Fr. Francesco Pesce
God showers His blessings on the honest and the dishonest alike, He causes rain to pour on both the just and the unjust. However, He has a predilection for lost sheep, the stone cast aside, the prodigal son. This we must never forget, as Christians, who realise that we are ever in need of a new conversion, and as the shepherds of God’s people.
The Lord Jesus bears witness to the fatherhood of God, Who has sent His Son to rebuild a world according to the measurements of love, where even the lost sheep, the stone cast aside, the prodigal son are the object of the Father’s care, attention and mercy. A Father Who wants us all to be saved – as Pope Francis answered to a child in the recent book edited by Father Spadaro, SJ.
The Gospel for this Sunday of Lent recounts the well-known story of the prodigal son. Conversion does not mean becoming prodigal sons: it means overcoming the antithesis between the two sons, between virtue and sin, between those within and those without, and to overcome it by means of a synthesis, which is the work of love, in which those who belong to the world of virtue go beyond themselves, towards the bewilderment of the son who left his father and squandered his possessions. St. Paul explains the situation well in the Second Reading: God has forgiven us by reconciling us with Him. Therefore, God expects us – and we too should expect it of ourselves – to forgive others. St. Paul even speaks of a “ministry” that God has entrusted to each of us.
Why this idea of conversion? Basically for three reasons. The first is that each one of us belongs, at one and the same time, to the world of both the sons of the Gospel story. No-oneshould live under the illusion that he or she dwells only in the house of virtue. The second reason lies in the fact of being sons, which is not a merit, but a fact, and we Christians also believe that it is a free gift of God. And we are all sons, by virtue of the gift of His mercy.
The third reason that should prompt us to go out towards the prodigal son, to those who have done wrong, is simply because Jesus did so. It is not a question of (purely formal) obedience to God (often viewed as a master) that makes a Christian, but but our likeness to Jesus, Which our merciful Father sent to save us; the Beatitudes, in fact, and not the Commandments, are specifically Christian.
We must learn to understand and accept those who become lost. And we must bravely search within our “virtues” for their often self-righteous and sectarian characteristics, in order to enter into another measure of human brotherhood, based on reconciliation, like St. Paul, a great sinner who later became the Apostle of the Gentiles, encourages us to do.
It is not sufficient to go and eat with sinners and then return to our homes; it is not enough to use the Gospel as a sort of unusual manual of good manners: this is hypocrisy. We must remove all the obstacles on the path of reconciliation and to transform the Father’s house into everyone’s home, where no one is cast aside.
The prodigal son must convert to virtue, the eldest son to mercy. The Father expects each one of us to undertake the never-ending journey of this double conversion. There can be no feasting, in heaven and on earth, if even only one of our sons and brothers is missing.