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    St. Mary's Parish
    211 Avenue O South
    Saskatoon, SK
    S7M 2R6

    Phone: 306 244 2983
    Fax: 306 242 6461

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    Saturday: 7pm
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    Sunday: 12:30-1pm (Guadalupe Parish)
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    Wednesday: 6:30-7pm

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    12:30pm to 4:00pm
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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A God of Personal Compassion and Love

By Fr. Frank Reitzel, C.R.

The image that Luke is trying to evoke in today’s masterpiece of a story is to help the reader appreciate how conventional wisdom differs from, and will even block out alternative wisdom – how the popular wisdom and cultural values of the day tend to cloud and obscure God’s wisdom and God’s ways.

Our approach to this story is helped if we see it as having one common story plot which is presented in three distinct “acts”. In Act One the youngest son’s life is described in detail. It is an account of a searching teenager leaving home, going into exile and becoming an outcast. We follow his journey to a far-off land (a Gentile country – an impure land). After squandering everything he owned, he is compelled to take the only job available – a pig-farmer’s hired hand – the ultimate disgrace for a Jew. Act One ends with this shamed but resourceful lad plotting a scheme to return home. In his heart he KNEW instinctively who and what kind of person his father was.

In Act Two the focus is on the father. Seeing his son approaching from a great distance, he is ecstatic. Dropping everything, he rushes out to meet him. Before the lad can open his mouth to request his father’s forgiveness, the father embraces him and kisses him. Ignoring the son’s rehearsed confession, the father joyfully clothes him with his finest robe, then puts a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet – symbols of acceptance and restoration. Then he orders a banquet and celebration.

The parable could have stopped here and still have been a powerful statement about the mercy and compassion of God. But it doesn’t. In Act Three the story’s focus shifts to a third character, the elder son. He cannot believe what is happening right before his eyes: there is music and dancing and much celebration everywhere. Realizing the reason for the celebration, he steadfastly refuses to join in. Instead he complains to his father: “All these years I have been a dutiful and obedient son and you have never ever given me any such celebration.” The story ends with the reader never knowing for sure if the elder son really understood his father’s behaviour. Will the elder son ever come to appreciate the genuine compassion and graciousness of his father towards his brother? This is the “key question”. Will you and I ever come to appreciate our God as a God of personal compassion and love, always reaching out with a welcoming hand and a forgiving heart; always prepared to celebrate our “coming home”; or, better, our “welcoming home of a lost or destitute brother or sister, son or daughter, friend or neighbour”?

The bottom line of this powerful parable is this: God rejoices when one repentant sinner returns. Statistically, that is not very interesting, we must admit. But for God, numbers do not seem to matter. Who knows whether the world is kept from destruction because of one, two, or three people who continued to pray when the rest of humanity had given up? From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness “…is all that is needed to bring God running from his throne to the returning son or daughter to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy.” (Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son)



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