Happy Laetare Sunday! We’re almost there, folks—Easter is drawing very near! For our final reflection on the Prodigal Son, I’d like to take up the question of why it is so hard to forgive those who have hurt us and why it is sometimes difficult to seek the forgiveness of others.
Think about a story you’ve heard in the news where someone’s sins were publicly exposed. We’ve all heard these stories of people who have done gravely scandalous things that have brought shame upon themselves, their families, their workplaces, and everyone around them, and the media unfailingly informs us of their sins in graphic detail. How does society usually react? That’s right—swift and uncompromising judgment of the one who sinned. Perhaps you’ve heard commentators on the news saying grossly uncharitable things or have read comments on news stories suggesting that the offender should burn in Hell. Now imagine that the sinner is someone you know well. Perhaps this person who is so vilified in the press is a close friend, someone you’ve known for many years whom you respect or even hold in high esteem. How would you feel?
This exact scenario has happened to me twice in the last year, and I can tell you from experience that it is not a pleasant thing to bear. Perhaps some of you have also found yourself suddenly bearing this cross. I think, though, that the father and his two sons point us toward the way of healing, and through this Parable, Jesus calls us beyond the knee-jerk reaction of the world to public sin to a deeper experience of the healing love and mercy our Father offers us through His life, death, and resurrection.
Yesterday, we talked about how our Father desires restoration for all of us. We know from the teaching of Jesus and the command of the Lord’s Prayer that we must forgive those who have sinned against us; this reminder is frequently given to us in the Scriptures, especially the ones we read throughout the season of Lent. A priest preached in a recent homily that I heard that the Father does not ask us to do anything He has not already done. But why is it so difficult for us to forgive those who have hurt us?
Here I think is where we ought to consider how Satan moves in our lives and the purposes he is trying to accomplish. We know that Satan was one of God’s angels, he decided not to obey God, he was kicked out of Heaven along with many other angels who had allied themselves with him, and he is now the father of lies, the enemy, and the tempter. I submit that Satan is pretty ticked off that he’s now eternally separated from the Father, and it drives him nuts to see us in union with the Father. Whereas God desires restoration, Satan desires separation. It is Satan’s temptation that fuels the younger son’s desire to go off on his own and his fear of facing his father after this adventurous life didn’t work out well. Satan’s temptation and lies fuel the older brother’s pain and his reluctance to turn to his father or forgive his brother. And it is Satan’s temptation and lies that fuel the anger, bitterness, and resentment inside of us when people hurt us. “Did you see what that person did? How could such a person do that? That person is a monster! Why should I care about that person? That person is a priest/deacon/church member/teacher? What a hypocrite!” Again, how would you feel if the sinner was your friend? Your family member? What would you do?
Thanks be to God that Satan does not have to have the final word! If we recognize his efforts to destroy our relationships and keep us separated from our Father and from one another, we can choose the way that Jesus offers us in the parable of the Prodigal Son and in His suffering on the cross. During his Passion, Jesus certainly felt all of the human emotions we experience when people sin against us. He physically suffered as a result of the sins of His friends, His executioners, and the religious leaders who colluded to put Him on the cross in the first place. But how did Jesus deal with these sufferings? He brought them to His Father, first in the garden just before his betrayal and then again on the Cross when He begged His Father to forgive the sins of those who crucified Him. He turned all of His pain toward the Father, who poured His mercy into His body on the cross. This mercy flowed through Christ's crucified body upon the soldiers, the disciples, and then most perfectly upon the Apostles after His resurrection. Christ is healed perfectly in His Risen Body; thus when He appears to the Apostles in the Upper Room and while they are fishing, He is able to forgive Peter for denying him, Thomas for doubting His resurrection, and all of them for abandoning Him during His Passion. He heals them so that they and their successors are able to forgive our sins in His name.
For the Apostles and for us, healing does not happen overnight. We can't just bring pain, fear, and uncertainty to the Father once and be done with it because Satan will continue to pick at these wounds and attempt to separate us from the Father’s love and mercy. We must frequently bring these things to Him and allow Him to heal us in time. The length of time depends on the depth of the pain we bear in various situations. Some things can be quickly healed, while other things won't be fully healed on this side of the grave. But through the healing process, we draw closer and closer to the Father and gradually become more whole (and more holy!)
During these final days of Lent, I would encourage you to seek the Lord’s healing in His presence in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Penance. If you are on Spring Break this week, try to go to Daily Mass or Eucharistic Adoration to spend some time with Jesus. I have adopted St Michael as one of my patrons, and I also offer you the St Michael prayer asking for his protection. Thank you for traveling with me through these extremely long reflections! I wish you all a blessed Lent and a glorious celebration of God’s love, mercy, and providence this Easter. Please know of my prayers for you and for the Catholic community at WAC!
*Note: If you attended Sacred Heart this Sunday, or another parish which took its readings from the Scrutinies, this Sunday's Gospel was not about the Prodigal Son, but about Jesus healing the blind man. Check back for the next few days to hear about the blind man, Jesus, and the Pharisees.