Blessed, a thousand times blessed, that he, this good Father, notwithstanding my unworthiness, lavished on me all the richness of his mercy.
Retreat Journal, December 1814, O.W. XV n.130
The sight of the cross, the realization of the loving embrace of God, who had come to Eugene to lift him up and rescue him – here was the unforgettable life-changing force through which every other moment of his life was focused and given light. In the retreat before his priestly ordination, Eugene described this experience in a powerful way in his journal:
Meditation on the prodigal son. To my shame, this parable never applied to anyone better than it does me.
I left the house of my father, after having, even while I still lived there, heaped up every sort of bitterness on my father. I wasted my patrimony, if not with the daughters of Babylon, as the Lord, with inconceivable goodness, has always preserved me from that kind of stain, at least it was in the tents of sinners that I made my dwelling on my exit from the house of my father.
I wandered eventually through arid deserts; and, reduced to beggary, I ate and fed myself on the food destined for the pigs, whose company I had freely chosen. Did the thought even occur to me of going back to my father, this good father whose excessive tenderness I had so often put to the test? No, he had to come to me himself, thus crowning his gifts, to lift me up, and rescue me all heedless as I was, or rather he had to come and get me out of the mire in which I was immersed and from which I could not extract myself unaided. I hardly ever even conceived the wish to leave aside my rags and put on again my nuptial robe.
Retreat notes before his ordination, December 1811, O.W. XIV n.95
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Prodigal mercy. Mercy lavished upon us by God, our Father. As I sit here this morning and ponder the mysteries of the cross and how it focuses on God’s infinite and most awesome love I find myself grateful that once again I am able to ‘relate’ to Eugene, just as I have at times related to St. Paul and just as I do to the story of the prodigal son, which says as much about the father as it does about the two sons.
There is immense comfort in knowing somehow that we are all similar, alike in heart. I think of the Father, our Father, standing at the door each day, his eyes scanning the road, waiting, watching and upon seeing us. And even while we are still far off, running out to greet us and enfold us into an embrace that his pure mercy, pure love. “I love you, you are mine…” Then throwing a large party, celebrating because I, because we have returned home. “Come back to me, with all your heart; don’t let fear keep us apart. Long have I waited for your coming, home to me and living deeply our new love.”
It is only as my heart sings those few words that I remember my first experiences of the Good Friday at Madonna House. It was Good Friday afternoon and we were gathered in the chapel, the scriptures were being read and at the moment of hearing that Jesus breathed his last breath and died we all but prostrated ourselves on the floor of the chapel. A short time later I heard the most magnificent music, like trumpets being played, the sound was royal. So loud and real was it that I pulled myself up and sitting back on my feet I looked around. Who would ever be playing music in the chapel at a time like that? But everyone was there prostrated on the floor as I had been and there were no trumpets to be played but still the sound continued for a short time. I felt like Jesus was being welcomed back home. A love so great that he died for us on the cross and a fathers love so immense that the most lavish party ever was being thrown for him as he was embraced in a way that would never end.
I have always loved the story of the prodigal son for it has been my story also and I have preached on it quite a few times – I could and have played both of the daughter’s parts quite well in my life. Never have I associated it with the cross in any way. Coming here this morning and seeing Franks invitation; “Why the cross as focus? It reveals God’s prodigal mercy.” I questioned how anybody could see or find the cross in that story. I am a little awed as my mind’s eye wanders up to behold the face of my Lord Jesus there on the cross.