Lost and Found
I used to really find it difficult to understand that my father and my mother loved me for who I am. I struggled growing up because I always feel I have to prove myself that I am the best son they could ever have. And the irony is that I am the only son. I felt I had to put up my best in everything I do or say. I should do this, and I should do that. I was very afraid to make mistakes or fail in life. The truth was I was afraid not to be loved. I was afraid not to be accepted.
The Gospel of the Prodigal Son speaks about the mercy of God to sinners – boundless and unlimited. Jesus is the face of the mercy of the Father. His teachings and His works of mercy from healing the sick to bringing back to life the dead was questioned by the Pharisees who believed they know better than God who should be punished more and not. They were scandalized that Jesus was eating with and touching the sinners.
There are three things the reading teaches us:
To be lost is the hardest place to be. We can be lost literally because of the choices we make. We make the wrong turn or take the wrong path. What can be difficult is when we have gone too far and too deep, and we find ourselves already too comfortable with where we are. But that feeling of being lost lingers because the heart seeks its Creator. It seems the one for whom it beats. The son who lost his way by asking for the share of his inheritance was really saying to his father, die now and give me my share. He spent his entire life wasting it on what he believed gave him happiness and fulfillment in life. He had everything he thought he wanted but not everything he really needed. We are like the younger son – wasteful and lacking in gratitude.
After some time, the son finally longed for what he really needed – love. Most of the time we can look for love in the wrong places and in the wrong people. Sometimes we fill ourselves with things and persons to remedy the emptiness. Pope Francis commented that "The emptier a person's heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume."
Look at the world today, look into yourself. Do you take the world for its word that it will be the answer to all your needs? The world does not care what you need. It cares for what you want. It will give what you want but not what you need.
But it is never too late to return, to turn back to the Father. God is a merciful and loving Father. If you think you are lost, know that there is a Father not only waiting for you but looking for you. Allow yourself to be found.
To be loved is the greatest place to be found. One thing that the older son did not realize is how much he was loved by the father. But he could not see it—blinded by his jealousy and then hate. He was in the greatest place to be found — beside his father. That must have be how the younger son felt with the hug his father gave him. Imagine a father seeing his little child for the very first time. He lifts the child and carefully takes it into his arms close to his heart. The child hears the beating of the father's heart. The heart beats with the name of the child. That is how God must feel for every lost child He has found, as if He has seen the child for the very first time. He carries you into His arms right next to His Heart — God's heart beats with your name. That is the greatest place to be found—to be found in His loving and merciful arms.
Love is a place; it is home. Pope Francis reminds us "How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!" God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking His mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another "seventy times seven" (Mt 18:22) has given us His example: He has forgiven us seventy times seven.
To be lost and found is the greatest joy to be. The Pope continues, "Time and time again He bears us on His shoulders. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, He makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew." There is no greater joy than to be lost and to be found – to be sinful and to be loved. Joy becomes your being more than just a feeling of happiness. To be lost and found is the greatest joy.
God cannot simply just love me period. He has to love me because I follow the 10 commandments. I live by the rules. I go to church every Sunday. I am good. We have been so conditioned by the world that we can only be loved if we follow all the "shoulds" of the world. If we can fulfill the conditions set by the world then we can be loved. We cannot be who we truly are because the world demands that we should be what it set us to be. We put on a mask every time we face the world because we are afraid not be liked or loved. This is where we are lost. We are lost in the world of "ifs" and "shoulds." And there comes a time when it can be very tiring. We get tired and lost. We just want to be who we are.
The father in our Gospel is prodigal; he was wasteful in his love for both sons. He loved them for who they are. He loved the older son who stayed with him and served him. He loved the younger son who asked for his share of inheritance, left and then returned. He loved both sons without question. God loves us the same way. He loves without conditions. Without the "ifs" and "shoulds." Is it not the greatest joy to be loved just because of who you are—not because of what you can give to the person or be to the person. That is the mystery of God's love.
In our desire and struggle to be loved, we put on masks and pretend to be what the world wants us to be. We have confused our wants with our needs, and we are now lost. We find it difficult to be loved for who we are. We constantly prove ourselves to be the best. We fear rejection. We love attention. But deep within our hearts our only desire is to be loved in our sinfulness. The biggest realization of the young son is that he was loved in his sins. The father never stopped loving him. It is good to be loved in our goodness, but it is even greater and extraordinarily joyful to be loved in our sinfulness.
To be lost is the hardest place to be. To be loved is the greatest place to be found. And to be lost and to be found is the greatest joy. Come home and return to your place. Be still and stay in the Father's arms.
Columban Fr. Kurt Zion Pala lives and works in Myanmar.