Sweet Mercy

“Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.” -Psalm 79

How great is the mercy of God. I sometimes feel, though, that it is a struggle to receive it. Jesus invites us to make our hearts an open space to receive the intense reality of His mercy for us. If our hearts are open to mercy, to truly receiving all the mercy God has for us, this means that we must not run from the reality of our sin or brokenness. We don’t need a Savior simply because we exist—we need a Savior because we are sinners, because we fall down, because we’re all broken. We have no need to be afraid of the Cross, for the Cross brings redemption, resurrection, transformation, and forgiveness. What a gift that Jesus not only knows our suffering so intimately but that He took it all upon Himself on the Cross, mercy poured out for us and the whole world.

Sin blinds us into thinking we can do it all on our own. Shame buries us so we feel like we have to do it all on our own. Despair haunts us into feeling like the weight of our sin is forever.

Praise God that He doesn’t deal with us according to our sins but from the standpoint of His mercy. His mercy covers a multitude of sins and cannot be exhausted. Do we receive it? Do we believe that there’s nothing too great or impossible for our God?

Amazing things would happen if we made ourselves radically available to the compassionate mercy of Christ our King and Savior. He makes Himself radically available to us in His infinite mercy, in the way He pursues after our hearts, in the way He overcomes all.

Mercy says that sin is not the end of our story. Mercy says that we are defined by what our Savior says of us, not what others say of us or what our sin says of us. Mercy enables us to get back up and keep going, day after day. Mercy has a name: Jesus, who is Love and Mercy itself.

“All grace flows from mercy … even if a person’s sins were as dark as night, God’s mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing alone is necessary: that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest.” -St. Faustina, Diary 1507

Dig Deep

“To the penitent God provides a way back,
he encourages those who are losing hope
and has chosen for them the lot of truth.
Return to him and give up sin,
pray to the LORD and make your offenses few.
Turn again to the Most High and away from your sin,
hate intensely what he loathes,
and know the justice and judgments of God,
Stand firm in the way set before you,
in prayer to the Most High God.

Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High
in place of the living who offer their praise?
Dwell no longer in the error of the ungodly,
but offer your praise before death.
No more can the dead give praise
than those who have never lived;
You who are alive and well
shall praise and glorify God in his mercies.
How great the mercy of the LORD,
his forgiveness of those who return to him!” -Sirach 17:20-24

Well friends, Lent is coming. And if you’re like me, that means that over the weekend you listened to as many worship songs as possible with “Alleluia” in them. Just kidding. Well…sort of…haha.

On a more serious note, I have two thoughts to share with you as we prepare to enter into Lent on Wednesday:

  1. Dig deep.

I feel like sometimes we can tend to set the bar way too high or way too low for Lent. I’ve marched into Ash Wednesday before with my mile-long list of added prayer and books to read and email devotionals subscribed to and fasting upon fasting. Not that any of these things are bad, but too many of them usually leads to crashing and burning 2.5-3 weeks into Lent, like a New Year’s resolution gone wrong. Or the temptation comes to set the bar low and not really walk with Jesus through Lent because life is too busy and I’m already doing enough “Lent” things in ministry. Friends, I want to recommend what’s possibly an unpopular or uncomfortable opinion here: I want to dig deep this Lent. I want to get to the heart of what Jesus really wants me to sacrifice and focus on this Lent. You see, sometimes we can even distract ourselves with great spiritual things to avoid what Jesus is crying out from the Cross to our hearts. What is that one thing that Jesus is really calling you to receive His mercy in this Lent? What is your heart aching for Him to redeem? What’s the one thing you know you really need to cut back on that is preventing you from saying a fuller yes to Him? Perhaps a bad habit or an addiction, maybe a sin you really need to address and let Jesus uproot, maybe a lot of fear or self-hatred. The rich young man in today’s Gospel was afraid to go there with Christ, and he went away sad. Let’s learn from him and have the courage to go there knowing that Christ went there first. It could get messy to really go there, but take heart in that the redeeming “mess” of Jesus’ blood spilled out from His broken body for you covers a multitude of our messes of sins, wounds, and the parts of ourselves that are most difficult to face. Jesus is greater than any of the darkest, most buried parts of your heart. And He’s already there. He’s already taken all of your mess into Himself on the Cross with so much love for you. He would’ve died for you if you were the only one left on earth.

  1. Focus on the goodness of God’s mercy.

One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is, “Surely Your goodness and mercy will pursue me, all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). Jesus’ mercy is good, loving, and is nothing to be afraid of. He gazes at you with such love—His bleeding, pierced heart aching for yours on the Cross. When He cried out, “I thirst!” on the Cross, His cry was not just for a drink but for your soul. He loves you that much. I feel that sometimes in Lent if we miss a day of what we planned to do, or if we fail all together, we can give into despair and think we are a failure to God. But just like when Jesus fell under the weight of the Cross, we can get back up and keep going when we fall. His mercy is always available for us, and we are not defined by how “good” our Lent is, or that this person did more prayer and fasting than we did. God writes straight with crooked lines, and maybe He will reveal to you a greater plan for your Lent where He wants to transform something in your heart. Don’t fret. Take it day by day, little by little, eyes fixed on our Lord. Give Him your whole heart as best you can each day. Keep going.

So let’s dig deep and keep our hearts turned towards our merciful Savior this Lent. You will all be in my prayers.

Hiding in Paradise

A two-year-old niece makes many things more fun, but Hide-And-Go-Seek is not one of them.  Zippy thinks that if she closes her eyes and can’t see me, then I can’t see her either.   Sometimes, to make it more challenging, she puts something over her face as if for a prolonged game of Peak-A-Boo.  Or, once I’ve really hidden—behind the refrigerator, or the door, or under the bed—she will hide there herself.  Again, and again, and again.  Each time, I am supposed to play surprised.

When Adam and Eve hide in the garden after eating the forbidden fruit, God asks “’Where are you?” Surely the omnipotent God already knows.  So why does God ask?  And why does He follow Adam’s answer with still another question: “Who told you that you were naked?”  God wants them to see them as they are, naked and hiding from Him.

In my last reflection I wrote about the strategies of the Opposition Voice, whose goal it is to separate the Father from His children.  He does this first by getting them to reject God.  His next strategy is to get them to believe that God will reject them.

In tempting them with the forbidden fruit, the Opposition had begun to sow doubt in God’s goodness, and thereby to instill a fear of dependence on God.  Adam and Eve are initially tempted to choose self-sufficiency—achieving God-like status on their own, by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Once they have eaten the fruit, the voice continues to promote self-sufficiency versus dependence on God.  They seek to cover their nakedness and dependence, and to hide from God rather than trust in His goodness.

As they lose sight of the God in whose image they are, they lose sight of His image in themselves.  “Guilt says you made a mistake; shame says you are a mistake” notes Gregory Cleveland, OMV.  And so to cover the mistake that they think they have become, Adam and Eve dress themselves in fig leaves.

It is an obvious strategy of the Opposition to make sin appear good, or perhaps necessary, or at the very least, not a big deal.  In a more subtle strategy, after our sin, the Opposition seeks to make our sin bigger than God.

After Genesis 3, we don’t get a visual on the serpent again until the Book of Revelation, when the seven-headed ten-horned dragon is at war with the Woman and Her Offspring.  But the Opposition Voice echoes through the books in between, spoken sometimes from without, and sometimes from within.  The first sin is for man to try to become like God on their own.  The second (and all subsequent) sins is to try to become like God on our own.

This is the mistake of the Pharisees, whom Jesus warns against in today’s Gospel.  “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” He tells His disciples.   The disciples are confused, thinking He has rebuked their forgetfulness (once again, they don’t have enough bread).  He recalls to them to the multiplication of the loaves, and asks “Do you still not understand?”

He is bringing them back not just to a previous lack, but to God’s providence in that lack.  It is God who provides everything.  He provides the grace to avoid sin, but also the grace to repent and to return once we have sinned.  He is the source of good, and the source of mercy when we are not good.

The Pharisees wish to adhere to a system of goodness based in the Law and traditions; to systematize a way to heaven with ritual and righteousness.  They cover themselves with the fig leaves of outer conformity to the Law, but like small children with their eyes closed, they presume that God cannot see the truth within them.

It is not the good deeds of the Pharisees that upsets Jesus; it is their reliance on them, versus reliance on God.  At its heart, it is still denial of God’s Fatherhood.

“Where are you?… Who told you that you were naked?”  Because man is now afraid and unable to approach and depend on God, God comes to earth as a naked baby, completely dependent on us.  And He shows us what dependence on humanity alone will lead to, when He is once again naked, stretched out on the Cross.

 

 

 

 

Other Paradise Trees

 

 

 

Parented by Gratuitous Love

There are many beautiful flowers in the nursery garden, but I am drawn at once to Baby M*.  Only a few weeks old, he is the smallest of all, weighing in at only 2.5 kilos—the equivalent of a small sack of flour with an extra tablespoon or two thrown in.  The list of his medical conditions is longer than he is.  He can do nothing for himself; only receive.

Abandoned at birth, he is without parents; even his name is a gift of the state.  Unlike the other children who reward my attention with laugher and hugs, Baby M lacks the strength even to smile.  He is too weak to suck from a bottle, and so a makeshift feeding tube helps to provide nourishment.  A colostomy bag compensates for his inability to digest and process food properly.  Even his cry is weak—unable to raise his voice, he raises plaintive eyes instead, and his tiny fist squeezes my heart.

*            *            *

Before holding this little one, I would wonder at the words of Jesus to Saint Faustina: “The greater the sinner, the greater his right to my mercy.”

Surely sin has no power, no rights.  But mercy is not about the power of the sinner, but the power of God’s love.  Our weakness draws and compels the heart of God.

“God doesn’t love the way human beings love. We love people because they’re attractive, funny, talented, rich, and powerful,” notes author Father Michael Gaitley.  “God loves us because we’re so weak, broken, and sinful.  God’s merciful love is like water that rushes to the lowest place.”2

In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes to Jericho, and we are told He “intended to pass through the town.”  But then Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector and sinner, the Bernie Madoff of his day, is moved by the desire to see Jesus.  He too was small—so short of stature that he is unable to see Jesus because of the crowd—and so he climbs a tree to get a better look.

One can only wonder at what must have been an awkward sight, a grown man gawking from a sycamore tree.  But Jesus stops and looks up, and says “Zacchaeus come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”

This desire of Zacchaeus that moves him to climb the tree to see Jesus, in turn moves Jesus, compels Him.  “I must stay at your house.”

The crowd is scandalized. “They began to grumble.”  Zacchaeus is a notorious sinner, a thief, one of the “bad guys”; he has not behaved in a way to earn God’s favor, he is not one of their own.  His smallness was not only physical. But Jesus explains the “must”: “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what is lost.”

There is no recording of a preceding moral lecture by Jesus, no setting of prerequisites for His love.  Rather it is the invitation itself which causes Zacchaeus to hasten and “receive Him with joy.” It is the Encounter with Jesus which moves him to moral conversion: “Behold, half of my possessions Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I will repay it four times over.”

Moral behavior is not the prior condition for the love of God, but the consequence of it.  When we receive the unconditional love of God, we are freed to give it and to live it.  Yes—virtue is necessary; we cannot exempt ourselves from the laws of God.  But law is ultimately at the service of love.

It is our need and our desire which knock on the heart of God, which open the floodgates of His mercy.  There is nothing we can do to earn it; we can only accept or refuse it.

The church has always insisted on the right to baptize infants for this reason: all is gift.  We do not wait for proof of wisdom or virtue or even understanding.  We are parented by a love that is gratuitous, born of the goodness of God, not our own.

*            *            *

Baby M’s little heart is also weak, and it is clear from the beginning that his visit with us will be a short one.  And so we give him a special bath, and dress him in white, to prepare him to meet his Father.

On July 18th, his little body gives out, and he is transferred to a New Home, to be cradled in arms that will never let go.  And these days I ask for his help and intercession, that he might now assist me in my weakness.

Little saints, pray for us!

Baby Parenthood Finger Father Hand Love Mother

* Not his real name or initial

2 Father Gaitley explores this theme extensively in his highly recommended book, 33 Days to Merciful Love.  The quote cited is from this article: https://www.northtexascatholic.org/local-news-article?r=AGVJ9RUW3M

Image credit: (modified) from MaxPixel [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Freedom in Forgiveness

“Jesus said to his disciples,
“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,
but woe to the one through whom they occur.
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck
and he be thrown into the sea
than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.
Be on your guard!
If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times in one day
and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’
you should forgive him.”
And the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:1-6)

“Have you forgiven him yet?” my friend asked as we sat in the driveway of my parents’ house, heat running in the car on a cold December night.

Her words pierced my heart. “Oh…” I said, “I thought I did. But I don’t think I actually meant it with my whole heart.”

Forgiveness—it’s sometimes so hard for us, yet always so easy for Jesus. See, I used to think that forgiveness meant I was saying it was okay that someone hurt me. It wasn’t until I was deeply wounded by another several years ago that I figured out what forgiveness was all about. I remember hearing someone say the words forgiveness and freedom in the same sentence. My gut reaction was, “I want that…is that really possible?”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to forgive, even if the same person hurts us seven times in one day. Forgiveness isn’t saying that someone else’s sin against you is okay—forgiveness says, “What you did hurt me, but I put you in God’s hands. I do not desire your destruction.” Forgiveness is surrender, casting our cares on the One who cares so deeply for us.

Forgiveness in graver matters takes time and is a journey, and that is okay. With the situation I mentioned above, I would kneel and say the words “I forgive_____” and pray a Hail Mary for the person every Sunday before Mass until I started to believe it in my heart.

Forgiveness softens our hearts; holding onto unforgiveness leaves us bitter, angry, and unhealed with walls around our hearts screaming, “DON’T come in!” Forgiveness frees; unforgiveness enslaves. We become chained to our hurt. If we don’t forgive, we may as well put a millstone around our own necks. Is there someone in your life you need to work on forgiving?

I find it fascinating that the Apostles’ response to Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness was, “Increase our faith.” Their hearts were pierced like when my friend invited me to truly forgive. I imagine them seeing the faces of the people they knew they needed to forgive flash before their eyes as Jesus was talking.

And how often do we struggle to forgive ourselves? I know I do sometimes. I’ve walked out of the confessional before only to beat myself up about my sin a few hours later. The liar of shame creeps in and tells us our sin defines us and that we’re not good.

When St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (the saint to whom Jesus encouraged devotion to His Sacred Heart) began having visions of Jesus, her spiritual director, St. Claude, was very skeptical at first. He told her to ask Jesus what the last mortal sin was that he confessed. Jesus answered, “I don’t remember.” How powerful is the ocean of mercy of our Lord!

Father, increase my faith so that I may more easily forgive others. Strengthen me to be courageous and put the people that have wronged me and wounded me into Your wounded hands. So often others’ own woundedness leads them to hurt me; help me to have an understanding heart towards that. Increase my faith so that I may better forgive myself. Help me to know that I am not defined by my sin but as Your precious child. Help me to forgive like You do, Lord Jesus, and set me free. Remove any shame, fear, hard-heartedness, or bitterness from my heart. May I have great faith in Your mercy, Your love song for Your people.

“In Bitterness Is My Joy”

Today’s readings may seem a little harsh: God putting Job in his place, Jesus proclaiming woe to those who reject Him. Why would God point out Job’s insignificance and insufficiencies when he is already experiencing so much suffering?

Becoming aware of our own weaknesses is, in fact, a grace. It can be a struggle, too, for it requires us to learn humility, but it also brings freedom. Being aware of our weaknesses frees us from any pretense of perfection, from feeling as though we have to carry the world on our shoulders, and from a false perception of reality, of the world and our place in it.

It is through these weak points that the enemy will try to break in, through our bad habits and less noble inclinations. As the Church Militant, we are continually fighting the good fight, storming the forces of evil and protecting what is sacred—including, first and foremost, our own souls—from being corrupted. If we are aware of the weaknesses within ourselves, we can mount a defense to enemy attacks. In order to do so, we must put aside our pride and call in reinforcements. The battle is bigger than any fantasies we may have for ourselves of glory and heroics. If we want to win the fight, we have to be willing to take orders from our Master, who is infinitely stronger and wiser than we are.

When we understand this greater reality, we will be able to proclaim our weaknesses without shame. We are mere soldiers in a spiritual battle that is far beyond our depth, but we will receive unyielding support to bolster every weakness, if only we ask it of God.

Today is the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy. She beautifully illustrates this idea of confident humility, and her receptiveness to God’s message of Divine Mercy was cultivated by her great dependence on God and the knowledge of her own weaknesses.

We cannot receive God’s mercy if we are not aware of our need for it. St. Faustina shows us though the example of her own life that accepting humiliations leads not to despair but to great joy. When St. Faustina faced trials and injustices, she did not view them through the lens of her own ego but through God’s mysterious economy of grace. She knew she was playing a part in a larger story. When her things did not proceed according to her plans—when she was turned down from several convents, faced serious illnesses, or was misunderstood and ridiculed—she did not cease to trust in God, because her faith was not in her own wisdom but in God’s alone. When she was mistreated, she did not become indignant but instead thought of how Jesus was mistreated at Calvary, drawing close to Him. She was not ashamed of her shortcomings but humbly accepted them, knowing that God created her with those weaknesses for a reason. She used every struggle as a chance to learn to depend upon God all the more and to increase in joyful gratitude for His overflowing mercy.


And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred, and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the Face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: “Jesus, I trust in You!”
(Prayer of St. John Paul II)

Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering we learn who is our true friend.

True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering. Jesus, I thank you for the little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans.

Thank you, Jesus, for interior sufferings, for dryness of spirit, for terrors, fears, and uncertainties, for the darkness and the deep interior night, for temptations and various ordeals, for torments too difficult to describe, especially for those which no one will understand, for the hour of death with its fierce struggle and all its bitterness.

I thank you, Jesus, who first drank the cup of bitterness before you gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of your holy will. Let all be done according to your good pleasure; let that which your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why. In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In you, O Lord, all is good, all is a gift of your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank you, O Jesus, for everything! It is my delight to fix my gaze upon you, O incomprehensible God!

—St. Faustina Kowalska

When Goods Become Gods

Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”—Matt 23:23-26

I recently subscribed to Apple Music, which enables me to listen to pretty much any song for free.  In a fit of nostalgia, I downloaded many of my high school favorites from the 80’s and early 90’s.  Listening to them I am amazed and amused by two things: First, these songs are so riddled with longing and angst I am surprised I survived even an hour of adolescence without copious amounts of Prozac.  Second, I really had no idea how very many metaphors there are for the should-be-marital-act that I was completely oblivious to in my youth.

Just like the lyrics of an old country song, I too was “looking for love in all the wrong places.”  But this is not a story about sexual mistakes or what Fr. Isaac dubbed the “Las Vegas Sins.”  Rather I tried very hard to be a “good girl” and knew that my desire for love was ultimately to be met in God.  But I (unconsciously) believed that God’s love was something to be earned, fought for.  I thought it was a matter of getting the rules right, of moral perfection, of mastering my will.

The Opposition Voice will take one of two tactics when it comes to morality.  First, he may tempt us to ignore God’s law entirely, saying a particular sin is no big deal, won’t harm us, isn’t even really a sin.  Or, he may take an opposite tact: he may encourage us to fixate on sin, fixate on what is right and wrong, the details of law—at the expense of our relationship with the Law Giver.  This was the mistake of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, and at times my own as well.

All of God’s laws are for our ultimate good and happiness, even those we find difficult and unpalatable.  Moralism, however, takes those beautiful and good laws and makes an idol of them.

We need a sidewalk to proceed down a street safely, but we are not meant to live our life looking only at the concrete.  A map may provide helpful directions to keep us from getting lost, but life is not meant to be an endless squabble over the map.

A few years ago, some Frassati friends and I visited Yellowstone Park.  There are hundreds of acres of land that are completely free and open to exploration.  There are some areas with recommended paths that are helpful but not required.  And there are some areas, generally surrounding hot springs or canyons, with paths and platforms that are absolutely essential for one’s safety—step off the path, and you could die.

The purpose of these latter paths is non-negotiable—we disregard them to our peril.  But we do not come to Yellowstone to gaze at and photograph the path, but to enable us to enjoy all of the beauty that surrounds it.

Similarly, the moral law is not at end in itself, but God’s plan to help us live life to the full.  A good marriage is not the absence of adultery or murder or skillful negotiations about who does the dishes and takes out the garbage.  Certainly, those things are necessary if not deal-breakers, but they are not enough.  What makes marriage meaningful is the love lived between spouses, the gift of self that grows into new little gift-givers.

The Opposition Voice will sometimes encourage perfectionism and moralism, not because he values morality, but because he knows we will ultimately fail.  He will encourage us to jump as high as we can, in order to try to reach God on our own, knowing we will get tired and eventually give up.

After sin, he continues with the same varying tactics.  To one he whispers, “Your sin is no big deal!  No need to go to Confession.  You didn’t kill anyone after all.  Oh, well, maybe you did, but she deserved it, right?”

To the other: “What an abominable sin you committed!  God could never forgive that.  You are not worthy of the pure love of God.  You shouldn’t even think about approaching Him in prayer!”

Always his goal is to block relationship, block reconciliation between creature and Creator.

When I taught children about Confession I would hold up a clear glass of water, telling them that it represented their souls at baptism, clean of original sin and filled with sanctifying grace.  Then we would add drops of food coloring, representing various sins committed, until the water turned black.

“Does God love you when you look like this?” I would ask.  There were always a few who guessed No.

“God never stops loving you—even when you look like this!” I would insist.  “God loves you just the way you are—but too much to let you stay that way.”  And then I would talk to them about the sacrament of Confession, how God’s love not only washes us but transforms us with His Grace and Mercy.

To further illustrate this, I would pour into the blackened water Absolution (represented by a bottle of Clorox), which changed suddenly the contents of the glass.  I had been told that this would make the water clear again, but in fact, it turned it a deep golden color.  At first I was dismayed that it “didn’t work properly,” but then I realized that this was in fact a more appropriate image for Confession.

Scripture tells us that “where sin abounds, grace abounds more.”  God takes the evil we offer and transforms it to an even greater good than existed previously.  The Prodigal Son upon His return finds not the life of servitude he expects, but a great welcome, the father running out to meet him, a party thrown in His honor

May we seek to follow Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and Life, and never let any sin be an obstacle to His love for us.