Limitless mercy of God: Hope for all sinners

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the Respect Life Mass at Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville.

No doubt each of us has the desire deep down in our hearts to grow closer to God through conversion this Lent, so after listening to today's Gospel, we may find ourselves asking, "In what way am I like the Prodigal Son? How do I need to return to the Father?"

Yes, we can all identify with this younger son, who is convinced that he knows what is best for his life. Attracted by the world, he sets off on his own, certain that following his own rules and desires, not those taught by his father, will bring happiness. Yet his search for happiness ends when he loses everything. Then, humiliated, broken and starving, he comes to realize that life on his father's estate, even as a hired hand, would be better than the life he had chosen.

What happens next is what makes this one of the most appealing and popular parables of Jesus. As the younger son approaches the home that he deliberately abandoned, his father runs into the street to greet him, for the father has been keeping watch for a long time, longing for his return. Before the son can even complete his expression of deep sorrow, his father forgives his sins and restores to him everything he abandoned when he left. "This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found."

What motivated this younger son to convert? Certainly his humiliation and his helplessness influenced his need to change, but the direction that he ran - toward his father's house - reveals more. The son knew of his father's goodness and love. He saw that his father was gracious enough to give him his inheritance before it was due. He saw that he was fair enough to treat his servants with justice. Knowing his father, the prodigal son felt he could return to him after brashly rejecting him. Yet knowing all that, he still did not expect the super-abundance of the mercy he received.

As we know, the father in this parable represents our Heavenly Father, and as much as we can imagine the mercy shown to the prodigal son, the mercy of God the Father is infinitely more. There is no offense too great to keep Him from welcoming us back into His loving embrace. Scripture tells us that the just man sins seven times a day (cf. Pr 24:16), so each and every one of us knows that we fail in the eyes of the Lord. Yet each time we fall, we find our Heavenly Father waiting to welcome us with love and mercy.

This might seem counterintuitive. In our sinfulness, we often want to hide from others and from Our Heavenly Father. Yet, Jesus is reminding us in this parable, that we must do the opposite: We must run to the Father in our sinfulness. Yes, I repeat, run into His arms and seek His mercy! Pope Francis so clearly reminds us: "God never tires of forgiving us; we tire of asking Him" (cf. Angelus, March 17, 2013).

I ask you to join with me in prayer for those mothers and fathers who have chosen abortion and now, like the Prodigal Son, feel alone and hunger and thirst for reconciliation with the Father. I am aware of so many men and women who, confronted with their decisions to end a life, are afraid to run to the Father to seek His mercy. They are afraid their sins are unforgivable. They struggle to believe in the limitless mercy of God.

In the Diocese of Arlington, we provide Project Rachel, a wonderful ministry, whose purpose is helping those mothers and fathers who chose abortion to now experience spiritual and emotional healing from the wounds of abortion. As a result of advertisements in parishes, on the radio and even with car magnets, our offices have noted an increase in calls since the March for Life into Lent. On the second Tuesday of the month, there is a Holy Hour to pray for the end of abortion and the healing of our culture.

Please join me in praying for the women who will be attending the Day of Prayer and Healing retreat on March 14, as well as the siblings who will participate in the first-ever "Weekend Retreat for Siblings," also next weekend (March 13-15).

I know that when we speak on abortion, we need to talk about mercy and forgiveness, but even more, it really is an invite to the sons and daughters of Our Father to "come home."

Like the Prodigal Son, we are called to conversion from our sins, especially during this season of Lent. Sometimes, we find it easier to recognize the faults of others than it is to admit our own, but such judgmental behavior leads to a hardness of heart. This was the fault of the older son in the parable, who was unable to see his own stubborn pride as easily as he could see the sins of his younger brother.

Just as we are called to conversion through the loving mercy of God, we are called to lead others to conversion with our love and mercy, tempering our judgments and speaking the truth in love. Let us pray that we may be inwardly convinced to run to the Lord so that He may forgive us our sins, and through experiencing His mercy and love, we may lead others to Him as well, so that they can also experience that "the Lord is kind and merciful."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015