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September 15, 2019
[Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Wahiawa (Parish Patronal Feast Day)]
“Drop dead, Dad!” Can you imagine the tremendous hurt involved for a father to hear these words from his son? Maybe they could be glossed over if they were said in the heat of anger, but even then it would be difficult. But when they are said with planning and forethought, they are like plunging a dagger into a father’s heart. Yet that is, in effect, what the younger son said to his father. One does not receive his inheritance until his parent is dead, but this young man had the gall to ask for it all now, even as his father was living, and thus he added insult to injury.
We could understand the father seething, feeling not only hurt but anger at this uncaring, rude son of his. We see his reaction at the end, but we do not know if that was how he felt at the beginning. After all, as we saw in the first reading, even God became extremely angry when his beloved people basically said to him, “Drop dead, God!” by creating a golden calf and worshipping it. God is so angry that he tells Moses, “Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt.” Once they were God’s people, whom God had brought out of the land of Egypt, but now God says they are Moses’ people and that Moses liberated them. So to have this kind of anger when someone hurts us is not necessarily un-Godlike. God himself was extremely angry and upset at being so rudely rejected.
Yet in the case of God and in the case of the father in the parable, both had a change of heart. Just as God had turned the tables and called Moses the liberator as a way of disowning the people himself, Moses turned the tables by persuading God to remember who he really is and to relent in his punishment of the people. In the same way the father of the wayward son welcomed him back when he repented, not begrudgingly but with great joy in his heart. The father, too, remembered who he was, and even if the son had made himself a rude and heartless boor, the father refused to be dragged down in the same way. And so the celebration of joyful welcome began.
Recently I was speaking with our Diocesan Pastoral Council about why so many Catholics have left the Church, no longer practicing their faith. Some have left because they are livid about the scandalous behavior of priests and bishops who abused young people or did not deal effectively when the matter was brought to their attention. Some left because they were deeply hurt or rejected by someone representing the Church. Others left because they were angry about some teaching or other – and I would say, in most cases, actually misunderstand what the Church teaches about various hot-button issues. We should never tell people not to be angry about this, since even God became angry when he was so callously blasphemed. But in the end, we need to remember who we are. We are not here just for ourselves, but because the Lord has given us a mission to preach the good news that Jesus is alive and active among us, and he invites us all to repentance so that our hearts can be filled with his merciful love. If we leave, then who is left to accomplish the mission? God understands our frustrations, but wants to equip us to be the ones who welcome our straying brothers and sisters back with joy, even when they show the slightest glimmer of faith and repentance.
In our daily lives there are other hurts we experience. Someone is bullying someone else in person or on the internet. A family member does something that brings disgrace on the whole family, and there is hurt and disappointment. A trusted friend or even a spouse turns away and no longer values the relationship. A family is feuding over an inheritance. These are all ways we have been hurt, and being angry about it is very natural – even supernatural, as we have seen. But in the end, we come here to be reminded of who we are, so that anger does not become the ruler of the day, but rather mercy and forgiveness and compassion.
No one knows this better than Our Lady of Sorrows, who I am sure was livid about the way her dear beloved Son was treated – and is treated today – yet whose anger turns to such sorrow and compassion for the offender that he or she is welcomed back into the arms of a loving Mother who simply cannot abandon her children. We come to celebrate her feast, so that we may be more like her, going beyond the anger, the sorrow, and the hurt in life, and transforming them into forgiveness, and mercy, and joy – all because she reminds us of who we really are – daughters and sons of the most merciful God.