This past Sunday, we read the parable of the prodigal son at Mass, and I had a surprising reaction to it: I cried the entire way through. This was, without a doubt, my least favorite parable for most of my life. About 5 years ago or so, I realized that I needed to learn from it, and so I started to pray that I would better understand the parable. Little by little, the parable has unfolded for me and I’ve seen it for what it is: a declaration of undying love from a Father Who loves us perfectly. I’ve also come to realize that it’s also a promise from God that He will never stop searching for us on the horizon, and when we start our journey back to Him, He will not wait for us to be perfectly reconciled before He runs to welcome us home.
In other words, this parable is now one of my favorite parts of the Gospel. I hope you enjoy this bit about it, including the Princess Bride references! Be sure to check out the other Worth Reivising posts today!
Our family has been on quite the roller-coaster since arriving back home from the March for Life and my evening being received as a Third Order Dominican on the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas. I was sick, my older daughter is currently sick, and I’m holding my breath and praying that, should my younger daughter come down with whatever this is, my husband does not. (He’s got business trips lined up for several weeks in a row, and actually missed the worst of my illness last week.)
My Divine Office was pretty much put aside as I merely tried to cope with being sick, or dealing with a very sick child in the night. (Yes, even 14 year olds need their mom in the middle of the night sometimes, even if it’s for the purposes of running tepid baths and praying for 104 degree fevers to break.)
This morning, I was almost half-heartedly praying, still too weak and woozy to stand for prayers as I prefer. Any effort is better than none, I reminded myself. And I got to the reading for today, Sunday of Week IV, Lauds. It’s from 2 Timothy:
READING: 2 Timothy 2:8, 11-13
Remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of David,
was raised from the dead. You can depend on this:
If we have died with him
we shall also live with him;
If we hold out to the end
we shall also reign with him.
But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful
he will still remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
That last part (which I emphasized above) has always puzzled me. If we are unfaithful he will still remain faithful… I would look at it and just mentally scratch my head and concentrate on the rest of the reading. I’ve heard this hundreds of times in Masses over the years, and I have never really gotten it until today.
Now I feel like I’ve been extra-thick.
The first image that came to mind was The Princess Bride, in which Wesley tells Buttercup that he will always come for her:
When she thinks him dead, Buttercup no longer waits for Wesley and lives as though under a cloud, her radiance diminished by her sorrow for losting her true love. Her joy at discovering that her true love lives brings back her happiness, and Wesley chides her for not believing in true love:
Finally, I realized what it means to say that if we are unfaithful he will still remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself. No matter how much we might deny Him, God will always look for us, searching the horizon for his prodigal sons and daughters. He loves us, and will never give up hope that we will turn our hearts to Him again and come home. Like the father of the prodigal son, His desire is to have all of His children with him, happy and safe in His home. He seeks us out, calls to us from the distance, though we often ignore Him and pretend not to hear. He watches for us – how else could the father in the parable have seen his son “at a great distance” – and when we appear on the horizon, still a long way from being really, truly home, He runs to us and embraces us with the kind of love we can never truly understand in this life.
Before today, when I stumbled in my vocation (which is pretty much daily, let’s face it), I would feel badly on a number of levels. I’m disappointing my husband. I’m failing my children. I’m not doing what God wants of me. I’m hurting God by not doing His will for my life. (Who likes to watch as their children do things that will hurt them, especially when you can do nothing to stop them?)
But today I understand on a deeper level that even when I break God’s heart by turning away from Him, even when I tell Him that I can do what I want because I have free will, He never stops loving me, longing for my return to Him, and searching the horizon for me.
And when I appear on the horizon, He will run to meet me and embrace me with the desperately strong love He has for me as my Father. And I’ll always be welcome, no matter how many times I have to repeat the scene.
Praise be to God!