Our Prodigal Hearts Break Open to Make More Room

(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Mass-Blog-for-the-4th-Sunday-in-Lent-2022.mp3)

The past couple years have broken millions of hearts. Almost everyone has been touched by the ravages of Covid, whether through illness, isolation, job loss, freedom loss, or the loss of a loved one. And now, people watching the news are witnessing unimaginable acts of cruelty in Ukraine, as innocent women and children are being murdered in the streets. Lent is a time of repentance and reconciliation, but some of us might be feeling more angry than contrite toward a God they perceive as punishing some of the most vulnerable souls in His care.

As we enter the fourth week of Lent, the gospel reading for this Sunday offers us an opportunity to confront those feelings by taking a fresh look at a parable we’ve heard dozens of times: The Prodigal Son (Lk 15:1-3, 11-32).

Jesus is the author of this story, but for the purposes of those among us who are angry at our Father, what if we were to recast Jesus in the role of that wayward boy who broke his father’s heart—and consider Mary, in the role of the heartbroken parent who must deal with her son’s prodigal ways? Prodigal in the context of Jesus’ parable means wasteful and extravagant, but it can also apply to someone who is generous on a lavish scale. That applies to the level of forgiveness required of both the Father in the original parable and of our Blessed Mother in this rethinking.

During Lent we often meditate on the seven sorrows of Mary. Among them is the time young Jesus left the company of his parents to pursue wisdom among the learned at the Temple—seemingly not to care how worried his mother would be. Remember, she was still harboring the sorrow Simeon inspired at the baby Jesus’s presentation, foretelling of the sword of grief that would someday pierce Mary’s heart. And during the three years Jesus left his family to pursue his public life, gossips might have brought Mary word that her son was associating with the worst of humanity, including prostitutes and tax collectors.  And what about that time when Mary came to speak with Jesus about something, and learning she and his brothers were waiting for him, this prodigal son said: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?,” and stretching out his hand toward his disciples, said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.” (MAT 12:48-49).

Finally, Mary’s heart would be pierced as Simeon foretold as Jesus carried his cross, was nailed to it, and died on it. But as he died, this prodigal son returned to her—leaving his beloved mother in the care of his beloved disciple (John 19:25-27):

“Woman, behold, your son,” he said to her, then turning to that disciple, said “Behold, your mother.” John’s account tells us that from that hour, the disciple took her into his home.

Jesus, the prodigal son who was both extravagantly generous in how he spent his public life and how he invested it in the disciples he loved (including us), put his mother’s heart in our home for safekeeping—just as she kept all these moments of her prodigal son’s life in the home of her heart. Lent is the perfect opportunity to be prodigiously generous with the space in our hearts devoted to sheltering our holy and human families.

–Tom Andel

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