one step away

One Step Away From Mercy

As a Church, we continue to celebrate the Year of Mercy. What a blessing this year has been to so many of us: a time to reconcile, a time to find peace within ourselves and with God. Pope Francis continues to use the theme of mercy to teach us about the ways of God, our Father.

This past Sunday, in the pope’s Angelus address, he spoke of the parable of the prodigal son.

Pope Francis said that what is most striking about the parable of the prodigal son is not the sad story of a young man who left his father and fell into sin, but his decision to “arise” and go to his father.

“The way back home is the way of hope and new life. God awaits to forgive us out on the road, waiting for us patiently, he sees us when we are still far away, he runs towards us, embraces us, forgives us. So is God! So is our Father! And his pardon erases the past and regenerates us in love,” the Pope said.

“When we sinners convert,” he continued, “we do not find God waiting for us with reproaches and hardness, because God saves, he gathers us home with joy and partying.”

Still, we all know how hard it is to make that decision to “arise” and ask forgiveness. We want to, but we are afraid. What if we are not met with open arms and joy? What if our Father is still angry with us? What if we are just too far gone to ever get back home?

The Christian band, Casting Crowns, answers this last question in their newest song, “One Step Away.” The song reminds us that no matter how far we have traveled, how big a mistake we may have made, we are still only one step away from our Father’s forgiveness.

It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone
Mercy says you don’t have to keep running down the road you’re on
Love’s never met a lost cause

“Love’s never met a lost cause.” Every one of us has spent some time thinking we are a lost cause. Whether it is because of our own sin and arrogance, a loss in our life that we can’t seem to get over, or the pain and hurt we’ve felt when we are betrayed by someone we love, we’ve all said to ourselves, “This is a lost cause.”

But God has never met a lost cause. He has never looked at any of his children and thoughts, “There is not hope there.” No, God is nothing but hope, love, mercy … and he is always willing to forgive and gather us home.

bible prayer

3 Ways To Use The Bible In Your Prayer Life

Yesterday, we talked about the Bible and what this holy book is about. Today, let’s talk about three ways to use the Bible in your daily prayer life.

  1. Start with the Psalms. If you’re a “newbie” to using the Bible for prayer, the Psalms are a great place to start. First, we hear them at every Mass, and you’ll find that you’ll be familiar with many of the Psalms. One great part of the book of Psalms is that there is a psalm for virtually every human emotion; King David (who wrote most of the Psalms) poured his heart and soul into these lyrical prayers. The Psalms are part of the daily prayer of the Church, known as the Divine Office, which priests and religious must pray and lay people are encouraged to pray. Pick a Psalm and read through, slowly, meditating on the words. What does it stir up in you? How is God using that Psalm for you, right here and now?
  2. Pick a Gospel. The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) all tell of the coming of Christ, His ministry, his death, life and resurrection. The Gospels are surprisingly short, but don’t let fool you: they are packed with material for your prayer life. Make sure you have a good Catholic Bible, one with detailed footnotes. Of course, you can always read Scripture online at the United States Catholic Conference website. Choose one of the Gospels and again: read slowly and meditatively. We’ve heard the Gospels so often that sometimes, we don’t really hear them at all. Take the time to listen to the voice of Christ. How do his parables have meaning for you? If you place yourself into the Gospel as one of the people, does it change your perspective? (For example, think of how the older son might have thought and felt in the parable of the Prodigal Son. In his place, would you have been jealous? Angry? How does a different perspective of a familiar story change your faith perspective?
  3. Finally, some people will simply open the Bible and choose a verse or a section upon which to meditate. Now, one runs the risk of opening up to something likeWhen a man or a woman has an infection on the head or in the beard,should the priest, upon examination, find that the infection appears to be deeper than the skin and that there is fine yellow hair in it, the priest shall declare the person unclean; it is a scall. It is a scaly infection of the head or beard. Let’s face it: that may not give one a whole lot to meditate deeply upon. So, try again. Let the Holy Spirit move you. However, you might just want to stick with that tough verse from Leviticus. After all, it might lead you to ponder how we consider people “unclean” in our society. How do you and I treat people in an “unclean” manner? How can we change that? What does Catholic faith teach us about this?

The Bible is fertile ground for a deeper prayer life, a way to engage God in a meaningful conversation. God has spoken to His people for thousands of years in Scripture, and He continues to do so today. What does praying with the Bible hold in store for you?


Forgiveness: Restored In God’s Love And Mercy

Yesterday was Laetare Sunday. It marks the midpoint of Lent; the message of the liturgy is “rejoice!” (which is what laetare means.) We are so close to Easter. We are working hard to correct faults, to grow closer to God, to grow in faith, love, charity. We seek forgiveness for our sins; we yearn to know God’s love and mercy.

The Gospel for this past Sunday was one of the best known in all of Scripture: the parable of the Prodigal Son. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest, wrote a small book on this parable, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. Nouwen was absolutely captivated by Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son, where the painter captured the moment that the prodigal son flings himself at the feet of his father, seeking forgiveness.

Nouwen says this about “forgiveness,” a theme that is an integral part of the Prodigal Son story: “One of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life is to receive God’s forgiveness.”

How can this be? Aren’t we supposed to be able to go to God and be forgiven for anything? When we leave the confessional, aren’t we supposed to feel renewed? Don’t we leave all our sins behind?

It is supposed to work that way, but it doesn’t always. Sometimes the hurts and wounds we carry from our sins and the sins of others are so deep, so frightful, so damaging, we don’t feel forgiven, nor do we want to forgive someone else. Our mind tells us one thing (“Of course you’re forgiven! You just made a good confession”) and our heart tells us another (“I still hurt. This is so painful for me.”)

We see this in the parable. The eldest son, upon learning that his father is throwing a party for the younger son, gets angry. “I’ve been here all this time, doing the right thing. I’ve been working alongside my father. I’ve been good. Why is he getting a party?? I’ve never had a party.” The older son is jealous and mad and unforgiving. He’s hurt. He doesn’t see any room for forgiveness. He doesn’t understand how the father can forgive the hurts of the past so quickly, so effortlessly.

A bit later in his book, Nouwen states, “Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing.” Are we totally willing to let God into our damaged relationships? Are we totally willing to allow God to restore us? Are we totally willing to set aside jealousy, hurt, pain, resentment, bitterness, grudges, annoyances in order to allow God to work in our lives?

Forgiveness is radical. It requires us to be “all in,” to get out of God’s way and allow His will to be done. We can be healed, restored, renewed. But we cannot do this ourselves. Only God can. Just like the Prodigal Son, we must be willing to throw ourselves at the feet of God, and tell him, “I cannot do this on my own. I hand everything over to you. Your will be done.” Only then will God’s love and mercy heal us.


‘Come Running Like A Prodigal’

The band Sidewalk Prophets currently has a song out called, “Prodigal.” It’s a reflection of the well-known parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke. The song encourages the listener to acknowledge one’s sins, and return to the arms of God the Father:

Wherever you are, whatever you did
it’s a page in your book, but it isn’t the end
your father will meet you with arms open wide
this is where your heart belongs…

Come running like a prodigal
Come running like a prodigal

There will be nights, when you hear whispers
of a life you once knew, don’t let it linger
’cause there’s a grace that falls upon you
don’t you forget….

Yesterday, Pope Francis was wrapping up his trip to Mexico. It’s no secret that Pope Francis loves to embrace the people, literally. His delight towards young people is especially evident.

In the following video, Pope Francis calls two young women with Down Syndrome from the crowd to himself. The Holy Father’s gestures – walking towards them, holding his arms out wide, his tremendous smile – all symbolize God the Father’s anxious heart when His prodigal child returns.

We are all prodigals. We all sin, running from God’s grace, straight into the arms of evil. However, we always have the choice, the ability, to turn and run right back into the arms of the Father. And He will always reach out to us, smiling, beckoning us to return to His unbelievable embrace.