The spendthrift, wasteful son appeared as a speck on the horizon. The ever-waiting, faithful father immediately spots him and begin running across the divide towards his returning son. The elder son scoffs at the lavish bother accorded to his brother. The journey of a returning Catholic today is an inspiring modern day parable of the prodigal son.
People leave the Church when God is no longer an attractive option. People only return to Church when God becomes the only option.
Typically, a returning Catholic hears God’s call when wounded by some event in life, and everything else fails them. When they turn to look for God, they are unable to recognise his face. They are wearied, apprehensive and unsure. Some feel unworthy, others weighed down by guilt. They are confused and lost.
Secularism and a material lifestyle has caused many of us to drift away. If money is the hard currency used to purchase worldly happiness then faith is the soft currency exchanged. Once rich in faith, we are prodigal in our spending only to meet an emptiness in life. With a tank empty, we are too weak to come home on our own.
The father in the parable is God the Father and the Church. The Church must not stand behind its gate to wait for them. We are the legs that must run for the Church. We must constantly scan the horizon and be ever ready to run the moment the speck appears, to go meet them where they are emotionally and spiritually and bring them home. We provide “the best robe, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet” to restore him back into his proper place: he who is still a child of God.
There is a stigma to being a returning Catholic. Did God or the Church marked them with this stigma? We stand erect and proudly declare that we have never left the Church ever, and deafly turn away invitations to be the ambassador to reach out to returning Catholics. Be careful the elder son in us who think ourselves all deserving of God’s blessings and judge the returning Catholic because by feeling so we are the ones who put a stigma on them.
Returning to Church is reconciling with God. And it is God who initiates this reconciliation when he faithfully remain the only option despite the fact that we deserted him. God is faithful. He waits. He forgives. He restores. He welcomes. He rejoices.
“It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God.” (Second reading)
The greatest message a returning Catholic receives is, “I may have left God, but God never left me”. As a Church we rejoice in this unconditional love. The father continues to run after us. It is he who is prodigal.
4th Sunday of Lent