Pope Francis began his Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by lamenting the obstinacy of human hearts despite the disastrous consequences of our sinful and selfish choices:
“Mother of mercy, how often we have experienced your watchful care and your peaceful presence! You never cease to guide us to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Yet we have strayed from that path of peace. We have forgotten the lesson learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two world wars…We grew sick with greed, we thought only of our own nations and their interests, we grew indifferent and caught up with our own concerns. We chose to ignore God, to be satisfied with our illusions, to grow arrogant and aggressive, to suppress innocent lives, and to stockpile weapons.”
These words remind us that our painful experiences alone cannot bring about true and lasting repentance from sin and conversion back to God. The painful consequences of our sinful choices alone just cannot sustain us in our journey back to God.
The Prodigal Son “came to his senses” when he found himself starving and in dire need, away from his family and loved ones, rejected and abandoned by his foreign friends, and having pigs as his envied companions. What brought him back to his senses? Was it hunger, homesickness, regret, rejection, abandonment, or degrading conditions, etc.? Truth be told, not all poor, hungry, homeless, rejected, abandoned, starving, and dehumanized people repent and come back to God. These experiences alone are not enough to bring about conversion and sustain it to the end. Then, what brought him to his senses?
We find the answer in one of the two parables that Jesus told before the parable of the Prodigal Son. He asked, “What man among you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and goes after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Lk 15:4-5)
Jesus thus reveals to us that God does not just wait for the strayed sinner to return to Him but goes searching for every sinner until he finds him. He never gives up His search. In addition, He does not give instructions to the lost and found sinner, but He carries him home on His shoulders. He rejoices only when He has successfully brought the sinner home with Him.
In truth, in Jesus Christ, God does not only receive and welcome lost sinners like the merciful father who welcomes the Prodigal Son. God also searches for them to bring them home to Himself. Thus, it is the grace of God, acting through events, persons, and things, that brings us back from sin and sustains us in our journey back to God. It is this grace alone that overcomes our shame, guilt, regrets, fears, and discouragement in our journey home.
The Book of Joshua tells how God freed His people from bondage and sustained them on their journey with manna all the way to the Promised Land, “On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the Land, the manna ceased.”(Jos 5:11-12) This prefigures how divine grace searches for us, frees us from all bondage, and sustains us all the way in our journey home to God. Our experiences alone, no matter how dark and painful they are, just cannot initiate or sustain our lifelong conversion back to God.
We must respond to this grace that pursues us constantly so as to bring us back to God. The Prodigal Son was not passive when he experienced this grace but responded promptly and decisively, “’I shall get up and go to my Father’…So he got up and went back to his father.” We too cannot be passive in the face of such graces.
Let us respond to this grace in three ways.
First, we must be grateful to God for His graces in our lives. It is not everyone who experiences this movement to come back to God with all sincerity. We must thank God constantly for that movement in our hearts to return to Him. We must not focus on the consequences of our sinful choices and ignore the constant prompting of diving grace. Instead of living our lives with regrets of the past or anxieties about the journey back to God and our abilities to journey till the very end, let us be grateful that God’s grace is present and active in our lives, drawing us back to Him.
Secondly, we must be hopeful and trusting in this grace more than in our efforts. The grace of God will not abandon us halfway into the journey but will bring us back to Him if we continue to respond appropriately. The merciful God who beckons us home also labors to bring us home to Him. Being hopeful in His grace also means that we never stop making effort in response to the promptings of this grace to come back to God again and again till our last breath.
Thirdly, we must consciously participate in that grace. This means that we too become instruments of this grace in reconciling others to God. We too want to share with others this same experience of divine grace that moves us back to God. In the words of St. Paul, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old things have passed away; behold the new things have come. And this is all from God who has reconciled us with Himself through Christ and given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”(2Cor 5:17-18)
Divine grace is active in reconciling us to God in Jesus Christ. By this same grace, we too have become reconcilers in Jesus Christ. This means that we cannot be detached from the woes and miseries of others brought about by their sinful choices. We cannot be like the older brother who seems completely aloof to the travails of the younger brother and to the pains in the heart of his father, “But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we see so much obstinacy in our world today despite the many painful experiences of our sinful choices. The adulterous spouse holds on to illegitimate pleasures even as the family crumbles. The alcoholic clings to his bottle even as his health deteriorates. The sexual pervert continues in depravity despite shame and affliction with sexually transmitted diseases. The abortionist continues to destroy the innocent life in the womb even as the mothers suffer depression and become suicidal. The list goes on. These painful experiences alone cannot convert sinful hearts. They must be permeated by divine grace if they are going to bring about any conversion back to God.
In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”(Lk 15:2) He also communicates this saving grace to us always to sustain us in our journey back to Him in our sinful world. This grace is not given for us alone but for the whole world, a world hurting by sin, fixated on the disastrous consequences of sin, but still unable to return to God.
United to Him in this Eucharist and having His grace in us, we cannot and must not remain passive. Let us also pray, live, and sacrifice like Him so that this grace too may touch hearts, set them free from sin, and sustain them in their own journey all the way back to God.
Glory to Jesus!!! honor to Mary!!!