Never too late to get up and go to my father

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the annual Diocesan Men's Conference at Foxchase Manor in Manassas.

It has been so good to be here, deepening our faith together, and encouraging one another in our walk with Christ within His Church.

Throughout the day I have seen several father-son combinations here. In fact, I would like the fathers who are here with their sons to stand for a moment and be acknowledged for taking time together today to go deeper in their faith.

It is no coincidence that today's readings for Mass reflect today's theme: the Father's love and forgiveness for each of us, and Christ's victory over sin and death.

I would like to reflect briefly on the three central characters in today's Gospel, so beautifully pictured in Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son.

Let us begin with the father. From Jesus' description, the father was a very wealthy man, who intended to give his two sons equal shares in their inheritance. However, the younger son could not wait; he demanded his share "here and now." After being given it, he immediately went off, leaving his father and older brother and, no doubt, other family members, and home! He squandered his total inheritance in all the wrong places and with all the wrong people!

Is the father angry or going to write off this younger son from any future inheritance or assistance? No! In fact, from what Jesus describes, this father daily peers into the horizon, hoping to get a glimpse of his returning son! After all, he still loves him!

Brothers, no matter what you may have done wrong in the past, can you, believe - in fact, accept - the fact that God your Father still loves you and longs for you to come back home to Him? The Lord Jesus tells us that this is true, and He does not lie!

And now, let us turn to the prodigal son. He was a young man who could not fall any lower, having disgraced his father and squandered his inheritance on sinful living. In Rembrandt's painting, we see the son on his knees before his father.

He still believed that his father loved him. He knew that if he went back and repented, his father might at least allow him to work as a hired hand, where even as a lowly worker, he would be better off than he had been feeding the swine. This young man was determined to break the cycle - of selfishness, disobedience and sin. Each of us here has his own cycle of wandering away from our Heavenly Father and looking for substitutes for His love - perhaps seeking our advancement at work at the expense of others, abusing alcohol, amassing material possessions, viewing pornography, and the list goes on.

If we're honest with ourselves, each of us can repeat the prodigal son's words in our own hearts: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."

Now I invite you to direct your attention again to the Rembrandt painting. Imagine yourself in a similar scenario. You are going home to your Heavenly Father. As you approach, He says to you, "You are my beloved son. I take great delight in you!"

Do you believe He would really say that to you? Or do you think you are unworthy of those words? Brothers, each of you is really a beloved son to the Father!

But as we heard this morning, our relationship with our own earthly father often colors how receptive we are to the Heavenly Father's love.

I was blessed to have a wonderful father. He was not perfect. He had his faults. He didn't lose his temper often, but when he did, I was sad and sometimes afraid and, now looking back, very disappointed, because I wanted our home to be "perfect." Of course, it couldn't be. But I knew absolutely, without a doubt, that my father loved me. When I was already a priest and had reflected on God the Father's love, for example, as revealed in today's Gospel, I remember telling him: "Dad, you remind me of God, because I know that no matter what I do, I will never undo your love for me." Of course, my dad looked at me in amazement, but what I said was true. Dad would always love me! That's part of my life story.

What is your story? Many of you have the vocation of fatherhood. Do unresolved issues with your own father or mother hinder your acceptance of God's unconditional love? Do they cause you to have a negative relationship with your children? Do not let these keep you from experiencing the Father's ever-faithful love.

Perhaps some among us desire to reconcile with our earthly father. We will need God's grace either to ask our father to forgive us or to tell him that he is forgiven. If our father is already deceased, we can still do this, perhaps before the Lord in the tabernacle.

Through the prophet Micah, we heard moments ago that God "delights … in clemency … (and) will have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt." Do we really believe that Our Heavenly Father's love for us is unconditional?

The prodigal son believes that his father will take him back, even if just as a lowly hired hand. Jesus paints a brighter picture: The father loves so much that he puts a ring on the son's finger and kills the fatted calf.

My brothers in Christ, we must believe that Our Father in heaven will do the same for us if only we go back to Our Loving Father. Pope Francis keeps reminding us: "God never tires of forgiving; we are the ones who tire of seeking His mercy" (cf. "Joy of the Gospel," No.3).

And thirdly, a word on the older brother who stood back and scorned his prodigal brother's welcome home by a loving father. At times we probably can relate to this son; at least, I do. We look at the world around us and wonder how our culture can survive the path it is taking. We see fallen brothers and sisters all around us.

Some of us may be harboring resentments toward others for various reasons: family, co-workers, neighbors, parishioners. My brothers, here we see it all: The elder brother stands in the shadows with resentment and judgment, perpetuating his own cycle. But just in front of him, we see how the cycle is broken: The prodigal son is on his knees, asking for forgiveness. We break the cycle on our knees.

My brothers, before us are the father, the prodigal son and the elder brother. While we may identify with one especially, we each carry elements of all three. We will go out from this grace-filled conference and the Evil One will tempt us to return to that old cycle of sin, if not by tomorrow or Monday - perhaps even by tonight! But when we fall, let us remember to "get up and go" to our father's house.

After all, we cannot help our sons become the men they need to be until we allow ourselves to return to the Father. We cannot help our daughters become the women they need to be until we enter into the kind of relationship which Jesus invites us to experience. Husbands here today cannot be the husbands they need to be if they are not coming before the Father like the prodigal son.

Each of us needs to drop to our knees on a daily basis and let Jesus fight our battles within us and for us and so break the sinful cycles in our lives. He will if we let Him! After all, He is Our Savior and Our Lord and He loves each of us as the Father loves Him!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015