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The Patience of God

September 15, 2013

The Prodigal Son

My homily for the 24th Sunday, year C. The readings are Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14, Psalm: 51 (I will get up and go to my Father); 1 Timothy 1:12-17 and Luke 15:1-32

Let’s review: If it was up to God, everyone would be saved. But it’s not entirely up to God. Jesus Christ opens the door; we have to go through the door; He’s not going to reach out and grab you and pull you through. Although sometimes He comes pretty close. ‘Cause that’s what you do when you love something and you lose it.

I don’t really get the whole sheep thing. Seriously, if I had 100 sheep and I lost one, I’m not going to leave the other 99 to go find this one sheep. It’s not worth the risk of losing other sheep – unless that one sheep is really valuable. Have you ever lost a pet? Our dog Max has gotten out of our yard a few times and when it happens, we stop everything – everyone goes out – we go searching until you find the dog. What if it wasn’t a pet, but your child? I was once a camp counselor and we took the kids to Canada’s Wonderland. One of the kids was 6 years old and he was in my group and I lost him. I have never been so worried, so afraid, so desperate. Thankfully we found him, he was fine – he was lost for about 20 minutes. Those were the longest 20 minutes of my life. And it wasn’t even my kid. What if it had been my own child? I don’t wish that on anyone. And that’s how God searches for us. There’s a beautiful 19th century poem by Francis Thompson called the Hound of Heaven that says that God hunts us like a blood hound. We run away, but he chases us like a hound dog. He searches until He finds us. Like a lover seeks his beloved. Like a woman who loses one of her 10 precious silver coins. Yes. Sometimes Jesus opens the door and reaches in to grab us and pull us through.
That’s what happened to Paul as he describes it in today’s second reading from the Letter to Timothy. He was lost as lost can be: He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man of violence: Paul was hateful and wanted the destruction of Christianity. In fact, the first time we ever see Saul (that was his name before it was changed to Paul) in the Book of Acts, is at the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. He was one of the first seven deacons. Imagine killing a deacon! That’s the worst crime ever! Yet, Paul received mercy and Grace. He received Salvation. We could say that Jesus reached in and dragged Paul, kicking and screaming through the door. But Paul had to choose to stay inside. He could’ve gotten up and gone right back out the door. God can search and find; He can drag and pull, but we always have a choice.

 Which is why God needs to be patient. That’s the difference between the lost sheep and the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son. In the first two, God searches; in the other, God waits. And this is true. Sometimes we have to search and sometimes we have to wait. If your child is a three year old and he’s going to fall in the pool, you go and you grab him; you save him. If my teen-ager wants to fool around all night instead of working on his project – I don’t do the project for him. I don’t help him; let him fail. Let him face the real consequences of his actions. Sometimes a parent has to let the child find his own way. And we are that rebellious teen-ager. Isn’t it great that God is a patient God who will wait as long as it takes? He will wait. And this should give us hope, it should give us courage! Some people call the parable of the Prodigal Son, the parable of the Merciful Father. I like to call it the Parable of the Patient Father.

Some of you may be thinking that it’s too late. You are so lost – worst than Paul. Whatever you’ve done is so bad: You’ve cheated on your husband or you’ve stolen from your clients; you like looking at pornography; you had an abortion; you paid for an abortion – who knows what you’ve done or what you haven’t done. It doesn’t matter if you repent. See what happens in the story? The son has a whole speech prepared – he’s truly repentant and the Father doesn’t even let him finish, “Get him a ring and a robe and sandals – let’s have a party!” If you repent and come back, God will welcome you with open arms, no matter what. And it may be hard, but don’t be afraid to get up and go to the Father. This is why during Mass not only do we ask for forgiveness and God’s mercy several times, but it’s the first thing we do! “I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters…” Don’t be afraid to repent and ask for forgiveness. Remember that we are not alone; we can help each other. Look at this funny thing that’s happening in the first reading from the Book of Exodus. God has had it with those Israelites. He’s just going to blow them up and Moses intercedes.  “Don’t do that God. What would people think? You went through all that trouble to get them out of Egypt with plagues and locusts and toads and turning the water to blood and parting the Red Sea – so much work to then just destroy them in the desert? What will people say of this God of Israel? And don’t forget your promise to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob.” He’s like a marketing or PR consultant! And he convinces God to have mercy on the people of Israel. St. Paul implies that Jesus intercedes for us to the Father. Well, we can intercede for each other too. Isn’t that what we ask for at the end of the “I Confess” at the beginning of Mass?  “And we ask blessed Mary ever Virgin, all the angels and saints and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord, our God.” It’s OK to pray for God to be patient with someone; to continue being merciful with someone; not to give up on someone. Remember that we are responsible for our own salvation, but also for the salvation of others.

Pope Francis at the Mass for the possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome six months ago said that “God responds to our weakness by his patience, and this is the reason for our confidence, for our hope… this dialogue between our weakness and the patience of God is a dialogue that will grant us hope.” It should give us hope! But let me say again what I told you last time: God will wait as long as it takes, but why are we waiting? What are we waiting for? Why are we longing to fill our bellies with the food of the pigs when we can just get up and go home and eat the pig!? All we have to do is what the words of the Psalm say to do, “get up and go to the Father.” Repenting is easy if we know we will not be condemned. Confession is easy if we know that we will be forgiven. The Father will welcome us with open arms and say in the words of that beautiful song: “I forgive you, I love you. You are mine, take my hand. Go in peace, sin no more, beloved one.” (Prodigal Son [Father I Have Sinned] by By Father Eugene O’Reilly C.Ss.R)

Today, as we receive the Eucharist, let’s ask that the Body and Blood of Christ give us the courage and hope that we need to get up and go to the Father.

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From → English, Reflections

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