Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 6: … To the Brother Who Stayed at Home, Part 3

While we have focused on the Brother Who Stayed at Home let’s not forget the third character in the parable. Henri Nouwen’s treatment of all three men is masterful, and one of his best works. The Holy Father’s reflections here predate that by eight years. He suggests each son represents a different stage in the human experience of sin and division. The lost son is the enlightened one, having come to a vital realization. The faithful son is the one who represents the state of today’s world.

The parable of the prodigal son is above all the story of the inexpressible love of a Father-God-who offers to his son when he comes back to him the gift of full reconciliation. But when the parable evokes, in the figure of the elder son, the selfishness which divides the brothers, it also becomes the story of the human family: It describes our situation and shows the path to be followed. The prodigal son, in his anxiety for conversion, to return to the arms of his father and to be forgiven, represents those who are aware of the existence in their inmost hearts of a longing for reconciliation at all levels and without reserve, and who realize with an inner certainty that this reconciliation is possible only if it derives from a first and fundamental reconciliation-the one which brings a person back from distant separation to filial friendship with God, whose infinite mercy is clearly known.

And here, we have not only the Christians who turn up their nose at outsiders, but a depiction of the world at large, split apart by sin:

But if the parable is read from the point of view of the other son, it portrays the situation of the human family, divided by forms of selfishness. It throws light on the difficulty involved in satisfying the desire and longing for one reconciled and united family. It therefore reminds us of the need for a profound transformation of hearts through the rediscovery of the Father’s mercy and through victory over misunderstanding and over hostility among brothers and sisters.

And so we keep our focus on the mission of Jesus, striving to do what he did and adopting his attitude toward all sorts of sinners and outsiders. Also, of course, recognizing ourselves in the elder brother:

In the light of this inexhaustible parable of the mercy that wipes out sin, the church takes up the appeal that the parable contains and grasps her mission of working, in imitation of the Lord, for the conversion of hearts and for the reconciliation of people with God and with one another-these being two realities that are intimately connected.

And yet it seems so hard, doesn’t it?

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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