What a bunch of brats!
Both sons get their share of their inheritance. One runs away physically, the other leaves psychologically. Both work for some type of pay scandalously. The younger works for a Gentile as a pig farmer. The older works for his father but in his own words, serving “as a slave for you.” Notice, both return to the house. And for both of them, the father willingly enters into the chaos of their lives. That is the definition of “mercy,” according to Jesuit Father James Keenan. But there is more to mercy here than we think. According to the Benedictine Sister, Verna Holyhead, I may allow you to enter into the chaos of my life, but, using her words, if I do not allow myself “to be found in love,” what happens to mercy?
Look at the chaos of the older son’s life. He did not object when his father divided the inheritance. He did not act as an older brother to settle the division responsibly between father and son. Moreover, he thinks that his work for his father is no more than slave’s work. He refuses to say the word, “brother,” and even exaggerates his brother’s sins. Then, as an ultimate insult, he stands at the door refusing to enter the feast. This causes his father to come out and plead with him at the risk of offending the guests.
You may be willing to enter into the chaos of my life, but if I refuse to be found by love, what happens to mercy?
To illustrate- I once mentioned some time ago that my cousins on my maternal side stopped speaking with us after their father died. He was my mother’s brother, my favorite uncle. We celebrated many family holidays together, especially Thanksgiving and Easter. My uncle died in 1996 and since then they have not mourned well. They blamed us for the breakdown of communication and the lack of interaction. At my own mother’s funeral luncheon, I asked one of my cousins, “Do you think you will be able to forgive me?” She responded, “I don’t know.” Then soon after, she wrote me a letter without a return address. Allow me to paraphrase with some quotes. You are “a disgrace to the [c]atholic religion.” “I am very sad writing this (you have NO feelings)-You have made my mom VERY SAD all these years that you have not gone to see her or talked with her on the phone…You give the Catholic Church a BAD NAME…HYPOCRITICAL…I don’t know how you can stand on the altar…” When my mother dies, “you and your family are NOT welcomed at my mom’s services.” “Don’t try contacting anyone in my family from the time you get this letter.”
Brothers and sisters, I was willing to enter into her chaos, but she was not willing to be found by love. So, what happens to mercy? Look at the parable. The younger son comes home with a script. Mercy shows up and he allows himself to be found by love. The older son comes home puzzled. Mercy shows up and we do not know the end of the story.
In the words of St. Paul, God gives us the ministry of reconciliation. The message goes like this: when MERCY shows up will I allow myself to be found by love? God may be love but God is also mercy. And, my friends, it is the fullness of the meaning of the Eucharist. (Please pray for my cousin.)
Fr. Becket, O.S.B.
The Parable of the Prodigals