The Pope is talking about the father in the well-known story we call The Prodigal Son. (Lk. 15: 11-32) To shorten and summarize:
The younger son wedels his inheritance from the father and goes into “riotous living” in a far country. He discovers the nature of money: it runs out.
Reduced to taking a job feeding pigs, he would eat with the pigs, but no one offered. The bottom.
The brainstorm. “In my father’s house even the servants have enough to eat. I will go to my father and say, “Do not take me back as a Son, but as a hired hand.” Demotion script in place, he makes for the house of his father.
Now the motto of the Holy Year appears.
While still a long way off, his father sees him, has compassion, and begins to run. He embraces him and kisses him.
The son recites his rehearsed script with its reduced status. But the father will have none of it. Bring on the robe, ring, and scandals – the signs of sonship. The lost son is found, the dead son has come back to life.
We are no strangers to the son’s hangdog script. We enshrine mistakes, embrace what we have done wrong as our defining moment. Other people are only too willing to help us to do this to ourselves, never letting us get too far away from our egregious errors. We ink a pact of punishment in the secret center of ourselves.
But the story will not let this all too human tendency have the last word.
There is something greater than we are who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves, something greater who listens to our self-hatred but will not fully subscribe to its negative assessment. This something greater acts out of its own truth, a truth it will never compromise. “Even though our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.” (1 Jn. 3: 20)
The “motto” of the Holy Year never settles for hired hands. Neither should we.
© Jack Shea