September 11, 2022
Today’s parable of the Prodigal Son often comes to my mind when speaking with parents who have rebellious children, who, for instance, no longer want to attend Mass. What light does this parable shed on these difficult situations?
- The Father of the Prodigal Son shows us God’s parenting, an example for us.
- God respects our freedom.
- But with freedom comes responsibility for our actions. Children need to learn this.
- And parents need to remember that when their own control over their children is diminishing, so is their responsibility.
- And, above all, God calls us to hope in His Mercy. He knows the terrible difficulties of today.
This is a computer-generated transcription that has been included to make the homily searchable. It has not been verified by the author.
“There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, father, give me the share of the property that falls to me.” This, of course, is a very famous parable, famous especially because of the reaction of the father when the son returns. But there’s another part, which I think is not very often noticed. And it’s the first reaction of the father. That is the reaction of the father when this young son says, give me the share of the inheritance. I’m not going to wait till you die, give me the share the inheritance, which I have done nothing to deserve, but give it to me now. What would you do if your son asked you that? What does the father in the parable do? The son doesn’t deserve the inheritance. Does the father not realize the character of his son? Does he not know what his son is going to do with this. The surprising thing I think is what this father does. He gives him the share of the inheritance and lets him go. Is the father weak, doesn’t know how to say no to a son? Is the father foolish, and doesn’t realize what the son is going to do? I think of this a lot, often because many times I have parents coming to me concerned about their children. And so, this is especially for parents, but I think it’s also applicable for many other situations, especially when we feel responsible for somebody. The situation I often hear parents sharing with me as parents or as the children are getting older, they’re becoming more rebellious and wanting more freedom. The parents are wondering, are they ready? Are they mature enough? For instance, their children don’t want to go to Mass anymore. They sense their children are losing the faith and being drawn by a lot of bad things, of drinking and drugs and music that’s not so good and immorality. And so, the parents are struggling, how much freedom to give, and at what age to give it and wondering what is their responsibility in the situation? What is their responsibility when their child is still at home, and when the child leaves home. And they’re concerned about the bad decisions that they’re afraid their child is making or will make. They feel responsible for these decisions. And it makes me think of a situation that my sister spoke to me of many years ago when her son Joe, was about 15, I think at that point is getting rebellious. It was a difficult situation. Her husband had early, early Alzheimer’s, so he was less able to fulfill his role. And as I said, her son was becoming pretty rebellious. He didn’t want to go to Mass anymore. And she was asking me what she should do. And this example of the father came to mind, I said we could ask if this father is weak? Or if he’s foolish. Again, what would you do in this situation? But who does this father represent in Jesus’ parable? He represents God, our Father. And if there’s anyone who’s not weak or foolish, it’s God our Father. And yet, what does the father do? He gives his son that freedom. He respects him. Even though he knows he’s going to misuse it. How does God treat us? He’s given us freedom, right? He’s the source of our freedom. Have we always been responsible in the way we use that freedom? I think all of us have failed many times. And God knew that. And yet he gave us that freedom. He knew that we weren’t always mature enough to handle it. That oftentimes we would need time to gradually come around. So how does this guide the parents in their decisions? Parents have to discern. And each case is different, each case is different, each child is different. And parents are given a grace to make that decision. And we’ve just been reflecting on the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help parents, if you’re open, the Holy Spirit can help you with those difficult decisions. In this particular case, with Joe, my sister’s son, as she described it to me, I thought in this case, at that point, it was better not to try to force him. Sometimes children think they’re more mature than they are. And there’s a lot of tension building up, as there was in this case. So, I said, I think it’s better at this point, to not force him, but first, to explain three things, to explain three things. The first point is that God respects your freedom. God is the source of your freedom. And that’s important because religion is often presented as some oppressive tyranny of a God who is not letting us be free. There are a lot of people who want to restrict our freedom. But if God ever wanted to restrict our freedom, he could do it completely. He is the source of all freedom, any freedom we have comes from Him. And that’s an important lesson. And so, by giving us freedom, the parents are giving a witness to God, who respects our freedom. But the second point is also that the Mass is so important, that it calls for a personal response from each person, because Jesus calls for a personal response from each person. It’s normal that a young person, because they’re young, be obligated to go to attend Mass. But for an adult, an adult has to make their own decision. An adult should not be forced, just like no one, as the Church says, no one should be forced to believe in Jesus, Jesus respects our freedom. So that’s the second point, that if a person has not been forced, it’s not because the Mass is not important, it’s because it’s so important that a person has to make a personal response. And the third key point is that as you receive this freedom, you’re also receiving new responsibility. Now, it’s your responsibility. Becoming an adult means becoming responsible. Becoming mature means taking on responsibilities. With freedom, comes responsibility. That’s the key point, with freedom comes responsibility, with freedom comes responsibility. As you are receiving this freedom, you are now responsible for what you do and for the consequences of what you do. Those are the three key points I felt she needed to share with him. And like the example of the son in this parable of the prodigal son, he gradually realizes, gradually, not at first, but gradually realize this because it takes us time. But the consequences of what he has done, he wasn’t aware at first, but listen to what he says. “I will rise and go to my father, and I will say,” so it wasn’t something his father said that made him realize this, it was when he got hungry, ran out of money and wasn’t being fed as well as the swine. So, he was experiencing the consequences. And then he had to finally admit so he says, “I will go to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” So, the son is realizing the consequences that he has caused. I am no longer worthy to be called your son, treat me as your hired servants, as one of your hired servants. So, what are the results when God gives us freedom? Oftentimes, we abuse that freedom, like the prodigal son, it takes time for this to sink in. It took time for the prodigal son only when he experienced it painfully, that it began to sink in. And in the case of my sister’s, son, Joe, at first, first off, great, no more Mass, so he stopped going to Mass. One thing it did was it at least reduced the tension, the tension of trying to force them and that situation. So, each situation is different, your mileage may vary. And you may not see the results right away, like the father didn’t either. But in this case with my sister’s son, Joe, gradually, through, I think a lot of the suffering of his father and his mother, and graces from God, some powerful graces that he’s talked about, he came around to the Lord, experienced a gradual but powerful conversion. Now, it’s Brother Mikael, who a lot of you know, a lot of you have heard him tell his story. And it took me many years, even after he was already living here to realize this is the same guy I knew as a teenager, back when he was 14 and 15 years old, it has a lot of changed. So, the message is with freedom comes responsibility. And that’s important that that be communicated. And so, what else does that mean for parents? It also means that when your control is limited, your responsibility is limited. So, it’s the corollary, the flip side, all parents are imperfect, and sinners like all of us. So, all parents can ask forgiveness, for not being everything that they could have been as parents. And many times, parents realize later in life, as they grow in wisdom, they realize things that they wish they had done differently than they did it back then. But, and this is an important point, much is beyond your control. And as your children grow older and older, less and less is under your control. And as your control diminishes, so does your responsibility. You are not responsible for what is not under your control. Your children, as your children grow in freedom, they are also different persons, you have a big influence, but also a limited influence on them. Our society, our world we know is very often very evil. And these are difficult times for parents, and difficult times for young people. And a sign is that it’s not just one young person or another young person, it’s almost a general situation. So that’s a sign that the problem is not just this family or that family, but it’s a general problem in our society. And think of God Himself. God, who is the perfect parent. And He began with Adam and Eve in a perfect situation, an almost perfect situation. He created them strong, intelligent, good, holy, and put them in a great environment. And yet even in that environment, there was one problem, but a big problem, satan, even in the Garden of Eden, was active. And even from the perfect parent, God, came this sin of Adam and Eve. And God our Father knows what it’s like to be a parent with sinful children, because He has many, many, many sinful children. So, there is much that parents are not in control of. And it’s not just the evil in our society, but it’s also the way the evil spirits act directly on each one of us, trying to exploit all our vulnerabilities. And even the Church today, as the Church is in such a crisis, that people see the Church as a Church which is weak, and hypocritical and confused and so forth, as are the members of the Church. So, again, the point is with freedom comes responsibility. And when our freedom and our control is limited, so is our responsibility. And this is true also for young people. The Catechism says, “the responsibility for an action, the moral responsibility can be diminished or nullified by ignorance, duress, fear, and other psychological or social factors.” There are so many bad factors acting on young people today, which diminishes their own responsibility. And so, the readings today are an invitation, above all, to hope in God’s mercy. And in our times, which are in such a time of crisis, and where the evil one is so powerful, it’s precisely in our times that the Lord gave the great revelations at Divine Mercy to St. Faustina. The Lord knows how bad the situation is, and He gives us an example of His infinite mercy for His children. And He’s asking us to trust in His mercy, not just on what we can see. But beyond this life, even at the very last moments of this life, God’s mercy can act in ways that we can’t even imagine, miracles of His mercy. So, I’ll conclude with this passage from St. Paul that we heard today as an example of mercy. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I had been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” There’s a lot of ignorance today. “Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant. Along with the faith and love that are in Jesus Christ. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.” That’s why Jesus said, the greater the sinner, the greater his right to my mercy. “For that reason, I was mercifully treated, so that in me as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all His patience, as an example, for those who would come to believe, for everlasting life.” God knows the pain of His children, or the pain we feel for someone we love, who’s making bad decisions, who’s sinning. Our Blessed Mother also knows as a mother, this pain and they share your cross. So, you are called to do your part, to do what you can, but part of that means also respecting their freedom and their responsibility but understanding also that that means that your responsibility is also limited. And for what you cannot control, what you cannot change yourself, you are invited to entrust them to His mercy. And you can do so during this Mass, entrusting all the persons who are weighing most on your heart and trust in our Lord and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.
KEYWORDS / PHRASES:
1 Timothy 1:12-17