Dear Parish Family,
In 2011, I was blessed to be able to visit St. Petersburg, Russia. The Hermitage art museum is located there. The museum has over 3,000,000 items and the largest collection of paintings in the world. It was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764. One of the six museum buildings was the Winter Palace where Russian emperors lived. It also happens to house the original painting: The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt. The painting is over 8-1/2 ft tall and 6-3/4 ft wide. As I turned a corner, I saw this amazing painting. This small copy does not do it justice. But I mention it because it is the parable we hear today in Luke's Gospel. And the painting itself tells the story that we hear in the Gospel. How can the painting tell the story? Well, there are a few interesting details in the painting that help us understand the story. First, the son is kneeling before his father. He is in a total state of submission and is asking his father's forgiveness (perhaps this reminds you of confession). Secondly, a closer look at the son reveals that his clothes are all torn and tattered. He is missing one of his sandals. He is a wreck. But the father is well dressed; he is slightly stooped over, and he has his hands on his son's shoulder. It is the ultimate expression of mercy. And his hands are very different. The left hand is larger with stronger features- making it look more masculine. The right hand is smaller and smoother, suggesting a female hand. The implication is that there is both a strong guiding hand of a father and a soft nurturing hand of a mother. The older son is standing off to the side with his hands folded – judging this unconditional act of mercy by his father.
In this painting, the meeting of the father and his younger son is described not in words, but in art. We have often heard the Prodigal Son, but what does prodigal mean? Some synonyms are: wasteful, reckless, extravagant, or uncontrolled. All of these words fit the younger son. Yet, the father, much to his older son's chagrin, throws a huge party for his younger son. Last week in Luke's gospel, we heard a very stern message from Christ – all of us must repent or we will perish. In this case perish does not simply mean that we will die. It means that we will not be able to achieve salvation in heaven when we die. But today, we hear about God's unceasing mercy and compassion that is available to us. The younger son does all he can to disinherit himself from his father. Yet the father is elated that his son is sorry and has returned. It makes no difference how disrespectful he has been or that he has squandered all of his inheritance. "This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found." During this time of lent, we often think of the things we have done wrong and how we can improve ourselves. But we must also realize that our God is a compassionate and merciful God. He is so compassionate that he sent his Son to die for us. He is more than willing to forgive us just as the father forgave his prodigal son. However, like the prodigal son, we need to come closer to our God so he can embrace us and draw him to himself. We can do that most effectively by asking forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Yours in Christ,