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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Are Children, Not Hired Hands
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013
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Today’s Gospel tells the familiar story of the Prodigal Son. One reason this story works so well to convey the message of the Gospel is because at different times in our lives, we can identify with one or another of the characters. Family dynamics are inescapable for most of us. Our families of origin shape our most basic ways of relating to other. Often the way we see our workplaces, our world, our religious institutions, and even our God is rooted in our experience of family.

Some of us can identify with the rebellious younger son who loses himself in pleasure and adventure. We also may know what it’s like to come to our senses and realize that somewhere we’ve taken a wrong turn.

When we realize that the road we have been following, the life we have been leading, may not be the one that is best for us, we must have the humility to admit that we have strayed, that we have been mistaken, that God knows better than we the life that will lead us to him. We must resolve to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

Nothing is more difficult than admitting that we have failed, that we have sinned. We feel haunted by the past, we rehearse the role that we feel lies ahead, we practice confessing our weaknesses.

Many of the burdens we carry from our past have to do with not being able to forgive ourselves. Until we can do that, we can’t believe that God—or anyone else—is able to forgive us. We cannot stay in the desert forever, wandering in despair. No matter how much we rehearse our role, no matter how willing we are to do penance and suffer and taken on the heavy burden of our guilt, in the end the greatest humility is accepting the role the Lord has written for us.

Others identify with the older son, the dutiful one who stayed at home and played by the rules and never put a foot over the boundaries of life. We can’t understand why God the Father would reward sinners and chastise those who are righteous and law-abiding. We don’t see that being intolerant and merciless toward others can also be sin.

There are also the rare ones among us who can identify with the lavishly forgiving father in the Gospel. All they ask is that their children come home. This kind of unconditional love is difficult but not impossible.

We must accept our roles as sons and daughters of God. We refuse his great gift of love when we insist that we’re only hired hands. This is the mistake the elder son makes. In the story, he says he’s slaved for his father all his life. What he doesn’t realize is that like his brother, he, too, is a son.

We are all children of the Father, we have all sinned, but we are all welcome in our Father’s house. We must live as a forgiving and as a forgiven people. This sounds easy, but in fact it can be quite difficult. This may be why so many of Jesus’s parables talk about forgiveness. The very prayer he taught us has forgiveness at its heart. And the same Gospel writer who tells the story of the Prodigal Son shows Jesus on the cross forgiving the very people who crucified him.

Take time this week to reflect on your own experiences of family—good and bad—and how a parable like the Prodigal Son taps into those experiences.


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Anthony Zaccaria: At the same time that Martin Luther was attacking abuses in the Church, a reformation within the Church was already being attempted. Among the early movers of the Counter-Reformation was Anthony Zaccaria. His mother became a widow at 18 and devoted herself to the spiritual education of her son. He received a medical doctorate at 22 and, while working among the poor of his native Cremona in Italy, was attracted to the religious apostolate. He renounced his rights to any future inheritance, worked as a catechist and was ordained a priest at the age of 26. Called to Milan in a few years, he laid the foundations of three religious congregations, one for men and one for women, plus an association of married couples. Their aim was the reform of the decadent society of their day, beginning with the clergy, religious and lay people. 
<p>Greatly inspired by St. Paul (his congregation is named the Barnabites, after the companion of that saint), Anthony preached with great vigor in church and street, conducted popular missions and was not ashamed of doing public penance. </p><p>He encouraged such innovations as the collaboration of the laity in the apostolate, frequent Communion, the Forty Hours devotion and the ringing of church bells at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays. </p><p>His holiness moved many to reform their lives but, as with all saints, it also moved many to oppose him. Twice his community had to undergo official religious investigation, and twice it was exonerated. </p><p>While on a mission of peace, he became seriously ill and was brought home for a visit to his mother. He died at Cremona at the age of 36.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, help me make my life more about you and less about me. May others see you in me—your image and likeness. Teach me ways to increase my time with you, my service to others, and my love for my family, for strangers, and for the poor. You are the light in the darkness. With each new day, may we be light to one another.

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