…meaning loving expecting nothing in return. We see this in the Shepherd who risks everything to seek out the Lost sheep. We see this in the woman who searches so carefully for the lost coin. We see this in the Merciful Father who waits and watches and hopes… Longing for the return of the Lost Younger Son.
Sadly, the older son is with his Father and fails to recognize that he has his Father’s love. Because He does not love his Father in return, he expects to be compensated. He expects Justice. And Justice is exactly what he receives.
In the Spiritual life how often do we expect something in return for our prayers…how often do we want to be compensated for our practice of the Faith? How often do we doubt when we perceive we have not been compensated?
God is love. When we repent of our sins we experience that love as compassion and mercy. When we fail to repent we experience God’s love as Justice. The Father loves both sons equally. The younger son repents of his sins. He expects nothing and he receives the Father’s Love in mercy and compassion. The older one does not repent. In fact he is so blind he doesn’t even see his sins. He expects justice. And that is exactly what he gets.
This parable ends with the Father pleading with the older son,
‘31b Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
The parable ends on this sad note…the Father pleading with the Older Son. We presume the Older Son obstinately stays in his stiff-neckedness; in his self-righteousness.
St. Bernard of Clarvaux, that great giant of the spiritual life, says that “the whole of the spiritual life consists on two elements: When we think of ourselves, we are perturbed and filled with a healthy sadness. And when we think of the Lord, we are revived to find consolation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. From the first we derive fear and humility, from the second, hope and love.” (Saint Bernard, abbot, Liturgy of the Hours, vol. IV, p. 236)
The Prodigal son, reflecting on himself was disturbed and filled with a healthy sadness. He stood in the truth and recognized his wrong. When he thought of the Father, he found consolation and joy. Thus in humility, he returns, repents and finds hope and love in the Father.
“10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
In His Great Love the Father has compassion and mercy for us. All that is required is that we repent when we our thoughts, words and actions fail to love Him in return. Before we manage to stretch out our hand for help, God’s own outstretched hand is already extended towards us. All that is required of us is that we reach out and grab it.