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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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Apollonia: The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. 
<p>While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.</p><p>There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.</p> American Catholic Blog We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable.

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