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Father Muench Says...

The Parable of the Forgiving Father

Sept. 21, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I would like to begin today by expressing my gratitude to my editor, Mary Lou Kilian, for giving me this forum to share my ideas with you. As a priest, I am a preacher of the Word of God.  Every Sunday of my priesthood I have celebrated Mass and preached a homily to various congregations.  I am sure that my brother priests will agree with me that these moments at Mass are among the happiest of my life.

Now I add to those happy moments my time that I spend with you in this column.  So, I thank my editor for giving me this wonderful opportunity.  And I thank you for reading my stuff.

Pope Francis directs my attention whenever he speaks or writes; he boldly leads us and he does so in good and bold ways.  His writings are powerful, in my opinion.  We have been blessed in our time with such a find Holy Father.

I find my direction today from the Holy Father’s declaring this year as a Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis wants us Catholics to be a merciful people – a forgiving people.  At this time, this must be the characteristic that describes us.  As Christians, we are called to be a merciful people – a forgiving people.  In the Gospels, Jesus challenges us often to be a forgiving people because our God is so merciful.

Recently, the Sunday Gospel reading was the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Jesus teaches us that God, our Father, was passionately forgiving and loving just like the father in the parable.  Jesus goes on to tell us that we must be just as forgiving.

So, Pope Francis picked up on this by declaring that this year would be a Jubilee Year of Mercy.  The months of this year of Mercy has been a time of inspiration and meditation for us all.  This has been a time to learn from Jesus and Pope Francis that the Spirit that will transform this world will be mercy and forgiveness.  This leads all of us, priests, to direct our personal attention toward mercy.

We Catholics love this parable of Jesus – and for most of us this Parable of the Prodigal Son is our favorite – it certainly is mine.  Several years ago my friend, Father Joe Neville, gave me a copy of that wonderful painting of Rembrandt of the Prodigal Son. The father is welcoming home the prodigal and in the painting the older son is standing there. You can see in his eyes whether or not he will welcome his brother home.  I find this painting unique; Rembrandt places himself in the painting as a spectator.  There is also an individual in the background – the mother – a woman who brings the spirit of love to this whole moment.

Each time I read this Gospel of the Prodigal Son – and speak or write about it – I do so in gratitude.  I have been a prodigal.  I have walked away from my relationship of love with my God.  With the help of the Lord, I have come to my senses and in repentance turned back to my God, trusting in his mercy and loving forgiveness.  This has transformed my life. Each time I find God’s love and mercy I find conversion. I truly accept and live my life in this mercy.

Jesus cleverly gets his message across in this story.  After all these years of listening to this story, we all know exactly how the father will react when the Prodigal Son returns home.  But, let’s be honest, humanly speaking this loving reaction is unique.  Consider the story.  This kid is really a nasty character. He wants his inheritance now, while his father is still alive.  He lives a dreadful life.  He is a very selfish person; even his decision to come back home is selfish.

I could understand, from our point of view, if the father ignored the kid as he comes up the road.  But Jesus is teaching us about God.  God does not ignore us when we return, when we are repentant, when we come trusting in our faith in the Lord’s forgiving love.

Here is God the Father rushing down to meet the Prodigal and, in my mind, there have been many times when the Lord has rushed down and welcomed me home in love.  It is a thrilling moment.  The Lord wants me to know that I am worth something.

This Parable has always been titled the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Nowadays many spiritual leaders want to call this the Parable of the Forgiving Father.  The Father rushes out to welcome home the Prodigal in loving forgiveness.  The Father comes out to talk with the older son – he calms him down – he gently and lovingly shows him how loved he is.

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