Father Mark’s Pastoral Direction

The Gospel Reading for today is from Chapter 15 of Saint Luke’s Gospel and begins with these words: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying: ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”

That is the framework for all that follows in chapter fifteen: the story of a shepherd and his sheep, of a widow and her coins, of a man and his two sons. It is important to remember the situation which prompted Jesus to tell these stories and to ask – “whom do I identify with in this situation?” That’s what we do when we read a novel or watch a movie. We tend to identify with someone in it. So, which group or character do we identify with in today’s Gospel Reading?

With Jesus, the good guy, who tries to straighten out the religious folks? Who calls into question all they believe? Who reaches out and loves everyone, especially the most unloved?

With the Pharisees, the ones who rightly saw the dangers of too close an association with the “wrong crowd.” For what parent has not worried about a child falling in with the “wrong crowd”? But here the Pharisees go beyond looking out for people. They are convinced that they and they alone understand God and man’s relationship to Him. They are right and no one else.

With the tax collectors and sinners, those traitors, the tax collectors worked for the Romans, robbing their own people? With the sinners, the people of the land who never attended synagogue and seemed to lack even basic morality?

1. Which one are we?
2. What ought we to do?
As we listen again to the familiar the story of the Prodigal Son, we note that here are three figures in this story. The father is a symbol of an unconditional love. Perhaps we can recall someone showing love to us in a way that showed great forgiveness and acceptance. Have there been times when we have also loved in this way?

We may be able to identify with the younger son at different stages of his journey. We must be sure to follow it to the point where it becomes a good news story for us – when we ‘come to yourselves.’  Where and when have we experienced a homecoming after a time of exile and alienation.

Let us not neglect the older son. In contrast to his father he was very judgmental and resentful towards his younger brother. Perhaps we have experienced these attitudes in others towards us, or in ourselves towards others. What were those experiences like for us? What did they teach us?

The three parables of things lost and found emphasize the unending forgiveness of God, and God’s rejoicing for those who return. In each of the situations there is a frantic search for that which is lost and a huge celebration when the lost is found. In the parable of the Lost Son there is much to reflect on. We hear that the younger brother eventually ‘came to his senses.’ We might pray today that God show us the aspects of our lives in which we also need to come to our senses.

In this Season of Creation, we lament the destruction of God’s creation, we reflect on the loss of biodiversity and the loss of human life caused by climate change. We pray that as a global community we might, like the lost son, ‘come to our senses’ and take the actions that are necessary to change course. It all seems so huge and perhaps we feel there is nothing significant we can do. That is not the case. In our parsihes, we can lead by example and show our commitment to care for the earth. The future of our environment depends on the action we take now as a society. As with all significant change, it begins with the grassroots.

Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical on the environment: ‘I wish to address every person living on this planet…to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home…The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.’ (Laudato Si’ 3, 23)

Suggestion for the week: Can we encourage our family to make small changes in the home, such as ensuring all waste is correctly recycled, composting, encouraging one another to use public transport or walk/cycle when possible? We start with ourselves.

Father Mark