The Father who embraces everybody (Pastoral Letter, Lenten 2007)

His Excellency Msgr. Mario Grech Bishop of Gozo
Lenten Pastoral Letter 2007

The Father Who Embraces Everybody

There may be some amongst us that may not be that convinced that God is a Father. There may be some of us who know the Father, but still need to deepen this knowledge and understand him better. I have a great desire that this Father, whose arms are outstretched to embrace us all, would be known and loved.

Recently, I encountered a father who lost his son. Broken-heartedly this father shared with me the agony of the last moments of his son’s life. The experience moved me and my eyes welled up with tears. I became more conscious of what a a father and a mother go through in the face of a serious illness or a death of a child. I continued to fathom the depth of meaning in a relationship between “the father and his son”.

Father of two sons

This coming Wednesday is the beginning of Lent as a preparation for the great feast of Easter. Thus I call on the Church in Gozo to reflect upon the Icon presented to us by St. Luke (15:11-32) where it is clear that God the Father goes to any trouble to retrieve both of his sons. Thus, the Father retains his paternal relationship with both sons. As in the parable, the Father and both Sons are diminished when either one is missing.

Lent is that time of grace when we get up and return to the Father

Lent is a special time when we discover anew who is this Father who feels sad about our separation, who recognizes us from afar, who runs towards us to greet us, who covers us with kisses and asks his servants to dress us up in our human dignity, to give us the ring of authority which belongs to our dignity as his children, and the sandals on the feet to demonstrate in unequivocal terms that we are definitely his free children and so we can walk freely. It is not the Father who gives the dress, the ring and the sandals; but he orders his servants to carry out all this. The Father takes this course of action in order to show that once again he is offering to his son the dignity proper to him and to show him that he is superior to the servants.

The Lenten season is our opportunity when our Father establishes anew this fact that we are not hired servants, but actually his sons. Because of this renewed relationship it is obvious that the children also embark on an amicable relationship with each other, as in the parable.

Lent is a time when God the Father opens widely the doors of “our” home for us so. This home is the family and the church.

The father suffers because of our condition

In the parable, the father exclaims not once but twice, “we rejoice because this son of mine was dead and is now alive, was lost but now is found”. Here we have the principal reason why the father was sad: not because he had lost a son; rather because his son was dead, in the sense that the son was all broken-up. In other words, the father was sad not because the son was not with him but because of the suffering the son was experiencing. If the father feared that his son was dead, then the father himself endured death because he was no longer the ‘Father of two sons’.

This is a fascinating picture of our God. He suffers as he sees us crushed and in need. He feels for us because he wishes for us to remain his children to love us constantly in the manner that a father can. He eagerly awaits for us to return to him, not to own us, but so that we would gain life. We all know that there is no child that does not have a father and no father without the presence of children. This is the reason that God gave us his only son, Jesus Christ who by his death and resurrection canceled our debts and restored us to life. (Cor.2. 14).

The behaviour of the eldest son

Living in the father’s house there were two sons. I believe that both sons needed to ‘return to the father’. Both brothers grew up in the same house. However, both seemed like strangers living in the same space but not forming a home.

The attitude of the older son disturbs me. It appears that this son lived a long time with his father. However, the son regarded his father more as his ‘boss’ than as a father. This son was keen to observe all the rules of the house without entering into a loving relationship with the father or his younger brother. It seems that this son was more careful to work for his father than to be a true son. Thus, he regarded himself more of a ‘servant’ than a ‘son’ towards his father. This son did not concern himself to grow in his knowledge of the father. He never realized that all that the father had also belonged to him. Since he did not have a family spirit, he grew angry with his father and about his brother. Instead of being supportive, this son exposes the younger brother’s alleged transgressions and directs his anger toward his father precisely because of his generosity towards the younger brother. That is why the father “went out” for the elder brother and asked him to come home and be a part of the celebration.

Sometimes, the attitude of the elder son exists also in the church. This attitude is not that different from the younger son’s attitude. Both sons ignored their father to pursue their own ideas. I would think that the older son’s attitude is harsher. The fact that he stayed in his father’s house could be deceiving both to himself and to others. Those who have the attitude of the older son are those who are quite content with their knowledge of God and they do not try to understand God in a deeper way. Similarly, there are those who make all kinds of compromises with God and their conscience. In addition, there are those who treat God as if there is business exchange of giving and receiving. Some resemble the older son in the way that they are more keen in observing the law than growing in relating to the Father as a true daughter or son. Here, we can include also those who are miserly in their relationship with God in prayer or in their giving of themselves; those who are not open to God’s surprises; those who exclude others from God’s house; those who do not want the church to be the Father’s house but their own; those who are always ready to point an accusing finger at others’ sins. No one is excluded from this category of the older son’s syndrome. It could be us the priests, or consecrated persons, or any married, or adult singles, even the young or children. So in this Lenten season let us allow the Father to ‘come out’ for us, to meet us and take us into the intimacy of his house.

The behaviour of the younger son

I imagine that in each of us there is also a touch of the character of the younger son. The request of this son to his father to give him his share of the property is an expression of what is inside each of us such as the desire for wealth, for freedom, for adventure, autonomy, for greater knowledge. These aspirations are good. However, when the young man took off from his father’s house, he failed to concretize his aspirations in a responsible was befitting the dignity proper to a son. For example, for the younger son freedom became license and the desire for autonomy became enslavement to humiliating relationships.

Sometimes these desires find expression is a collective way by becoming the desire of a whole group of people. A desire is good or evil on its own merits. However because a desire is expressed by great numbers does not necessarily become good. Unfortunately, certain desires in the recent past regarding marriage and the family indicate that some have chosen the road away form God and that leads to death. What is created independently from God and in opposition to nature itself can come back to haunt us and becomes a source of suffering as was the case of the younger son in the parable.

Return to the Father

It did not take long for this young man to realize that he was on the wrong way. He took immediate action to return to his father. Thus, he listened to the inner desire to be with the Father. This desire is instilled in the heart of every person created by God and for God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27). St. Augustine corroborates by writing, “You created us for you, o Lord, and our hearts will not rest until they rest in you” (Confessions 1, 1). Sometimes this desire for God remains hidden. In such a case, the person may need some assistance to recognize the desire and to transform the yearning for the Father into a decision to return to the Father. An example of this is the labourer I encountered who assisted his coworker to get out of a corrupt system in his line of work. Another example is that of a physician I know who lost work because he refused to write false sick leave certificates. One mother continues to fast until her son leads a good life away from the bad influence of his group. I prayed with a couple who are seeking illumination from God about their particular situation of their civil divorce and remarriage.

Ways leading to the Father

I wish that each one of you echoes the Father’s desire to see again all of his children. This Father’s wish is expressed in varied ways. It is expressed in the Sacred Scriptures. What a great choice it is that during this Lenten season and especially during the Lenten observances we become more familiar with the Word of God. This desire is expressed in unique way by God the Father in the person of Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that whoever believes in him is not lost but finds eternal life (Jn. 3. 16).

In conclusion, I encourage you this Lenten season that together with your personal prayer, fasting and almsgiving, you seek more and more to meet with Jesus in the daily Eucharist. It is a blessing that in our diocese a good number of Catholics participate in the daily Eucharist. Join them.

The Church’s desire

The universal church communicates to us the desire of the Father by the offering of this holy season as an opportunity to experience in a more intimate way the Father who loves us as his very own children. He awaits for us with his arms wide open to embrace us and deepen within us what it means to be the daughter or son of God the Father.

Are we to let God our Father wait or to run into his arms for him to hug us lovingly as a Father can?

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ fills you with his blessings.

+ Mario Grech
Bishop of Gozo

Msgr. Saviour Debrincat