Lost & Found
by Dr. Gerry Turcotte, President, St. Mary’s University
“We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” ~ Luke 15:32 ~
Every Sunday at 4:30 p.m., St. Mary’s University hosts Mass celebrated by our own priest and professor of Psychology, Dr. Peter Doherty. This is a small gathering, though at times it has numbered up to fifty people, with the typical attendance around twenty or so. One particularly important part of the service, made possible by the size of the group, is that the floor is opened after the homily for comments, questions and feedback from the attendees. At times the conversation is limited, with occasional bursts of insight breaking through the shyness; at other times the floodgates are opened and everyone, it seems, has something to contribute.
Recently it was a discussion of The Prodigal Son, certainly one of the best-known parables in the Bible, and one that is deceptively straightforward. Perhaps what makes it most memorable for many is the dilemma faced by the loyal older brother when his profligate younger brother returns and is so enthusiastically embraced by the father. For our group discussion, much was made of the inevitability of the father’s response, but also of the maligned older brother. As many of us noted, while flawed, there is an incredibly understandable humanness to the older brother’s bitterness. “For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends” [Luke 15:29].
If The Prodigal Son continues to have such resonance two thousand years after it was recorded, it is surely because it taps into our most human of failings. Yes, the older brother should understand the father’s sheer joy at finding his lost son; but so too can we sympathize with his confusion when he has been so faithful to his duties. One attendee also pointed out that the youngest son returns not through conversion, as such, but because he has become so destitute that he recognizes he would be better off even as a servant in his father’s house. The father, however, welcomes his son with open arms.
What struck me afterwards was that the true power of the story — which is of course a metaphor for God’s unconditional love — is that the actual moment of conversion does not occur when the youngest son crawls back to ask forgiveness, but in the extraordinarily comprehensive, love-filled, forgiveness he receives. This is the power of God’s embrace. When we witness the full-hearted acceptance, the joy of the Father’s welcome, knowing how unworthy we are, it is impossible not to be moved and grateful beyond words. That, I suspect, is what even the older brother comes to realize … in his own good time.