On Wednesday Pope Francis said the father’s embrace in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is a reminder that we never ought to despair, because nothing and no one can take away our dignity as children of God.
Pointing to how the father in the parable had watched and waited for his younger son’s return, Francis noted how “tenderly he saw him from afar, meaning that he waited for him constantly, from above.”
“The mercy of the father is overflowing, unconditional and manifests itself even before the son speaks,” he said. Even though the son recognizes his sin and voices remorse, “these words dissolve in front of the forgiveness of the father.”
Our state as sons of God “is a fruit of love from the heart of the father,” the Pope said, adding that “it doesn’t depend on our merits or our actions, and therefore no one can take it away. No one can take this dignity away from us, not even the devil! No one can take this dignity!”
Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience.
Before beginning his address, he noted how due to the rain, the sick and disabled were watching from a screen in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, and encouraged those present in the square to send them a greeting. The invitation was met a hardy round of applause as Francis spoke.
He continued his catechesis on mercy as understood in scripture, focusing his speech on the final scene in the Parable of the Prodigal Son when the younger son returns and is embraced by the father, while the older son is resentful.
When the younger son finally returns home, his declaration that “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” is “unbearable for the heart of the father,” who interrupts him and rushes to restore to him the signs of his dignity as a son, such as a fine robe, a ring and sandals on his feet.
Jesus, the Pope observed, doesn’t describe a father that is “offended and resentful who says ‘I will make you pay!’” but on the contrary, illustrates that the only thing the father is concerned about is that “this son in front of him is healthy and safe.”
This parable teaches us “to never despair,” he said, and pointed specifically to parents who, like the father, see their children becoming distant and taking “dangerous paths.”
He also noted that the same can be said of pastors and catechists “who at times ask themselves if their work is in vain,” as well as prisoners, “those who have made poor choices and aren’t able to look to the future (and) those who hunger for mercy and forgiveness but believe they aren’t worthy.”
No matter what situation life brings, “I must never forget that I’ll never cease being a child of God, of a father who loves me and waits for my return. Even in the worst situations in life God waits, wanting to embrace me,” he said.
Pope Francis then pointed to the figure of the older brother, who although he was always at home with his father, “is so different” from him.
When he speaks to his father, the older son “speaks with contempt,” never once using the words “father” or “brother,” but instead boasts of how he had always been near the father and served him, the Pope observed.
Neither has this son ever lived the joy of being close to his father, but accuses him of not ever giving him a young goat to celebrate, Francis said, adding “Poor father! One son went away, and the other was never truly close!”
The father’s suffering in this passage “is like the suffering of God and of Jesus when we distance ourselves or when we think we are close and instead we are not,” he said.
Francis noted that the older son “also needs mercy,” explaining that that he “represents us when we ask ourselves whether it’s worth it to struggle so much if we don’t get anything in return.”
However, when the father responds telling his older son telling him that “everything I have is yours,” his logic “is that of mercy!”
In their conversations with the father, both sons miss the point, Francis said: “the two brothers don’t speak to each other, they live different stories, but both reason in a logic foreign to Jesus: if you do good you get a reward, if you do bad you get punished.”
By responding with the logic of mercy, the father not only recovers his lost son but can now restore the relationship between the brothers, the Pope said, adding that “the greatest joy for the father is to see his sons recognizing each other as brothers.”
Each of the sons can decide to either unite themselves to the joy of the father, or to refuse, he said, and noted how parable ends leaving us in suspense, because we don’t know what the older son decided.
Pope Francis closed by saying that this cliffhanger is “is a motivation for us. This Gospel teaches us that we all need to enter the house of the father and participate in his joy, in the feast of mercy and brotherhood.”