If you attend Mass today at a particular kind of parish, I’m certain you will hear your Priest or the woman who he designates to give the homily talk how welcoming Jesus was of sinners and – therefore – how the Church needs to welcome gays and people of all types. These people never make the distinction between loving the person, while rejecting their offenses against God. They would preach on Paul’s teaching on love, but not on his teaching about the ministry of reconciliation or about his teaching on punishment for idolatry. Their misguided rant betrays the fact that the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation proves that the Catholic Church is the most welcoming Church of all sinners. The Church not only calls the sick into Her arms, but through Her Holy Sacraments she also provides ongoing care and treatment for their condition.
It is absolutely true that God loves us unconditionally – for God IS Love (Cf. 1 John 4:16), but it is also true that there is always consequences to how we choose to live our life. Such a fact is clearly narrated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Bitter Brother.
As the story goes, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” Eventually the younger son spent everything he had inherited and, thereafter, fell into a very desperate living condition. It was then that he came to his senses and decided to return home and beg his father for forgiveness; hoping that he would take him back to be merely just one of his hired workers. “So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’”
The older brother was still out in the field when he heard all of the hoopla from celebration. When he heard what was the cause for the party he became angry and refused to join in on the festivities. Upon hearing this his father came out and pleaded with him. “He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
In this story we see that it is absolutely true that the father loved his younger son unconditionally, but it is also true that there would be a consequence to how he chose to live his life. Yes, his father did welcome him back home without any regard or any questions, but it not true that his father restored to him back from what he chose to squander. To the contrary, the father said that everything he now has belongs to the older son. There was nothing left for the younger son to inherit, and he understood this – he respected it. All he wanted from his father’s was his forgiveness and an opportunity to live a life better by his father’s mercy than he was able to live on his own. Those of us who have lived far off from God and have/are paying for the choices we made in opposition to Him can truly relate to how grateful the younger son must have been to become merely a dependent of his father. For, being independent from his father proved to be nothing more than a worthless life.
This Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Bitter Brother has something to teach us about the nature of grace as well. In my books on Cooperating with God I broadly described grace as what happens when God loves outside of Himself (the Holy Trinity), and the work of His grace is to draw us into Himself (the Holy Trinity). That is, God loves outside of Himself so that He might draw His creation back into Himself. To respond positively to grace is to positively respond to God – it is cooperate with His great work of building up His Kingdom. As we saw in the case of the Prodigal Son, no matter where we are – no matter how low we think we may have fallen – no matter how detached from God we think we are, the grace of God is there.
Even more colorfully, I would say that the grace of God is like those Bop Bag. I don’t know if they still make them, but they were these blow up bags that had a round base that allowed them to pop right back up when you punched them down. Nothing could keep these bags down. They would always bounce right back up. Even if you were to lay on it, as soon as you got off of it – it would immediately pop back up. The only way to keep it down was to stay down with it, which meant that you weren’t any better off than it was. With the grace of God we too are Bop Bags. We bounce right back up!
“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.