At the Saviour’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say:
‘I hope he rots in prison and then in hell,’ screamed the distraught mother outside the courtroom where her daughter’s killer had just been sentenced. I felt for her sorrow but shuddered at the curse she invoked.
Without a hint of embarrassment the parishioner explained, ‘My son has just brought his girlfriend home to live with us. I bought a lovely new double bed for them and set it up in the bungalow.’
Reading my mind the woman said, ‘Maybe the Church does teach that it’s wrong but I know I did the right thing having a child through the in vitro procedure whenever I look at my beautiful son.’
When I suggested he might like the sacrament of reconciliation before he went off to the hospice his wife replied, ‘My husband has never committed a sin in his life, Father.’
Formed by divine teaching...?
I don’t think so. In fact, each of these statements, made by Catholics, would rightly deserve the words God spoke to Moses in the first reading: your people ... have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them.
The more one reads the history of the Chosen People the more one realises that God’s intent and purpose was to reveal his face to them; a revelation which would be perfected and completed in the Incarnation of his Son, Jesus.
He led the descendants of Abraham out of Egypt with fatherly compassion and patience, revealing to them always his loving kindness and tender mercy. Time and again the people forgot him and turned away from him and time and again the Lord forgave them. He gave them a Law and a Land and sent them judges and prophets. Finally he sent his own Son, his Word become flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
The living voice of Jesus speaks today as the living voice of his Church which continues to seek out those of goodwill, those who will listen, those who love truth.
The power of the Church’s teaching, the ‘active ingredient’ so to speak, is truth and only truth has power to form children of God and, thereby, to save. If only those Catholics who cling so pig-headedly to pagan views would, like the prodigal son, come to their senses, surrendering their personal opinions, and the sins which go with it, to the wisdom of Christ in his Church and allowing themselves to be healed and formed by divine teaching. What a difference this would make to the world!
The empty-headed son, full of youthful confidence in his own judgment and oblivious to the great hurt he is causing says: Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me. I can well imagine a close friend of this young man attempting to talk him out of the huge mistake he is about to make. And I am sure he would have discovered soon enough how difficult it is to influence minds and hearts which are not yet correctly formed.
Perhaps the father, who makes no struggle at all, already knows it would be pointless to argue. There are those who learn more from bitter experience than from wise counsel and so he divides the property.
The next thing we hear from the son is: I am dying of hunger; Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.
When the son appears on the horizon hungry, thirsty, poor, humiliated the father speaks no words; his actions speak more loudly. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly.
This, right here, the running, the clasping, the kissing – this is the divine teaching; this is the father forming his son. This is the active power of transforming love. Not the hunger, not the humiliation, not the lesson of a painful experience but the forgiving, unconditional, power-filled love of a father for his wayward son.
In the open-armed acceptance received by the son is the invitation and the power to become all that the father is.
What miracle of healing was taking place in the guilty heart of that young man as he was dressed in the best robe, had a ring put on his finger and sandals on his feet! What depth of understanding dawned in his mind as he was led to the feast for which the fatted calf had been killed! It must have been a kind of baptism, a kind of rebirth: And they began to celebrate.
That there is something mysterious going on, impossible to easily grasp with a malformed heart and mind, is not hidden from the elder son. The conundrum is clearly enunciated: for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening. Some traditions, perhaps legends, tell us that the elder son, too, eventually ‘came to his senses’. Was it the love of his father which reached out to him in the words: My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours; which found their place in his heart? We don’t know.
What we do know is that lasting peace and joy will come to us and to our world only when we are truly formed by divine teaching; when we come to our senses and return to our Father whose saving love reaches out to us in his Church.