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The Joy of Mercy

Lectio divina: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

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Roman Rite
Ex 32, 7-11.13-14; Ps 51; 1 Tim 1.12 -17; Lk 15.1 – 32
Ambrosian Rite
Is 5, 1-7; Ps 79; Gal 2.15 – 20; Mt 21.28 – 32
Second Sunday after the martyrdom of St. John the Precursor
1) The logic of mercy.
The reason why Jesus today tells three parables is explained by St. Luke at the beginning of chapter 15 of his Gospel: “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed these parables.“(See verses 1-3).
In the parable of the sheep lost and found, the shepherd does not interrupt his search until he finds it. It is a stubborn and persevering search and the shepherd is under no circumstances willing to abandon the sheep to its fate. In this story Christ presents a faithful, persevering and tenacious God. God’s heart has one big wish: that every man is not lost and that if he is, the tenacity of the Father consists in being always the Father for his children.
In the parable of the lost drachma it is described the joy of a poor woman who finds what is necessary for her living. To search for this the woman lights a lamp because, at that time, the houses were quite dark and without the light she could not locate her precious coin. When light reflected on the coin making it shine, then it was possible to find it. This teaches us that we can lose ourselves, but we must not stop to “shine” so that we can be found more easily.
In the parable of the lost son (better known as the prodigal son) we contemplate the Father who is faithful to his son and rejoices when he returns to his house, that is a place of forgiveness and celebration.
The Father forgives and hosts a party for this lost and unwise child, who, for the desire to have it all for himself, demanded and obtained “only” his part of inheritance and then dissipated it. The merciful Father not only welcomes again the son but restores his dignity of son (see Pope Francis, General Audience of August 30, 2016). The son receives more than it asks. Grieved for his sin, the young man returns to his father and asks to be received “only” as a servant. To a man who would be content with a servant’s heart, the father gives back a son’s heart.
The prodigal and lost son delivers his pain to the father and the father confirms a love to which the child previously and absurdly had rebelled.
We, too, with our sin reject the free love of God the Father. But when we return to Him converted by his merciful righteousness, we get a dress for the party, a ring and sandals.
To each of us who has converted, the Father says, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.” What was the first garment of Adam? He was naked. His dress was to be the image and likeness of God, that is, to be his son. This is our dress: being children next to the Father. Being his children is our dress, our dignity, our identity.
To each one of us, who returns contrite to the Father, are given the ring and the sandals that confirm that we are sons and not slaves. In fact, to give the ring with the emblem meant to give the seal that implied to have all the family assets and not just one part. The sandals were worn by free men, because slaves went barefoot
2) Justice and love: mercy.
I think it is useful to remember that the mercy of God is inconceivable to man, because it transcends his thoughts. Before comprehending it , I realized it thanks to this event. I was in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, for a course in German, and one day the teacher asked the students to talk about what each of us considered most characteristic of his Country. They knew I was coming from the Vatican so I had to speak of Vatican City. In the ten minutes I had been given, I spoke of the Vatican as a state “functional” because it allows the Holy Father to exercise his “function” as Head of the Universal Church at the service of truth and charity.
After me, came a young Ukrainian, who told the parable of the prodigal son. I was amazed at this choice, but I was even more surprised by the reaction of the four students of South Korea, who said: “It’s really a good story, but it is not human.” These young Asians had realized that the parable could not be the result of the human mind. Only a divine mind could conceive it, only a divine love could achieve it, only a restless human heart can search for it, and only a contrite human heart can receive it and practice it by the works of mercy.
In its essence, mercy expresses the bond of love that unites the Creator to the creature, the father to the son and the children among themselves.
The important thing is to live life as a persevering return to the house of the Father. A return through pain, sorrow and the conversion of heart which means a desire to change and a firm decision to improve our life.
Back to the house of the Father through the sacrament of reconciliation in which, by confessing our sins, we put again Jesus Christ on us and become again his brothers, members of God’s family.
This God, Father rich in mercy, not only waits “anxiously” that we return to Him, but is the first to come to us, repentant sinners. He reaches us while we are still running, embraces us with love and without reproaching our failures and covers us with grace and gifts.
Let’s not stop contemplating with wonder the “father of the prodigal son”, who” is faithful to his fatherhood, faithful to the love that has he always lavished on his son “(St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, IV, 6). This loyalty is expressed by the readiness of the hug and the joy of the feast.
God, in his and our house, is waiting for us, like the father of the parable, although we do not deserve it. The seriousness of our sin is not important. The important thing is that we, prodigal sons, feel the nostalgia of his home, open our hearts to God’s mercy, amazed by the faithful love of the Father, and rejoice in the divine gift of calling ourselves his children and being his children.
3) Virginity, tenderness, mercy.
Commenting this parable of the prodigal son, especially the phrase “When he was still far off, his father saw him, had compassion, ran, embraced and kissed him,” Pope Francis said: “How much affection!” And He added: “He saw him from a distance, it means that he was constantly waiting for him.  He was waiting for him, tenderness is something beautiful. “With the word “tenderness “, the Holy Father does not intend an action based solely on emotion or feeling. Tenderness is to accept each other in the totality of what it is. A mother is tender not because gently caresses or kisses her baby, but every time she cares for him with tenderness, solicitude and the gentleness of God’s goodness. Already in the Old Testament the prophets, speaking of God, used a language that recalls the tenderness, intensity and totality of  His love, manifested in creation and in the whole history of salvation and that has its culmination in the incarnation of the Son. God, however, always surpasses every human love, as the prophet Isaiah says: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you “(Is 49, 15)?
The consecrated Virgins in the world are faithful to their vocation when practice chastity as a love for God. In this love is included the love for neighbor that awaits for gestures of mercy and tenderness. With a humble life they go beyond appearances, and discreetly show the tenderness of God that each one of them carries in herself. In this world they follow the invitation “Let your life be a special witness of charity and a visible sign of the kingdom to come” (Ritual of the Consecration of Virgins). With this strong affection they radiate the dignity of being brides of the merciful Christ and testify that those who surrender to the love of God are in joy and peace. Coming close with tenderness and love to situations of suffering and weakness, these consecrated women “illuminate by example the value of the consecrated life so to make it shine the beauty and the holiness in the Church” (Pope Francis).
Patristic Reading
Golden Chain
AMBROSE; St. Luke has given three parables successively; the sheep which was lost and found, the piece of silver which was lost and found, the son who was dead and came to life again, in order that invited by a threefold remedy, we might heal our wounds. Christ as the Shepherd bears you on His own body, the Church as the woman seeks for thee, God as the Father receives you, the first, pity, the second, intercession, the third, reconciliation.
CHRYS. There is also in the above-mentioned parable a rule of distinction with reference to the characters or dispositions of the sinners. The father receives his penitent son, exercising the freedom of his will, so as to know from whence he had fallen; and the shepherd seeks for the sheep that wanders and knows not how to return, and carries it on his shoulders, comparing to an irrational animal the foolish man, who, taken by another’s guile, had wandered like a sheep. This parable is then set forth as follows; But he said, A certain man had two sons. There are some who say of these two sons, that the elder is the angels, but the younger, man, who departed on a long journey, when he fell from heaven and paradise to earth; and they adapt what follows with reference to the fall or condition of Adam. This interpretation seems indeed a lenient one, but I know not if it be true. For the younger son came to repentance of his own accord, remembering the past plenty of his father’s house, but the Lord coming called the race of man to repentance, because he saw that to return of their own accord to whence they had fallen had never been in their thoughts; and the elder son is vexed at the return and safety of his brother, whereas the Lord says, There is joy in heaven over one sinner repenting.
CYRIL; But some say that by the elder son is signified Israel according to the flesh, but by the other who left his father, the multitude of the Gentiles.
AUG. This man then having two sons is understood to be God having two nations, as if they were two roots of the human race; and the one composed of those who have remained in the worship of God, the other, of those who have ever deserted God to worship idols. From the very beginning then of the creation of mankind the elder son has reference to the worship of the one God, but the younger seeks that the part of the substance which fell to him should be given him by his father. Hence it follows, And the younger of them said to his father, Give me the portion of goods which falls to me; just as the soul delighted with its own power seeks that which belongs to it, to live, to understand, to remember, to excel in quickness of intellect, all which are the gifts of God, but it has received them in its own power by free will. Hence it follows, And he divided to them his substance.
THEOPHYL. The substance of man is the capacity of reason which is accompanied by free will, and in like manner whatever God has given us shall be accounted for our substance, as the heaven, the earth, and universal nature, the Law and the Prophets.
AMBROSE; Now you see that the Divine patrimony is given to them that seek; nor think it wrong in the father that he gave it to the younger, for no age is weak in the kingdom of God; faith is not weighed down by years. He at least counted himself sufficient who asked, And I wish he had not departed from his father, nor had the hindrance of age. For it follows, And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country.
CHRYS. The younger son set out into a distant country, not locally departing from God, who is every where present, but in heart. For the sinner flees from God that he may stand afar off.
AUG. Whoever wishes to be so like to God as to ascribe his strength to Him, let him not depart from Him, but rather cleave to Him that he may preserve the likeness and image in which he was made. But if he perversely wishes to imitate God, that as God has no one by whom He is governed, so should he desire to exercise his own power as to live under no rules, what remains for him but that having lost all heat he should grow cold and senseless, and, departing from truth, vanish away.
AUG. But that which is said to have taken place not many days after, namely, that gathering all together he set out abroad into a far country, which is forgetfulness of God, signifies that not long after the institution of the human race, the soul of man chose of its free will to take with it a certain power of its nature, and to desert Him by whom it was created, trusting in its own strength, which it wastes the more rapidly as it has abandoned Him who gave it. Hence it follows, And there wasted his substance in riotous living. But he calls a riotous or prodigal life one that loves to spend and lavish itself with outward show, while exhausting itself within, since every one follows those things which pass on to something else, and forsakes Him who is closest to himself. As it follows, And when he had spent all, there arose a great famine in that land. The famine is the want of the word of truth.
It follows, And he began to be in want. Fitly did he begin to be in want who abandoned the treasures of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, and the unfathomableness of the heavenly riches.
It follows, And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country.
AUG. One of the citizens of that country was a certain prince of the air belonging to the army of the devil, whose fields signify the manner of his power, concerning which it follows, And he sent him into the field to feed swine. The swine are the unclean spirits which are under him.
BEDE; But to feed swine is to work those things in which the unclean spirits delight. It follows, And he would have filled his belly with the husks which the swine did eat. The husk is a sort of bean, empty within, soft outside, by which the body is not refreshed, but filled, so that it rather loads than nourishes.
AUG. The husks then with which the swine were fed are the teaching of the world, which cries loudly of vanity; according to which in various prose and verse men repeat the praises of the idols, and fables belonging to the gods of the Gentiles, wherewith the devils are delighted. Hence when he would fain have filled himself, he wished to find therein something stable and upright which might relate to a happy life, and he could not; as it follows, And no one gave to him.
CYRIL; But since the Jews are frequently reproved in holy Scripture for their many crimes, how agree with this people the words of the elder son, saying, Lo, these many years do I serve you, neither transgressed at any time your commandment. This then is the meaning of the parable. The Pharisees and Scribes reproved Him because He received sinners; He set forth the parable in which He calls God the man who is the father of the two sons, (that is, the righteous and the sinners,) of whom the first degree is of the righteous who follow righteousness from the beginning, the second is of those men who are brought back by repentance to righteousness.
BASIL; Besides, it belongs more to the character of the aged to have an old man’s mind and gravity, than his hairs, nor is he blamed who is young in age, but it is the young in habits who lives according to his passions.
TIT. BOST. The younger son then went away not yet matured in mind, and seeks from his father the part of his inheritance which fell to him, that in truth he might not serve of necessity. For we are rational animals endowed with free will.
CHRYS. Now the Scripture says, that the father divided equally between his two sons his substance, that is, the knowledge of good and evil, which is a true and everlasting possession to the soul that uses it well. The substance of reason which flows from God to men at their earliest birth, is given equally to all who come into this world, but after the intercourse that follows, each one is found to possess more or less of the substance; since one believing that which he has received to be from his father, preserves it as his patrimony, another abuses it as something that may be wasted away, by the liberty of his own possession. But the freedom of will is shown in that the father neither kept back the son who wished to depart, nor forced the other to go that desired to remain, lest he should seem rather the author of the evil that followed. But the youngest son went afar off, not by changing his place, but by turning aside his heart. Hence it follows, He took a journey into a far country.
AMBROSE; For what is more afar off than to depart from one’s self, to be separate not by country but by habits. For he who severs himself from Christ is an exile from his country, and a citizen of this world. Fitly then does he waste his patrimony who departs from the Church.
TIT. BOST. Hence too was the prodigal denominated one who wasted his substance, that is, his right understanding, the teaching of chastity, the knowledge of the truth, the recollections of his father, the sense of creation.
AMBROSE; Now there came to pass in that country a famine not of food but of good works and virtues, which is the more wretched fast. For he who departs from the word of God is hungry, because man does not live on bread alone, but on every word of God. And he who departs from his treasures is in want. Therefore began he to be in want and to suffer hunger, because nothing satisfies a prodigal mind. He went away therefore, and attached himself to one of the citizens. For he who is attached, is in a snare. And that citizen seems to lee a prince of the world. Lastly, he is sent to his farm which he bought who excused himself from the kingdom.
BEDE; For to be sent to the farm is to be enthralled by the desire of worldly substance.
AMBROSE; But he feeds those swine into whom the devil sought to enter, living in filth and pollution.
THEOPHYL. There then he feeds, who surpassed others in vice, such as are panders, arch-robbers, arch-publicans, who teach others their abominable works.
CHRYS. Or he who is destitute of spiritual riches, as wisdom and understanding, is said to feed swine, that is, to nourish in his soul sordid and unclean thoughts, and he devours the material food of evil conversation, sweet indeed to him who lacks good works, because every work of carnal pleasure seems sweet to the depraved, while it inwardly unnerves and destroys the powers of the soul. Food of this kind, as being swines’ food and hurtfully sweet, that is, the allurements of fleshly delights, the Scripture describes by the name of husks.
AMBROSE; But he desired to fill his belly with the husks. For the sensual care for nothing else but to fill their bellies.
THEOPHYL. To whom no one gives a sufficiency of evil; for he is afar from God who lives on such things, and the devils do their best that a satiety of evil should never come.
GLOSS. Or no one gave to him, because when the devil makes any one his own, he procures no further abundance for him, knowing him to be dead.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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