Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 15: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, September 4, 2019


Ex 32:7-11, 13-14; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; 1 Tm 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32

Recently I attended the joyous anniversary celebration of Sister Rosemary Connelly, the charismatic Mercy Sister who founded the famed Misericordia home for developmentally disabled children and adults on the North Side of Chicago. More than 1,400 of her “closest friends” celebrated her 70th year as a Sister of Mercy and her 50th year at Misericordia. (See story on page 5.)

In her remarks she noted that, especially early on, a lot of people, including the media, did not know what the word “misericordia” meant and would often mangle its pronunciation. “Now,” she noted, “they get the idea.” 

One of the guest speakers at the gala was “The Coach,” Chicago sports icon Mike Ditka. His message was: “If you want to know what Misericordia means, go and visit the place and you will understand.” My little sister Miriam was a very happy resident in that beautiful place, so I know firsthand what Misericordia means, too.

“Misericordia” is the Latin word for “mercy.” The Latin word “miseri” means suffering, or those who are “in misery.” The word “cordia” derives from the Latin word for “heart.” “A heart for those in misery” is the true meaning of misericordia.

As Pope Francis has repeatedly said, mercy is at the very center of the Gospel. He describes Jesus as “the human face of the Father’s mercy.”

On this Sunday we have one of the most exquisite Gospel selections in the New Testament, and it is all about mercy. Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel contains three striking parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

Very important for understanding the power of Jesus’ words is the chapter’s opening line: “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” Here is a striking motif found throughout the Gospels — Jesus’ exceptional rapport with those on the periphery, the outcasts of his own day. He welcomes them and eats with them. The Jesus of the Gospels embodies God’s mercy.

Jesus’ response to his opponents’ complaint is to tell these three pointed stories. The shepherd leaves the 99 behind to rescue the one who went astray. The woman tears her house apart to find one lost coin. In both instances, Jesus says, there is ecstatic joy in heaven that the one who is lost is found. 

The first two parables are about active search for those who are lost. The third parable (sometimes called “the prodigal son”) takes a different and beautifully nuanced stance. 

An adult son insults his father in claiming his inheritance and then compounds his sin by squandering everything on a promiscuous life. He decides to return home only because he is “in misery” and hungry, not because he realizes how much he has wounded his father. 

In this parable, the father, like so many parents, cannot go and drag his adult son back. So the father stands at the end of the road and waits and hopes. When, wonder of wonders, he sees his son, and before the son can get out his contrived speech, the father smothers him in love, “embracing him and kissing him.” He also gives him a new robe, sandals on his feet, a signet ring and then a great feast.

The penetrating wisdom of Jesus is evident in the finale of this story. It does not end simply with the happy feast but with the complaint of the elder brother, who resents the too-lavish mercy of his father. The father must reassure this son, too, that he loves him: “Everything I have is yours.”

We don’t know how the elder brother responded to his father’s words. Did he understand the depths of his father’s love for both his sons? Or did he live in resentment at the unearned mercy shown his errant brother?

Few other Gospel passages put the spotlight so intensely on the depths of God’s mercy for us and its consequences for the way we deal with others.




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