Pope Francis has dedicated today’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square to the parable of the merciful Father, the image of the infinite mercy of God. Before reaching the Square, he greeted the sick who had been ushered in the Paul VI Audience Hall because of the bad weather and who followed the catechesis on a giant screen. Francis’s reflection has taken cue from the end of the parable, “that is, from the joy of a Father’s heart, which says: ‘Let us celebrate, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
Jesus does not describe in the parable “a Father who is offended and resentful, a Father that, for instance, tells his son: ‘you will pay for this.’ No, the Father embraces him, awaits him with love. On the contrary, the only thing the Father has at heart is that this son is before him, safe and sound. It makes him happy and he celebrates.” Then, Pope Francis has commented off the cuff: “How much tenderness; he saw him from afar: what does this mean? That the Father kept going out on the terrace to look at the road and see if his son was coming back… that son who had done all sorts of things, but the Father awaited him. The Father’s tenderness is amazing!”
“The Father’s mercy is overflowing, unconditional, and it is manifested before the son even speaks. Of course, the son knows he has erred and he acknowledges it. His Father’s embrace and kiss make him understand that he has been always considered son, despite everything. This teaching of Jesus is important: our condition of children of God is the fruit of the love of the Father’s heart; it does not depend on our merits nor on our actions and, therefore, no one can take it away, not even the devil! No one can take away this dignity from us.”
“This word of Jesus encourages us never to despair. I think of mothers and fathers in apprehension when they see their children distancing themselves, taking dangerous paths. I think of parish priests and catechists who sometimes wonder if their work has been in vain. But I also think of those who are in prison, and who think that their life has come to an end; of all those who have made wrong choices and are unable to look at the future; of all those who hunger for mercy and forgiveness and believe they do not deserve it… In whatever situation of life, I must not forget that I will never cease to be a child of God, of a Father who loves me and awaits my return. Even in the most awful situation of life, God awaits me, God wants to embrace me, God awaits me.”
“There is another son in the parable, the elder; he too is in need of discovering the Father’s mercy. He has always remained at home, but he is so different from the Father! His words lack tenderness: ‘Look, all these years I have served, without ever disobeying your orders… But now that your son is back… We see contempt: he never says: ‘Father,’ he never says ‘brother,’ he only thinks of himself; he boasts of having always been beside the Father and of having served him; yet he never lived this closeness with joy. And now, he accuses the Father of never having given him a kid to celebrate. Poor Father! One son went away, and the other has never been truly close to him!”
Then, the Pontiff has talked off the cuff again: “The Father’s suffering is like the suffering of God, the suffering of Jesus when we distance ourselves, either because we go far away or because we are close without being close. The “elder son needs mercy too. The just, those who believe themselves just, need mercy as well. This son represents us, when we wonder if it is worthwhile to toil so much if we receive nothing in return. Jesus reminds us that one does not remain in the Father’s house to have a recompense, but because one has the dignity of a co-responsible child. It is not about ‘bartering’ with God, but about following Jesus who gave Himself on the cross – and this – without measure.”
“‘My son, you are always here with me and everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice’. Thus talks the Father to the elder son. His is the logic of mercy! The younger son thought he deserved a punishment because of his sins; the elder son expected a reward for his services. The two brothers do not speak with each other; they live different stories, but both reason according to a logic that does not belong to Jesus: if you do good you receive an award, if you do evil, you get punished. And this is not Jesus’s logic, it is not! This logic is subverted by the Father’s words: ‘They had to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found’. The Father recovered his lost son, and now he can return him also to his brother! Without the younger, the elder son ceases to be a ‘brother.’ The Father’s greatest joy is to see that his sons acknowledge each other as brothers.”
“The sons can decide whether to join the Father’s joy or to refuse – Bergoglio goes on -. They must question themselves about their desires and their vision of life. The parable ends leaving the end in suspense: we do not know what the elder son has decided to do. It is a stimulus for us. This Gospel teaches us that we all need to enter the Father’s house and partake in His joy, in His celebration of mercy and of fraternity. ” “Brothers and sisters – Bergoglio concludes with a prayer -let us open our heart to be ‘merciful like the Father!’ Thank you”.