So It Will Be With Us
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, February 20, 2022
The question behind much of the great Karl Rahner's work is this: "which do we love better: the little island of our own certainty or the ocean of incomprehensible mystery?"
I find in the Parable of the Prodigal Son two essential ingredients in the recipe for grace. I have mentioned them before. They are Radical Acceptance and Unconditional Positive Regard. Who in Holy Scripture (other than God himself) is a more obvious representative of these two things than the father in this parable?
He receives his son with joy without conditions and asks for nothing in return and shows his unlimited esteem for him with an extravagant welcome home. The father had every right to be upset and yet Jesus reveals a much better way. And that is the point of this story. Unconditional love. Unconditional positive regard. I believe that the Lord is inviting us to this same way of life.
Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) points out that the son, asking for his inheritance before his father’s death, was committing a tacit act of patricide. That makes the father’s response all the more incredible. Do you remember the words of the Three Holy Children at the door to the fiery furnace that they would serve only God even if he did not save them. Job says much the same thing, "Even if he slays me, yet will I trust him." (Job 13:15)
The Lord tells us that his Father casts our sins “as far as the east is from the west” and that is forever. In other words, he is mindful of the only thing that matters. Not the past or the future but the present. And in that present moment as the long-suffering father greeted his son, the only thing that mattered was that he had come home. The point of the parable is that this is what all of us can expect whenever we enter into his presence.
"For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Hebrews 8:12)
Who is it then that holds on to the remembrance of sin? We do. And since we do, it is no wonder why we repeat the same ones over and over again. The longer we hold on to them, the heavier the burden becomes and the stronger its influence. Of course, with this turmoil inside, we will end up projecting this negativity on the people around us. Hurt people, hurt people. Have faith. Forgiveness has risen from the grave!
Anyway, what is our pile of measly sins in comparison to the infinite ocean of grace that is God. St. Isaac of Syria knew this well.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that God has an eternity to spend with each one of us alone. Think of it! An intimate and infinite get-to-know-you session with the Creator! Will it be a sorrowful fine- tooth-comb examination of our sins? I very much doubt it. What a dismal waste of eternity! It wouldn’t take that long anyway.
Here’s another thing our time alone with God will not be. It won’t be a class in liturgics, canon law, or dogmatics. Our dialogue will not consist of God telling us how right he is and how wrong we were. It really isn’t about being right or wrong. It isn’t about moral rigidity and scrupulous certainty. It is about love and mercy and restoration. It is about ascending from glory to glory into the likeness of God, becoming more and more like him by simply dwelling in his presence. Divine osmosis! It is about relationship which is a dive into the "incomprehensible mystery".
"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he appears, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (I John 3:2)
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known." (1 Cor. 13:12 ) Looking into the face of God, we will at last know who he is and who we are. It will be like looking into a crystal clear mirror.
What are streets of gold and pearly gates in comparison to this?
If God asks us anything, I believe the question may well be, "Did you love well?" And if we say no his reply will be, "Don’t worry. We have an eternity to work on that together."
Jesus valued people so much that he frequently broke the laws of religion and society to show it. Everyone he met went away different than they were when they met him. And unless you were hurting others and needed some correction you knew through his words and actions that he cared for you. For me I am convinced that this is the Christian way of life and if I have an overarching motto it is this, "I want everyone I meet to know that I care."