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Christian Brother Damien Price writes that mercy and forgiveness liberate and heal the human soul

Healing forgiveness: Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son.

THE Plenary Council 2020 has delivered six national themes for discernment for discussion. Br Damien Price has written a reflection on each of the six themes

FORGIVENESS heals. Forgiveness liberates. Forgiveness is our noble birthright.

One of my favourite paintings is Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Now housed at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, art critics believe it was painted towards the end of Rembrandt’s life – possibly around 1667.

The same critics believe that much of the painting’s power lays in the fact that Rembrandt had reached a time in his own life when humanly and spiritually he knew the power of mercy and forgiveness.

The painting in some ways symbolises the challenge and the invitation facing our faith community at this time in history.

When working with parents I often say to them that I have never taught a student who needed me to be perfect; but they longed for me to be authentic.

To the same parents I often say, “One of the most powerful things you can do is say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m sorry’”.

To be vulnerable, to be in touch with our poverty and our weakness is our noble strength.

Between 1949 and his death in 1974 my wonderful father, Frank Price, had numerous nervous breakdowns.

A man of great intelligence who studied journalism under Marshall McLuhan (the global village and the Medium is the message) at the University of Toronto, the man I knew as a small boy was a broken man.

But Dad’s brokenness led him to humility, compassion and love.

Dad’s library was full of Fulton Sheen, Belloc, Chesterton, CS Lewis and BA Santamaria – and his day was filled with Meals on Wheels, St Vincent de Paul and meeting his God in the disguise of his fellow brothers and sisters – from behind the counter of a toy shop.

Dad and perhaps Rembrandt may have pointed to the older son to the right of the painting and suggested that in patriarchy and power over lays the seeds of abuse and the distance from the Gospel that has regularly marked the sinful history of our Church of feet of clay.

But ours is the God who waits, who longs for, who runs and embraces and places ring on finger and sandals on feet.

Ours is the God who longs for the younger son’s return home.

Ours is also the God who looks daily out the window to the older son and says with the psalmist, “If today you hear God’s (love’s) voice – harden not your hearts”.

Our God longs for both the young and the older sons to return home.

Both have walked markedly different journeys – the two faces of brokenness.

The father longs to wrap arms of unconditional love around both and invite both to sit down at table with him.

When you know your humanity deeply – you are naturally led to humility.
We are a deeply flawed Church and at our best – we are characterised by a profound humility that serves.

In our traditions and Scripture we have the world’s richest story of healing.

From St Benedict who welcomed the stranger to Jean Vanier and the healing of his L’Arche communities of profoundly disabled people, to a humble Fr John Vianney at Ars in the south of France whose presence in the confessional brought profound healing, to a pope in Francis who on Holy Thursday night washed the feet of juvenile prisoners – we have a rich story of healing and forgiveness.

This humility and this healing – leads us into the merciful arms of our Father Mother God.

God’s mercy knows no “if only”, no “should”, no “maybe”, no ifs and no buts – only total and unconditional love.

I dream of a day – I dream of a faith community – when humanity, faced by its innate brokenness, looks to a humble, healing and merciful Church to be the arm-wrapping forgiveness of God.

In Rembrandt’s painting and in Luke’s story each of us – and our Church – are both the story and journey of the younger and the story and journey of the older sons; and we are called to embrace our noble birthright – to grow to be the heart of the all-embracing father – for our world.

Christian Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace; St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe; and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.

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