24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept. 15, 2013)

Pope Fracis during a visit to a drug rehab clinic in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

This week’s Readings

The most persistent theme of Pope Francis’ preaching has been the mercy and compassion of God and our obligation to show the same to others.

Our Gospel is the familiar story of the Prodigal Son. We all know how it goes: The son (let’s call him “Yogi”) goes off and wastes his inheritance; Dad welcomes him back with a big party, but his older brother (“Obie”) is less welcoming and is in fact quite bitter.

But what happens when the party is over and things return to normal? Thinking about it, I see three possible scenarios.

ONE: “Yogi” pulls the same disappearing trick a week later. His father puts out the “No Vacancy” sign and changes the locks. “Obie” celebrates Dad’s return to normalcy and sanity.
Moral: We are this way when we think people are so depraved that God’s mercy is limited; Severity is the only deterrent. No second chances are allowed, period!

TWO: “Yogi” stays home but constantly reminds “Obie” of just how judgmental and righteous “Obie” was upon his return. He knows and has received his forgiveness from his father, but cannot let go of being judged and criticized by his older sibling. Dad continues counseling “Obie” to be patient and “Yogi” to forgive as he has been forgiven. But “Yogi” finds it somewhat enjoyable to yank at the noose he has fashioned around his brother’s neck.
Moral: It is good to be forgiven; forgiving another is optional. I reserve the right to make that decision.

THREE: “Yogi” begins remembering the events of his recent past. He gets depressed and obsesses over his failures, so much so that they outshine the father’s forgiveness. He’s also afraid that he’ll take off again. Dad keeps reminding “Yogi” in word and gesture that the son is even closer to the father than before he left. The son knows this, but cannot feel it. “Obie” has let go of his angry feelings and desires to reconcile with his young brother. But nothing can convince “Yogi” to accept forgiveness.
Moral: Being forgiven, as with being loved, is very hard to accept. After all, I know what a lousy person I am, even if others think otherwise. It’s really a matter of pride, of putting my judgment of self before God’s. It’s selfishness, pride and self-centeredness. After all, I’ve committed a greatest sin in history and therefore am absolutely unlovable.

So … do any of those scenarios play out in your mind and heart when you hear Pope Francis speaking about compassion, mercy and forgiveness toward yourself or others?

Be God’s smile for someone today!

herb yost reflections

Fr. Herb, C.S.C.

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