Our Journey Back to the Father
Today's homily reflects on the parable of the prodigal son, which provides an excellent opportunity to continue our discussion of prayer and discerning the movements of the spirit. Saint Ignatius gives us a set of rules that tell us how to tell these spirits apart and what to do when we encounter both the movements of God and the movements of the evil one in our hearts, imagination, and conscience.
When we are going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the evil spirit is acting upon our imagination, and heightening the delight and the pleasure of that sin to make that sin attractive, to make it appear good. The evil one does this so that we continue down that path further away from God, and more enslaved to sin.
When we sin, the good spirit is working in a different place. Not in the imagination, but in the conscience. And that spirit is biting me in that conscience. It's a biting spirit! Why? Because the spirit of the Lord wants to bother our conscience about this direction of our life.
When we turn and start moving towards God, the movements of the spirits change.
When we move towards God, the bad spirit bites, saddens, discourages, offers false reasons that disquiet the heart…everything to dishearten and weaken that movement towards God. The evil one uses our past sinfulness to beat us up, and to pressure us to give up the movement towards God.
When we experience discouragement in our efforts to follow Jesus, that is not from God - ever! That is our enemy attacking our movement back to God.
The Father loves us so much, and we don't have to recoil in fear or to stop in our tracks through discouragement, but rather to cast ourselves forward into his strong, gentle and merciful arms. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but he treats us according to his great love and mercy.
Full Audio Transcript
00:02 So this Sunday is called Laetare Sunday. Laetare is another Latin word for rejoicing. And as you can tell, I'm wearing a rose vestment, festive purple if you like. And the joy of this Sunday comes, it happens in Lent, and it happens in Advent. The two are two penitential seasons because it's a sign that the, that, that the goal is we're, we're on the way to the goal that we're, we're close to Jesus. We're close to the Paschal mystery of Easter. And so the church, just can't hold herself back. And this rejoicing kind of breaks out this Sunday and this Sunday particular as we just heard, we can rejoice this Sunday because of the Lord's mercy.
00:56 One of the most, if not the most powerful parable of our blessed Lord. And it is the longest parable that he has. Is this, this one we just heard the prodigal son or as some scholars think it should be more appropriately called "the merciful father" because in the end he is the protagonist throughout, throughout the parable.
01:17 And if you ever go into the confessional back there, the first thing that you see when you go to confess your sins is Rembrandt's return of the prodigal son, which is, which is a masterpiece in the hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg. Um, and so it's a very, it's a very powerful, powerful message and a powerful teaching that our Lord wants to drive home the reality of the father's mercy, that how merciful he is. And we see the fulfillment of this parable in the crucifixion and death of our Lord. We see there concretely the revelation of his mercy. His mercy has overtaken and overcome our sin.
02:03 And he has done this through his passion and death on the cross, which is why in Catholic worship, the crucifix has always had a pride of place in, in our worship. Jesus is showing us the father's love and mercy that he has come to save sinners.
02:23 That unpack this parable with, with deep, deep meaning, it goes well beyond the, the, the span of one homily, even if I go a little bit longer. But what I want to do this Sunday is to continue what we had been talking about last Sunday about prayer, how we cultivate our conversion by cultivating that inner life of prayer in the way that Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught us and if you missed last week, you can go on, go to the website, you can listen to the homily from last week.
02:53 But last week we had heard about how we pray with our imagination, how we enter into the scriptures in the first person with our senses, what do I see? What do I smell, what do I hear, what the words are being spoken, what is Jesus wearing, what's the weather like? And we put ourselves in the scene so that we too encounter the Lord Jesus in, in that, in that scene.
03:18 And we could do, we'd do that in our personal prayer time and if you remember last week, but even if that prior time begins with one minute, we started to be faithful and consistent with that one minute of prayer and hopefully we, we've been doing that this last week.
03:33 We can also do it during the sacred liturgy. Because when the word of God written, word of God is proclaimed in the mass and the sacred liturgy, it is a living powerful word that accomplishes what it, what it, what it says it does. And so perhaps even some of some of us here, as I was proclaiming that parable that we were imagining that parable in our, in our own minds and praying along with the proclamation. So that's what hopefully we've been doing. And what I'd like to do now is we'd go the step further that when we've prayed, things are going to happen in that prayer... Movements of our hearts.
04:12 And so how do I discern what is of the Lord and what is of the evil one,? The Lord who's drawing me to himself or is it the work of the evil one who is trying to draw me away? And Saint Ignatius gives us a set of rules that if we, if we assimilate them and implement them, will tell us how to tell these spirits apart and what to do. And when we discern, this is when we're thinking about our prayer after it's over, when we're discerning that we're going to do three things, we're going to be aware, we're going to understand, and then we're going to take action. That we are aware of what's happening, that we're going to understand what is happening and then we're going to take action. And Ignatius, this is the soldier in him is like, we're not just supposed to know things, we're supposed to do things.
05:10 And when I become aware of the action of the evil one, I am not supposed to simply passively endure it. I am too resist it! To disagree with it, to reject it, to call it a lie for what it is, even if it appears truthful, I'm going to fight against it. And when I realized, when I understand it's the movement of the Lord, I'm going to agree with it. I'm going to welcome it. I'm going to cooperate with it. I'm going to roll around in it. Right? I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I'm going to get it. All of it was absorb as much as I can. Okay? Okay. And so that's, that's what we're going to do. So let's use the younger son in the parable to, cause he illustrates the first two rules of Ignatius. So rule number one, this is the younger son. When he takes off, right, and when he says to his father, gimme what's, what's coming to me and I'm out of here.
06:05 Now you get, you have to remember how offensive the younger son is to his father because that share of the inheritance doesn't come to him until the father's dead. So basically, father: Give me my money that you're going to give me and I wish you were dead and I'm outta here. I'm not going to live. I want to live my own life. No more rules. I'm going to do what I want to do. And he takes off and he goes to the distant country. So this is the soul that's moving away from God as Saint Ignatius says, going from mortal sin to mortal sin, to mortal sin. And that could be with one's kind of whole life, but it could also mean an aspect of our life that is not yet converted. Like maybe we're 80% with the Lord, but there's 20% of their certain sins that I'm not really trying to avoid. I'm just going to keep, keep going from there.
06:56 So here's what Ignatius says, here's what, here's how the spirits are at work. The bad spirit. When I'm going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the bad spirit is acting upon my imagination and heightening the delight and the pleasure of that sin to make that sin attractive, to make it appear good. And why do you think the bad spirit is doing that?
07:24 So that I continue down that path further away from God and more and more enslaved to sin.
07:33 The good spirit in that movement is working in a different place, not in the imagination, but in the conscience. And that spirit is the good spirit is biting me in that conscience. It's a, it's a biting spirit. Why? Because the the good, the spirit of the Lord, the Good Spirit wants to bother my conscience about this direction of my life, but our conscience is like our spiritual nerves. Like, if I, if I in my body, if my nervous system doesn't work, my body will be destroyed by things cause I won't feel pain and, and I'll, I'll, I can, I can, it'll, it's, it's subject to the, to the destruction of the, of this earth. Right? The fact that I feel pain when something bad is happening to me, that's a good thing, right? Put my finger in the light socket. I'm being electrocuted, right? My nerves say, pull your finger out in a light socket because that electricity is killing you.
08:33 Right? Our moral conscience hopefully is, is doing that same thing. When I do bad things, I hopefully feel bad about that. I hopefully feel guilt. But a person who does bad things, it feels no remorse. What do we call that person? Sociopath. Right? So hopefully my conscience bothered when I'm going down this path, this pathway. So the, so the, in when I'm going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the bad spirit actually feels good. While the good spirit actually feels bad and feeling and bothering my conscience so that I get turned around and, and start moving the other direction.
09:16 So again, that's rule number one, setting out away from God. Now when the, when the son's life has bottomed out, right? When he's lived the way he wants to live, according to sin, he begins to experience the reality of sin. What does St. Paul say? The wages of sin is death.
09:38 That's what sin does. It destroys us. It creates misery. There's where he goes and he bottoms out and he's feeding pigs in a foreign country, which is about the most offensive thing that a person of the of Israel could do. And he doesn't even get what the pigs get. So there he is at the very bottom of life. And what changes him?
10:04 He remembers, he remembers his father's goodness even to the, to the hired workers of his house of how good the father is and that remembrance of the good raises hope within the son.
10:26 And he gets up and he turns and he sets out back to his father. And this is rule number two. This is what Ignatius says when we've turned our life and are moving towards God. And of course we're always sinners. So that purification is ongoing, but fundamentally turning my life towards God. I would imagine that's everybody here in this church. Because if you're not interested in following Jesus, you wouldn't be here at mass. Okay?
10:54 When we turn and start moving towards God, the movements of the spirits change. So when I'm going towards God, what the bad spirit does, this is Ignatius' description. The bad spirit bites, saddens, discourages, offers false reasons that disquiet the heart. Everything to dishearten and weaken that movement towards God. So it makes sense. So if I'm going towards God, the evil one doesn't want that to happen. And the best way to weaken that movement, to slow it down or maybe convince us to give it up is discouragement. You know, you've tried 500 times and you know, just, you're still, it's not working. Just stop. Or the or the Lord is really tired of forgiving you and his been really not going to take you back. And you know you're really not worth it to him and you really belong back here with the pigs. Those sorts of things are false reasons. Using our past sinfulness to beat us up and to and to make us so that we will give up the movement towards God.
12:08 Things that agitate and disquiet the heart. Whereas the good spirit, this is what Ignatius says, the good spirit gives courage and strength, consolation and tears, inspirations, a strengthening, quiet of the heart, a taking away of obstacles. In other words, everything to strengthen and to accelerate the movement towards God.
12:36 And here's what, here's what we can, and this was a, this is the younger son's movement back to the father. So he, we don't know in the parable how long it took them to walk back to his father. If that was days, weeks. And you can imagine the journey back to the father, the bad spirits saying: "You really blew it. You squandered the inheritance. You've, you've lived a life of debauchery and you know, the father is not going to take you back really. I mean the hired workers, they work, but you, you know, you don't, you're not going to count". Of having to, having to be aware to understand and to work against that spirit. Whereas the good spirit was how your father is good. He is merciful. He's going to take you back, come back. Right?
13:23 And this is what we're supposed to do in our prayer life. When we experience discouragement in our efforts to follow Jesus, that is not from God - ever! Think about it. That is our enemy attacking our movement back to God.
13:43 And if you in a good test to put this through is like, Oh, if I follow this thought, where would I go? Would I move closer to God or further away? If I, if that thought of discouragement weakens my movement and takes me further away from God, that can't possibly be from God, right?
13:59 But I can tell you exactly where it is coming from: our enemy. And so when we are aware and understand that we are not simply to endure it, we are to oppose it with the name of Jesus. That's a lie. It doesn't matter how truthful it sounds. It is twisted somehow and it is a lie and I reject it. I disagree with it. I resist it. I'm not going along with it.
14:24 To whereas the Lord with his encouragement that gives courage and strength. When I sense that peace of heart in following him, he wants me to absorb it. We don't want to sit there with his false humility to say, oh yeah, well he's given me consolation, but I didn't really deserve it. If he's offering it, we're supposed to take it and to absorb it and to agree with it and to cooperate with it because that's going to accelerate our, our or movement back to him. And, and this is indeed what happens with it with the younger son. So he comes back and what is, what is our Lord say while he was still a long way away, the father sees him, the father has been searching the horizon for him, and then he does what Jewish men did not do because it was so undignified for their culture. He ran. He ran to meet his son. And even though his son has this rehearsed confession that he begins, he the father only allows him to get the first part out and he cuts him off and says quickly and then goes through the affirmation of his sonship that the father has never withdrawn, and the and the younger son ends up in the merciful arms of the father.
15:52 And this brings us to Saint Paul, because what we just heard from Corinthians, Saint Paul teaches us the consequences of this parable. By the power of the Lord's mercy, we repentant sinners are recreated. What does Saint Paul say? A very majestic, even dramatic phrase: whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come and he has entrusted us as the members of his body. What is it called? The Ministry of Reconciliation. But to be ambassadors of Christ reconciliation, that same reconciliation must first enter into us and when it has penetrated our life, then it becomes a spring for others to encounter as well.
16:52 And it is Jesus who accomplishes this. God the son incarnate. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
17:06 So here's the path we're charting together the confession of our sins and the cultivating of an interior life of prayer, as Saint Ignatius is teaching us. We contemplate the gospel scenes in the imagination. We strive to be aware, to understand and to take action of the various movements of the spirit that arise in our prayer.
17:32 And now we have two rules to integrate. This is how we can be transformed into ambassadors of the Lord's mercy. And so in meditating upon this parable, we can hear the call from the depths of eternal love: Be reconciled to me. The father loves us so much, and we don't have to recoil in fear or to stop in our tracks through discouragement, but rather to cast ourselves forward into his strong, gentle and merciful arms. Because He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but he treats us according to his great love and mercy. So Rejoice.