When Benedict XVI announced to step down from the leadership of the Catholic Church and all cardinals arrived to Rome to elect the new Pope, the media got involved to criticize the church on mismanagement or issues of sex abuse. They try to draw an image of the church should not be tainted by sins. On the one hand, it’s necessary for the Church to recognize her human limitation. On the other hand, the media portrays all moral leaders in an extreme way as angels without any experience of sins. Not only to the Church but also to any political or public figure, there is no mercy or compassion to those whom they condemn.
What we can see in the same culture, it promotes many different types of sins. Most of the movies we watch contain many messages of sex and violence. People have a confusing message from the culture that sins seem inevitable. Everyone does it so no one can avoid any sins. It’s okay to be sinners. They change the names of sinfulness to reduce how mortal they are. Abortion to be pro choice-freedom of women’s bodies. Violence to be entertainment or self-defense. But when anyone wants to change his life for conversion, it intimidates and threatens that he is not worthy because no one can be free from sins. In other words, sins become part of human struggles and we forget completely the Father’s love.
In the gospel today, the prodigal son and the older son experience similar contradiction in their lives. The younger son is heedless, seeking only what is his own. He takes it without though for what this might do to others. The diaspora of his possessions in a far land was a loss of himself. His alienation is suggested by his hiring himself out to be a herder of pigs. At the end, he returned home with an idea that he is not worthy to be his Father’s son and considered himself as a servant because he struggles with his own sins.
The older son similarly struggles with his own resentment and looked at himself as a slave for his father. He never felt rewarded and failed to recognize his constant position of privilege with his father. He condemned his brother without mercy and compassion.
Both of them have the same problems that they never think of themselves as the beloved sons of their Father. They alienate themselves from his kind Father. The prodigal son and older son have been enslaved by their self-center and self-love. They struggle with their own condemnation and judgment. They completely forget that their Father forgives them and want them to enjoy the freedom of minds in his mercy and love.
However, the Father is interested in returning of his own son rather than cares for any wrongdoing he committed. Even his prodigal son turned away from him and separated himself from his Father’s inheritance, the father never punish the son for his carelessness and selfishness. He runs out to meet him. He embraces and kisses him, recognizing him as son even before the child has a chance to state his repentance. Similarly to the older son, the Father reminds him that all things the father has is his children. No sons will be excluded because the father cares for them and love them. The image of the Father is also the image of God who loves us and want us to be home—conversion every day. God cares for us more than we care for ourselves. God loves us more than he is interested in our sinfulness because God is merciful and compassionate. Let us pray for the graces of mercy and forgiveness when we commit a sin or when we judge other sinners.
L.m Nguyễn Quốc Bảo, S.J.