POPE FRANCIS ON THE 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR C
Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 27 March 2022
Dear brothers and sisters, happy Sunday, buongiorno!
The Gospel for this Sunday’s Liturgy recounts the so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son (cf. Lk 15:11-32). It leads us to God’s heart who always forgives compassionately and tenderly. Always, God always forgives. We are the ones who get tired of asking for forgiveness, but he always forgives. It [the parable] tells us that God is a Father who not only welcomes us back, but rejoices and throws a feast for his son who has returned home after having squandered all his possessions. We are that son, and it is moving to think about how much the Father always loves us and waits for us.
But there is also the older son in the same parable who goes into a crisis in front of this Father. It can put us into crisis as well. In fact, this older son is also within us and, we are tempted to take his side, at least in part: he had always done his duty, he had not left home, and so he becomes indignant on seeing the Father embracing his son again after having behaved so badly. He protests and says: “I have served you for so many years and never disobeyed your command”. Instead, for “this son of yours”, you go so far as to celebrate! (cf. vv. 29-30) “I don’t understand you!” This is the indignation of the older son.
These words illustrate the older son’s problem. He bases his relationship with his Father solely on pure observance of commands, on a sense of duty. This could also be our problem, the problem among ourselves and with God: to lose sight that he is a Father and to live a distant religion, composed of prohibitions and duties. And the consequence of this distance is rigidity towards our neighbour whom we no longer see as a brother or sister. In fact, in the parable, the older son does not say my brother to the Father. No, he says that son of yours, as if to say, “he is not my brother”. In the end, he risks remaining outside of the house. In fact, the text says: “he refused to go in” (v. 28), because the other one was there.
Seeing this, the Father goes out to plead with him: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v. 31). He tries to make him understand that for him, every child is all of his life. The ones who know this well are parents, who are very close to feeling like God does. Something a father says in a novel is very beautiful: “When I became a father, I understood God” (H. de Balzac, Il padre Goriot, Milano 2004, 112). At this point in the parable, the Father opens his heart to his older son and expresses two needs, which are not commands, but essentials for his heart: “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive” (v. 32). Let us see if we too have in our hearts these two things the Father needs: to make merry and rejoice.
First of all, to make merry, that is, to demonstrate that we are near to those who repent or who are on the way, to those who are in crisis or who are far away. Why should we do this? Because this helps to overcome the fear and discouragement that can come from remembering one’s sins. Those who have made mistakes often feel reproached in their own hearts. Distance, indifference and harsh words do not help. Therefore, like the Father, it is necessary to offer them a warm welcome that encourages them to go ahead. “But father, he did so many things”: warm welcome. And we, do we do this? Do we look for those who are far away? Do we want to celebrate with them? How much good an open heart, true listening, a transparent smile can do; to celebrate, not to make them feel uncomfortable! The Father could have said: “Okay, son, go back home, go back to work, go to your room, establish yourself and your work! And this would have been a good way to forgive. But no! God does not know how to forgive without celebrating! And the Father celebrates because of the joy he has because his son has returned.
And then, like the Father, we need to rejoice. When someone whose heart is synchronized with God’s sees the repentance of a person, they rejoice, no matter how serious their mistakes may have been. Do not stay focused on errors, do not point fingers at what they have done wrong, but rejoice over the good because another person’s good is mine as well! And we, do we know how to rejoice for others?
I would like to recount an imaginary story, but one that helps illustrate the heart of the father. There was a pop theatrical, three or four years ago, about the prodigal son, with the entire story. And at the end, when that son decides to return to his father, he talks about it with a friend and says: “I’m afraid my father will reject me, that he won’t forgive me!” And the friend advised him: “Send a letter to your father and tell him, ‘Father, I have repented, I want to come back home, but I’m not sure that will be happy. If you want to welcome me, please put a white handkerchief in the window’. And then he began his journey. And when he was near home, where the last curve in the road was, he was in front of the house. And what did he see? Not one handkerchief: it was full of white handkerchiefs, the windows, everywhere! The Father welcomes like this, totally, joyfully. This is our Father!
May the Virgin Mary teach us how to receive God’s mercy so that it might become the light by which we see our neighbours.
After the Angelus:
Dear brothers and sisters,
More than a month has gone by since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, of the beginning of this cruel and senseless war, that, like every war, represents a defeat for everyone, for everyone of us. We need to reject war, a place of death where fathers and mothers bury their children, where men kill their brothers and sisters without even having seen them, where the powerful decide and the poor die.
War does not devastate the present only, but the future of a society as well. I read that from the beginning of the aggression in Ukraine, one of every two children has been displaced from their country. This means destroying the future, causing dramatic trauma in the smallest and most innocent among us. This is the bestiality of war – a barbarous and sacrilegious act!
War should not be something that is inevitable. We should not accustom ourselves to war. Instead, we need to convert today’s anger into a commitment for tomorrow, because if, after what is happening, we remain like we were before, we will all be guilty in some way. Before the danger of self-destruction, may humanity understand that the moment has come to abolish war, to erase it from human history before it erases human history.
I beg every political leader to reflect on this, to dedicate themselves to this! And, looking on battered Ukraine to understand how each day of war worsens the situation for everyone. Therefore, I renew my appeal: Enough. Stop it. Silence the weapons. Move seriously toward peace. Let us continue to pray untiringly to the Queen of Peace, to whom we consecrated humanity, in particular Russia and Ukraine, with such a huge and intense participation for which I thank all of you. Let us pray together. Hail Mary….
I greet all of you from Rome and pilgrims from Italy and from various countries. In particular, I greet the members of the faithful from Mexico, Madrid and Lyon; the students from Pamplona and Huelva, and young people from various countries who participated in formation in Loppiano. I greet the parishioners of Our Lady of in Roma, and those from Saint George in Bosco, Bassano del Grappa and Gela; the Confirmation candidates from Frascati and the “Friends of Zacchaeus” groups from Reggio Emilia; as well as the Commission promoting the Perugia-Assisi March for Peace and Fraternity who have come with a group of schoolchildren to renew their commitment to peace.
I greet those participating in the Rome Marathon. This year, through an initiative of Vatican Athletes, a number of athletes are involved in an initiative of solidarity with people who are in need in the city. Congratulations to you!
Precisely two years ago, in this piazza, we lifted up our plea for the end of the pandemic. Today, we have done so for an end to the war in Ukraine. At the Square’s entrances, you will be given a book as a gift, produced by the Vatican Covid-19 Commission with the Dicastery for Communication. It is an invitation to pray without fear during moments of difficulty, always having faith in the Lord.
I hope all of you have a good Sunday and, please, do not forget to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch and arrivederci.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS
Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium (Rabat)
4th Sunday of Lent Year C (Laetare), 31 March 2019
“While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20).
Here the Gospel takes us to the heart of the parable, showing the father’s response at seeing the return of his son. Deeply moved, he runs out to meet him before he can even reach home. A son long awaited. A father rejoicing to see him return.
That was not the only time the father ran. His joy would not be complete without the presence of his other son. He then sets out to find him and invites him to join in the festivities (cf. v. 28). But the older son appeared upset by the homecoming celebration. He found his father’s joy hard to take; he did not acknowledge the return of his brother: “that son of yours”, he calls him (v. 30). For him, his brother was still lost, because he had already lost him in his heart.
By his unwillingness to take part in the celebration, the older son fails not only to recognize his brother, but his father as well. He would rather be an orphan than a brother. He prefers isolation to encounter, bitterness to rejoicing. Not only is he unable to understand or forgive his brother, he cannot accept a father capable of forgiving, willing to wait patiently, to trust and to keep looking, lest anyone be left out. In a word, a father capable of compassion.
At the threshold of that home, something of the mystery of our humanity appears. On the one hand, celebration for the son who was lost and is found; on the other, a feeling of betrayal and indignation at the celebrations marking his return. On the one hand, the welcome given to the son who had experienced misery and pain, even to the point of yearning to eat the husks thrown to the swine; on the other, irritation and anger at the embrace given to one who had proved himself so unworthy.
What we see here yet again is the tension we experience in our societies and in our communities, and even in our own hearts. A tension deep within us ever since the time of Cain and Abel. We are called to confront it and see it for what it is. For we too ask: “Who has the right to stay among us, to take a place at our tables and in our meetings, in our activities and concerns, in our squares and our cities?” The murderous question seems constantly to return: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (cf. Gen 4:9).
At the threshold of that home, we can see our own divisions and strife, the aggressiveness and conflicts that always lurk at the door of our high ideals, our efforts to build a society of fraternity, where each person can experience even now the dignity of being a son or daughter.
Yet at the threshold of that home, we will also see in all its radiant clarity, with no ifs and buts, the father’s desire that all his sons and daughters should share in his joy. That no one should have to live in inhuman conditions, as his younger son did, or as orphaned, aloof and bitter like the older son. His heart wants all men and women to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).
It is true that many situations can foment division and strife, while others can bring us to confrontation and antagonism. It cannot be denied. Often we are tempted to believe that hatred and revenge are legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice. Yet experience tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our peoples’ soul, poisoning our children’s hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish.
Jesus invites us, then, to stop and contemplate the heart of our Father. Only from that perspective can we acknowledge once more that we are brothers and sisters. Only against that vast horizon can we transcend our shortsighted and divisive ways of thinking, and see things in a way that does not downplay our differences in the name of a forced unity or a quiet marginalization. Only if we can raise our eyes to heaven each day and say “Our Father”, will we be able to be part of a process that can make us see things clearly and risk living no longer as enemies but as brothers and sisters.
“All that is mine is yours” (Lk 15:31), says the father to his older son. He is not speaking so much about material wealth, as about sharing in his own love and compassion. This is the greatest legacy and wealth of a Christian. Instead of measuring ourselves or classifying ourselves according to different moral, social, ethnic or religious criteria, we should be able to recognize that another criterion exists, one that no one can take away or destroy because it is pure gift. It is the realization that we are beloved sons and daughters, whom the Father awaits and celebrates.
“All that is mine is yours”, says the Father, including my capacity for compassion. Let us not fall into the temptation of reducing the fact that we are his children to a question of rules and regulations, duties and observances. Our identity and our mission will not arise from forms of voluntarism, legalism, relativism or fundamentalism, but rather from being believers who daily beg with humility and perseverance: “May your Kingdom come!”
The Gospel parable leaves us with an open ending. We see the father asking the older son to come in and share in the celebration of mercy. The Gospel writer says nothing about what the son decided. Did he join the party? We can imagine that this open ending is meant to be written by each individual and every community. We can complete it by the way we live, the way we regard others, and how we treat our neighbour. The Christian knows that in the Father’s house there are many rooms: the only ones who remain outside are those who choose not to share in his joy.
Dear brothers and sisters, I want to thank you for the way in which you bear witness to the Gospel of mercy in this land. Thank you for your efforts to make each of your communities an oasis of mercy. I encourage you to continue to let the culture of mercy grow, a culture in which no one looks at others with indifference, or averts his eyes in the face of their suffering (cf. Misericordia et Misera, 20). Keep close to the little ones and the poor, and to all those who are rejected, abandoned and ignored. Continue to be a sign of the Father’s loving embrace.
May the Merciful and Compassionate One – as our Muslim brothers and sisters frequently invoke him – strengthen you and make your works of love ever more fruitful.
Saint Peter’s Square
4th Sunday of Lent Year C (Laetare), 6 March 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, we find three parables of mercy: that of the sheep found (vv. 4-7), that of the coin found (vv. 8-10), and the great parable of the prodigal son, or rather, of the merciful father (vv. 11-32). Today, it would be nice for each of us to open Chapter 15 of the Gospel according to Luke, and read these three parables. During the Lenten itinerary, the Gospel presents to us this very parable of the merciful Father, featuring a father with his two sons. The story highlights some features of this father who is a man always ready to forgive and to hope against hope. Especially striking is the father’s tolerance before the younger son’s decision to leave home: he could have opposed it, knowing that he was still immature, a youth, or sought a lawyer not to give him his inheritance, as the father was still living. Instead, he allows the son to leave, although foreseeing the possible risks. God works with us like this: He allows us to be free, even to making mistakes, because in creating us, He has given us the great gift of freedom. It is for us to put it to good use. This gift of freedom that God gives us always amazes me!
But the separation from his son is only physical; for the father always carries him in his heart; trustingly, he awaits his return; the father watches the road in the hope of seeing him. And one day he sees him appear in the distance (cf. v. 20). But this means that this father, every day, would climb up to the terrace to see if his son was coming back! Thus the father is moved to see him, he runs toward him, embraces him, kisses him. So much tenderness! And this son got into trouble! But the father still welcomes him so.
The father treated the eldest son the same way, but as he had always stayed at home, he is now indignant and complains because he does not understand and does not share all that kindness toward his brother that had wronged. The father also goes to meet this son and reminds him that they were always together, they share everything (v. 31), one must welcome with joy the brother who has finally returned home. And this makes me think of something: When one feels one is a sinner, one feels worthless, or as I’ve heard some — many — say: ‘Father, I am like dirt’, so then, this is the moment to go to the Father. Instead, when one feels righteous — ‘I always did the right thing …’ —, equally, the Father comes to seek us, because this attitude of feeling ‘right’, is the wrong attitude: it is pride! It comes from the devil. The Father waits for those who recognize they are sinners and goes in search of the ones who feel ‘righteous’. This is our Father!
In this parable, you can also glimpse a third son. A third son? Where? He’s hidden! And it is the one, ‘who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7). This Servant-Son is Jesus!
He is ‘the extension of the arms and heart of the Father: he welcomed the prodigal Son and washed his dirty feet; he prepared the banquet for the feast of forgiveness. He, Jesus, teaches us to be “merciful as the Father is merciful”.
The figure of the Father in the parable reveals the heart of God. He is the Merciful Father who, in Jesus, loves us beyond measure, always awaits our conversion every time we make mistakes; he awaits our return when we turn away from him thinking, we can do without him; he is always ready to open his arms no matter what happened. As the father of the Gospel, God also continues to consider us his children, even when we get lost, and comes to us with tenderness when we return to him. He addresses us so kindly when we believe we are right. The errors we commit, even if bad, do not wear out the fidelity of his love. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we can always start out anew: He welcomes us, gives us the dignity of being his children and tells us: “Go ahead! Be at peace! Rise, go ahead!”
In this time of Lent that still separates us from Easter, we are called to intensify the inner journey of conversion. May the loving gaze of our Father touch us. Let us return and return to him with all our heart, rejecting any compromise with sin. May the Virgin Mary accompany us until the regenerating embrace with Divine Mercy.
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