Is Pope Francis reaching out to the prodigals and are some of us feeling like the older brother?

Before I begin this little piece for reflection, I just want to say that our Moderators have already made it clear that we shouldn’t presume to judge the Pope:

I wouldn’t be surprised if some recent threads got shut down . . . but that’s not for me to decide, 'nuff said. Now for my “pearls of wisdom,” for whatever they’re worth. :shrug: :twocents:

I’m a morally “conservative” cradle Catholic. I have the reaction too sometimes - "The Pope said what?!" Although I’m learning to 1) fall back on the good catechesis I received as a child and continued from that time to the present, and 2) go to sources that are Catholic, not secular, for any further clarification I desire.

But here’s the thing - sometimes I have this fear. And if I look at it closely, I see myself, being a very good imitation of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Sometimes I fear the rules won’t be enforced enough, won’t be enforced for someone else, etc. - when I have followed them all my life (mostly) and fought for them and helped explain them to people and all these efforts I’ve made.

And it is my realization, perhaps our Holy Father is like that father in the story Jesus told. He’s out there on the road, looking for ways to reach those prodigal sons and daughters. Am I going to feel all put out and envious and afraid? Or am I going to join in the celebration?

It’s a spiritual test for me. Maybe it is for a lot of us. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think we need to be so fearful. Easier said than done, maybe, but doable. :curtsey:

That reminds me of a homily I heard this past Sunday. The priest made a note that people seem to view God in the OT as a God of pure justice and God in the NT as one of pure mercy. {He did clarify that this is the same God in the OT and NT.} However, he then pointed out how simply untrue that was. God shows plenty of instances of mercy in the OT and plenty of instances of justice in the NT. The point being: God is both merciful and just. {You know, “both/and” not “either/or.”}

He then connected it all to the story of the prodigal son. The younger brother presumed upon his father’s mercy, and the older brother presumed upon his father’s justice. For both of them, it was an “either/or.”

I, too, sometimes feel like the older brother. However, I need to realize that God doesn’t love me any less than those returning home. The shepherd didn’t completely abandon the 99 sheep for good; he brought the lost sheep back to the flock. Similarly, the prodigal son’s father didn’t abandon the older son; the younger son simply returned {with knowledge of his father’s justice} home.

Having myself been the prodigal son on more than one occasion, I fully understand what the Holy Father is saying.

On my first “prodigal son” experience, I too was obsessed by the rules. I thought that if only I could follow them perfectly, my sins would be overcome.

The thing is that the poison came out in other ways and those ways were just as hurtful, if not more, to those around me.

The second experience made me realize how dependent we really are on grace and mercy.

I look at the Holy Father’s recent statements like this. Imagine a doctor diagnosing lung cancer in a patient who didn’t follow the “rules” but smoked all his life. Now the doctor could go on blathering about the rules of healthy living: not smoking, drinking moderately, eating right, etc.

But that won’t help the patient. It will in fact just drive him away to seek help elsewhere, maybe alternative medicines that are hoaxes and will just hasten his doom (analogous to going to looking for spiritual nourishment outside the Church when we feel judged, unwanted, etc.).

What the patient needs is kind, compassionate care, and the right medicine.

The Church is the same: she can either attract the sinners into her bosom and offer them the only medicine that will truly work, that is Grace, or she can go on lecturing about the rules and drive people away to seek “alternative medicines” in the form of off-the-wall spirituality (New Age, etc.).

We are all sinners, we all deeply wounded in some way, and our deepest, most habitual and worst sins emanate from those wounds. That’s what the Church needs to be: a hospital for us sinners, where the love, Grace and Divine Mercy of our Redeemer can heal us; that healing, and not a lecture about the “rules”, is what will help us overcome our breach of them.

3D - I think that this is a wonderful reflection. Well worth pondering.

I too am surprised at some of the things I’ve read here - - - Have we forgotten that this is the man that Christ Himself put on the Chair of Peter? :shrug:


I truly love Pope Francis and think he’s a very decent man and a good pope–not that what I say counts–and infact ,I think that my thread on this same subject was one that got shut down. I wondered if maybe talking about the pope on this forum isn’t allowed or something. Anyway, my only critique in what the pope said is that it was fairly long winded and intense. Basically, he wasn’t trying to change any church doctrine or dogma–rather he was telling us to be charitable in our dealings with people who are living in a sinful situation–because in one way or another, we all live in sinful situations. We may not be a practicing gay, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t sinners all the same.

I wish sometimes that cardinals and pope’s would speak more directly, using fewer words, less high brow philosophy and greater simplicity. They are, after all, supposedly speaking to the masses as Jesus did–not lecturing at a doctorate level in a seminary… Another words, if what they are saying is “judge not that ye be not judged”, or “do unto others as you’d have done to yourself” then just say it! It took me over an hour and two re-reads to sort through the actual interpreted version of Pope Francis’ interview–and another 30 minutes to think it through! Most Catholics and even fewer non-Catholics will go to that much effort–they read the high points and headlines. And perhaps someone should just mention to Francis that when he makes long winded and convoluted statements, that the press–especially the American press such as the Huff Post are going to twist what he says into something almost scandalous. But then maybe he knows that and doesn’t care—:shrug:

:thumbsup: Brilliantly put!

wow…this is the most energetic posting and discussion that I have seen on Catholic Answers since I have been involved. I read the whole string and a few thoughts came to mind.

I have to say - and those of you who know me - that for an Aboriginal Canadian Catholic these words are “god-sent”. This pope is taking a wholistic approach; one that provides context for all the rules and regulations. People are not won by big words or ideologies, people are won by being welcomed, touched and included.

As you know I have been talking about the need to create “Aboriginal theology” that informs a creative process of how our people can be fully engaged in the church, and - for the most part - I have been encouraged by Catholic Answer people… but I also face a lot of conservative and traditional catholics who take strong stands only to be argued down by their conteporaries who are also strong conservative catholics. I have learned a lot from this process.

I have always been more liberal on gay stuff as “two spirited people” often were medicine people in our cultures; we were a people that did not get stuck on small stuff; we were also a people who honoured life and even today the rate of abortion in native communities in Canada - as an example - are far less than our mainstream counterparts and the grandparents, extended families and communities all play a role in raising our children…so you can imagine how welcome I feel by this pope. I am sorry that people are feeling like the older brothers, I am not prodigal, but I am not an older brother either…

Anyways a few thoughts to share…

  1. Really, Francis is saying the same thing as Benedict and other popes to a great degree, it is a matter of emphasis, the audiences both popes were trying to address when they said or did what they did… the situation in which both popes were trying to honour the Spirit’s direction. Benedict I think developed that academic basis of a lot of things that JP or Francis are not as good at… (it wasn’t their primary calling)… Benedict to me created in a non-charismatic way the sober foundation to a) explain and reflect JP I and II and b) to provide ground for future popes to exercise their Petrine Ministry.

  2. In terms of overtalking issues of abortion, gay marriage etc., I think that it is important to connect with people, not to be critical of them. When we develop trust with people, we can begin to share in a humble manner what we believe and why…and let the Holy Spirit do the conversion work… and the Holy Spirit does not need our assistance or the assistance of state law…to do His work.

  3. Cardinal Dolan is such an impressive person when he said that the Pope is shaking things up (which Dolan believes is needed) and the he himself has been called to examine his own conscience on the matter and has been humble enough to honour the pope even though it may contradict what Dolan has done in good conscience in the past…finally…

  4. The Holy Spirit is in charge and he is working in different ways with each of the Popes and our next pope will also surprise us when he comes…and the pope after that… that “chaos”, “creativity” and new understanding - is that not part of progressive revelation? Is that not the workings of the Holy Spirit when we are challenged to disown the pride in which we hold our dogma? Dogma not being what the church teaches but what we think that church teaching means and our strategy to implement our black and white understanding of that church teaching; is that not the sin of pride?

Anyways, bottom line… is I really love this Pope!

Bruce Ferguson

Very nicely put. :slight_smile: Thank you!

@ Starrsmother - it’s hard because some of the simpler wordings of phrases have been long ago given different, out-of-context meanings in pop culture! :rolleyes: “Don’t judge” has probably been the victim of the most misinterpretation, but there are plenty of other contenders.

So, both short phrases and longer detailed explanations are subject to varying degrees of misinterpretation, distortion, axe grinding, and other ills, intended or no. And yet, language is what we have. Jesus was the perfect Word spoken by the Father; with words spoken and heard by humans, it gets trickier! :whacky:

May God bless our Holy Father for taking on the hardest job in the world! :thumbsup:

So here is a honest question I would like to ask from all posters on this thread.

This story of the Prodigal Son was known for 2000 years and different Saints and Church fathers have written on it.

How is it that until yesterday (or 50 years ago), we did not know what it meant? Or how is it that for ~1950 years, our Church didn’t grasp this message but we in the 20th century where there are moral evils unlike in anytime before and the faith is dwindling have grasped what it means?

Just honest questions if anyone wants to take a jab at answering.

well said

3D, great post! I think you might be on to something. :thumbsup:

I also think part of the problem is that many of us have become so hard-nosed against those outside the church that they are considered our enemies, rather than our brothers and sisters lead astray by our true enemy. So when we see the pope trying to bridge the gap and open a way for them to make their way into the church, we see it as him being a weak Catholic instead. How pretentious to think one is a better Catholic than the pope!

We need to remember that it’s those outside the church that we need to love the most, not the least. They are the ones most in need of the church. Remember, Christ said he came for the sinners, not for the righteous. The pharisees had a problem with Jesus focusing on sinners too much, too. They accused Him of all sorts of doctrinal error. He was a “bad Jew” in their eyes, because they new all the rules, following and enforcing them with a rigid vigor. When we take a look at ourselves and how we look at the pope’s efforts, are we reacting like a pharisee or a disciple?

Interesting, I had this exact same thought the other day. For me the answer is a partial yes. I know that I definitely feel ignored. When Benedict was Pope he felt like a spiritual father to me, and I dont have that at all with Francis. Of all the things he says, I think very few are aimed at me, and of the few that are, most are in the negative sense. For instance I think he would consider me one of the “Pelagians” he talks about.

So yes, I think I do feel jealous for a spiritual father figure to some extent.

I know I have a Pharisee streak :o - it’s my spiritual challenge to test and refine my faith and hopefully keep me humble.

Another New Testament parable that challenges me is the one about the workers who worked all day and the ones who only worked a few hours or one hour, etc., all being paid the same wage. It’s like "But they’re getting away with doing less!" :eek: * cue whiny child voice “It’s not fair!” * LOL

Crazy how the devil can work on us, isn’t it.

Can we all please spell out the definition of the word “love” each of us using here. Because I cannot understand some of these posts on this forum.

To love is to will the good of another. If I truly love a sinner, it is my responsibility to tell them that what they are doing or have done is a sin. If they cannot accept it or get upset, that is pride. That is another thing they will have to work on.

To simply ignore their mistakes is to foster pride, something we seem very naturally inclined to doing in our part of the world. But that itself is not right.

Sin is sin. To point it out is good. We ignored it for 50 years and our churches didn’t get filled. They are pretty empty to be honest. But if we were to go to the Calvinist Church that has actual doctrine like Total Depravity (imagine that?) are full of young people than our own.

Well - since I don’t know that your premise is true…It’s hard to answer the question.
You say yourself that “different Saints and Church fathers have written on it”, so what makes you think that the Church didn’t grasp the message?


Thank you, 3D, for starting such a thought provoking thread. I will be following.:slight_smile:

Because the Church never had a notion of a mother as being some passive woman who does not correct, right? She actively sent out decrees, condemned heresy, and did everything it can (including fighting actual wars and eliminating (like in the case of the albigensian heresy)).

This notion of “mother” we want to use today is modern and completely Romanticized Western thought for that matter.

As for God’s love and mercy, it was always seen that the complete truth had to be given. Not part of it. It was understood that harsh language will upset people. But if they turn away, it was considered their pride. The Church didn’t have to run after them saying “hey wait, maybe we can work something out”.

Jesus himself, after the bread of life discourse, didn’t run after the disciples that left him. If the Word of God himself did not do it, it seems right that the Church never went to that level. The Church should always clearly proclaim what it stands for without any compromise and in full totality. That was the view of the Church.

Now the view is that we “correct little”. That is not Prodigal Son but something else, no?

Even the modern notion of “Mercy” we want to use is “If I were God, would I do that?” or “If I were God, and I loved everyone, is that what I would want to do?”. All of these are moot musings because we are not God and he is infinite. We cannot know anything apart from his Divine revelation on how he thinks.

  1. I don’t think there are more evils today. It’s just that with the media and internet, we know about them. We read of hear of so many evils today. In the past, the news didn’t travel as easy.
    Now one can make a good argument that the media and internet is an easy medium for evil to infect us, and I agree that it does infect us. But that’s a different topic

  2. The Church has always known what this message meant. But in the past, it was easier to rear children. So lots of parents used to teach children to live their morals without the reasons why. When asked “why” parents would say “because I said so!” That was good enough in the past.

Today, we can reference sites such as to learn the truth. But what if you were lost and you logged onto “” or some site with false teachings? Or if you role model was Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian growing up?

Today, people are asking why but have lots of places to go for mis-information. Because the of huge amount of mis-information out there, we have more prodigals who need to come home.

God bless

I get what you’re saying, but I think we need to make a distinction between pointing out sin in love and pointing out sin in judgement.

We’ll never bring sinners into the church if we just tell them they are ruining society and will go to hell, true as it might be. We cannot bring people into the church if all we do is push them away. We need to open up with love and forgiveness first. We need to show them that we actually care about them as a person, because so many have the impression that we only care about making them conform to our rules. Only then will they be open for us to address their sins.

But you are forgetting that this change did not happen overnight. The Church stood by and watched while this happened for 50 years. It didn’t say anything from the pulpit.

When the free-love movements started gaining force, the local churches didn’t do anything. When mothers started going to work putting their children in day-care or other arrangements, the Church didn’t say anything (so much for passing the faith forward). When pornography started getting popular, they didn’t say anything at the local level. When divorce started getting popular, they started to treat annulments like a another word for divorce.

We got here because of our “sentimental” approach. We just don’t seem to want to admit that no matter what we do, some (perhaps many) will always reject the Church. Jesus didn’t fuss over it when his disciples left after the bread of life discourse. He didn’t tone it down. But we want to do that for the sake of dialogue?

Didn’t Protestants try that out? Even their liberal parishes can’t retain that many followers anymore so how are we going to do any better?

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