A few years ago, my father woke up one morning especially happy. He beamed while informing me, “I figured it out last night: Mary, you get the house and everything in it.” I laughed and said, “Oh, Dad,” assuring him not to worry about the house. He had spent nights thinking of what to do with the home he and mother built and all their belongings; Dad seemed more than relieved to have found a favorable solution. Dad died three months ago, and he gave me, his favorite (only) daughter, the house and everything in it.
This Sunday reflects on the story of the prodigal son showing the depth of a father’s extravagant love. This well-known story highlights the younger son, who demands his inheritance and squanders every cent. Starving, he turns toward home, where the father showers mercy upon him. Meanwhile, the older brother fumes: “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.” The father reminds his beloved older child: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”
At a recent discussion, most participants identified with the older brother and agreed they’d be angry if a sibling treated their father as the younger brother had — leaving home, taking his inheritance and squandering it all — and then expecting mercy — a place at the table. In our stingy, sinful, prideful moments, we refuse to offer mercy — reconciliation — to our brother or sister.
Rev. Ronald Rolheiser identifies the real dilemma: “Like the older brother, our problem is ultimately not the excessive love that is seemingly shown someone else. Our problem is that we have never fully heard or understood God’s words: ‘My child, you have always been with me and all I have is yours, but we, you and I, should be happy and dance because your younger brother who was dead has come back to life!’”
When viewed through the lens of a parent/grandparent, we then understand grace — God’s merciful presence. We would search endlessly and pray constantly for our lost child. And imagine the relief and immeasurable joy if a wayward son or daughter returns home — back into our embrace. Our welcome for the prodigal does not diminish — not one ounce — our love for the child who is with us always. That is a parent’s heart: this is the ministry of reconciliation. We love and give everything to each of our children — unconditionally.
My husband and I will move into Dad’s house, and I trust Mom and Dad will smile from above as their home continues to be filled with life — with children, siblings, nieces, nephews and friends always welcome at the family table. But the house and everything in it is not the “everything.” Dad gave each of his five children and 20 grandchildren “everything” of real value: his love, his mercy, his faith — his heart.
The Father has given us “everything” — his only begotten Son, Jesus, who reveals God’s infinite mercy and love; all we have to do is turn to him, in humility and repentance, and accept his love. Each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, the gift of his body and his blood, he speaks to our hearts, “Everything I have is yours.” Now, that’s good news!
How have you experienced God’s extravagant love?
How have your children experienced mercy?
Naming Grace in the Domestic Church reflects on Scripture through the lens of a parent/grandparent: www.marypedersen.com.