In the classic tale of Pinocchio we are told of a young man made of wood, but made in love, who desperately desires to be more fully human. He runs away from home and from his father and he seeks his fortune out in the world. His so-called friends lead him to an island where he gives in to his selfish whims and slowly becomes a donkey. On the island there are many young boys who have forgotten who they were and through their foolishness and selfishness they have become less than human, they have become slaves.
It is certainly a sad situation when we find that we have forgotten who we are, we have forgotten that we are loved and we find ourselves lost and alone in the world. Because of sin we lose our freedom as children of God and we find that we are slaves to sin. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.” (Jn 8,34f) In the gospel of Luke we meet a young man who thinks, as many young people are prone to thinking, that he will find a more fulfilling life out in the world than among his family. He takes his part of the family trust and “sets off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” How often have we squandered what our family of origin and our family of faith has given to us? When we choose our own selfish ways over the will of God as mediated by our family and Church we often end up throwing away much of what truly gives us life. The world so often offers us only illusions and elaborate games that end up in our forgetting who we truly are. When we have forgotten our true gifts and graces we end up bankrupt, both financially and morally, and find that we are alone in our suffering. Slowly we become something less than human and we find ourselves enslaved to sin. In order to recover what was lost through sin we must begin a journey home. Lent is our journey from sin to God’s grace and mercy. It is a journey that takes us through moments of penance in order that we may remember who we truly are.
As the journey of this young man leads him back home we learn that, “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.” The young man is still a long way off because there is yet penance to accomplish in his life. He must remove the stench of the pig farm that he has been living in and begin to remember anew who he truly is. Even while he is on this journey of penance and return the Father sees him and is filled with compassion, mercy and joy.
We are told that the Father “caught sight of him”. This seeing is not merely a matter of the gift of good eyesight on the Father’s part but rather a gift for compassion and mercy. While he is still “a long way off” the Father sees him in his heart with compassion and mercy. He doesn’t see him in his shame and degradation nor as a slave in his guilt but rather he sees him as his son, he sees him with his eyes of mercy and love as he once was in glory. The Father runs to the son and restores his lost humanity upon him. He dresses him in a fine robe, places a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet and restores the dignity that was lost in his sinfulness. The son is expecting to be treated according to his sin and to be punished by the Father but what he encounters is grace and mercy. The journey home that leads us through penance is not to punish us for our sins but rather to prepare us for grace and to live again in the dignity of the children of God.
What we have lost because of sin God the Father retrieves and restores to us. Reconciliation leads to restoration that we might again know that we are the children of God. St. Paul urges the Corinthians, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2Cor 5,20) The journey of repentance leads us to a certainty of the Father’s love. The elder son questions the Father’s love because he still believes that he must earn the Father’s love and that nothing is ever enough to please the Father. He also has forgotten the Father’s love and sees his life as one of servitude, not grace. The Father appeals to him, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” Such is the gracious love of the Father.
During this time of Lent we make our own journey of repentance, of remembering who we are, of confessing our foolishness and sin and of experiencing the mercy of God the Father, sharing in his joy. May we be restored to glory through our encounter with grace and emerge with a greater certainty of the Father’s love for us all