Eucharist Miracle Eucharist Miracles

Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of March 18, 2007

4th Lent Sunday (Year c)
1st reading (Gen 5:9-12); Ps 33; 2nd reading (2 Cor 5:17-21); Gospel (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”Then Jesus told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants: ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

You know it because I have spoken to you several times, that St. Luke is the evangelist who is more concerned with the subject of God's mercy and today’s parable taken from the Gospel is a clear testimony. It is a beautiful and moving parable and, each time it is read, it instills in us the protection and joy of God's forgiveness.

I think it is superfluous to reflect on the love of God and the conversion of the younger son, for these subjects has been treated several times. Today, however, we reflect on a figure that has always been put in the dim light and has never had due importance: the first-born son. He is not a secondary character, but shines with a light and with a particular greatness: only those who have lived his same experience can succeed in understanding it.

Let us now try to deduce, not with imagination but with logic and reason, what is written between the lines of this parable that Jesus did not want to highlight because at that moment it was more important to make men understand God's merciful love for sinners.

The firstborn is a faithful, docile, humble person; he is a hardworking and committed person who respects his father, his way of life and his decisions. It is he who receives also the father's confidences and lamentations. Faced with the unruly conduct of the younger son, certainly his father will have regretted, suffered, cried for this misconducting and immoral behavior, finding only in the firstborn son a shoulder on which to rest and a heart that could console and cheer him.

When the younger child claims what belongs to his part of the inheritance, the father gives his consent to show him his love, while the elder does not receive anything, on the contrary, he is asked to work and supervise the servants. Let us pass over what the younger son did by living this unregulated life, with the waste of money; moreover, at the beginning his conversion is a little interested, in fact he is hungry, nobody gives him anything, not even the carobs that are given to pigs, so he says to himself: "How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!" (Lk 15:17). Hence the initial impulse to his conversion is not very noble, but it is the necessity of eating; maybe I'm destroying this parable, but this is the truth and I see it this way.

Let's analyze it now from the opposite side: while the younger son was far away and squandered his money, the father and the elder son surely saw each other and ate together. The father will have certainly talked about the distant son to the elder son and he will have grown tired of always talking about the same subject, for he saw and suffered the suffering of his father but he was silent because he loved his father with a great, immense love and therefore understood that his father was just giving vent to his feeling. Probably he also saw his father go to the highest tower of the house and look in the distance if, by chance, the younger son was about to return home and then surely, shaking his head, will have thought of the devastating suffering of his father.

Later, while he was at work and taking care of his father's interests, that lost brother had returned and had asked for forgiveness. Take notice of another detail: no one had warned the firstborn that the younger brother had returned and that the father was celebrating for this reason. So when the elder son returned home, he heard the music and the songs: “So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in" (Lk 15:26-28). In fact, he was rightly offended and sorry and when his father went out to invite him he complained about it. From a human point of view, the paternal response is difficult to accept: "everything I have is yours" (Lk 15:31), and he could have replied claiming what was due to him.

This firstborn son is great and I see myself in him, and with me all those who truly strive to love God. It almost seems that God is more lenient with sinners and much more demanding with the good children.

Human logic would stagger when faced with all this, one must enter into the divine logic in order to understand everything. I have described this parable from another point of view, perhaps it is the first time you have heard it, but it is right to stress that between the eldest and the younger son the one who suffered the most is the elder; the one who has had less until then is the elder, the one who had been closer to his father and had shared his suffering is the elder. The younger son, on the other hand, took what he wanted, lived in a dissolute and immoral way; then he came back and found his father ready to welcome him along with his elder brother.

The parable does not mention it, but I think the latter went to his younger brother and hugged, kissed and even gave him a good scalding.

I would like this concept to be clear: in the firstborn son there is always present love, righteousness, honesty and attachment to the father; an affection and love that also involves the one who betrayed the trust and love of his father and therefore caused suffering to the latter.

For this reason, the firstborn is a person who must be for us a shining example to follow; we must share these teachings and make them our own. Eventually the parable gives back to the firstborn an important part, his figure is not subordinate to his father and especially to his younger brother; rather it is a presence that enlightens and clarifies the relationship that there must be between father and son and towards those who turn away from God and then return.

I meditated on this parable intensely for several hours; I have given you my reflections, make them part of your life, use them for your lifestyle and your existence; on the other hand, some of you may have followed, in the past, the path of the younger son, but today certainly all of you are on the side of the elder son.

See what the absurdity is: the more a child is near God and the more God is demanding, much more than for those who turned their backs on Him and betrayed Him. This is God's logic, take or leave, there are no alternatives. Then we must recognize with honesty and humility what we are; the conclusion is to ask God for the grace, help, support so that we may continue to play the role and task of the elder son with love, perseverance and humility because even the firstborn collaborated on the return of his brother to the father's house.

Praised be Jesus Christ.