NB. For a "Vintage Fr. Philip" version of this homily, check out "Wasting Love on Sinners" from 2008
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Sinners are drawn to Jesus. Tax collectors, prostitutes, all sorts of unclean souls are pulled into his presence, seduced—if you will—by. . .what exactly? What is there about Christ that attracts those who have put themselves outside of God's good graces? You would think that sinners would run and hide when he shows up to preach. But the only creatures who cringe at his approach are the unclean spirits, the demons. The gospels report that when our Lord walks into town, a crowd gathers. Some are there in hopes of seeing a magic trick. Others out of curiosity to hear what this guy has to say. Sprinkled throughout the crowd though are men and women whose deeply seeded desire for holiness is struck like a bell when Jesus comes near. There's just something about who and what Jesus is that makes these sinners drop whatever they are doing and run to be with him. What is this “something”? Whatever it is, the Pharisees and scribes are unhappy with the fact that a rabbi is eating and drinking with sinners. When they complain, Jesus tells them a parable about a long-lost son and his welcomed return home. This prodigal son leaves his life of sinful dissipation and starts a life of grateful celebration. Can we describe our lives as “grateful celebrations”?
The standard way of reading the Parable of the Prodigal Son goes like this. . .the son is the sinner; the father is God; and the good son is the Pharisee. When the sinner-son returns home after wasting his inheritance on wine, women, and song, his father throws a party to welcome him back. The good son-Pharisee angrily objects to the party b/c his sinner-brother hasn't earned their father's forgiveness. The father responds “My son, you are here with me always. . .But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” Here's my question: what draws the sinner-son back to his father to live his life in grateful celebration? What is it about the father that attracts his son home? The sinner-son and the father share a habit of the heart: both are prone to prodigality, dissipation. For the son, this habit is a vice; for the father, it is a virtue. The father's welcome home feast is no less extravagant, no less excessive than the son's squandering of his inheritance. Both lavishly spend, both are reckless in their indulgence. However, while son viciously spends money to sin, the father virtuously spends mercy to love. The son is drawn home to his father by a deeply seeded desire to have his ability love perfected. In his father's mercy, the son's love is made perfect.
A sin is always an act of imperfect love. And imperfections always seek their perfection. Sinners are drawn to Jesus like magnets, pulled toward his perfect love for them. His loving presence—extravagant, abundant, indulgent, perfect—seduces sinners, reels them in. We see in him and hear from him the holiness we long for, the righteousness we were made for. His fullness shames our emptiness and so we draw close so that we might be filled. Our Lord too is a prodigal child, a son of excessive love, abundant mercy, indulgent forgiveness, and perfect hope. He spent his life for us on the Cross, an act of holy abandon, a complete surrender to death so that we might live. If we draw near to him and confess our imperfections, we too are welcomed home to the Father. Made perfect by Love Himself. Thus, there is nothing else for us to do than to spend our lives in grateful celebration, giving thanks and praise, lifting up our burdens and seeing them taken away. Long or short, dull or exciting, the life of a faithful follower of Christ is a life lived in grateful celebration. For us, if we turn to God for mercy, everyday warrants a fattened calf!______________
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