It did not take long after Pope Francis first emerged on the balcony at St. Peter’s last spring for uneasiness to emerge for many who were accustomed to only being unnerved by developments in the secular world.  When being devoted to the orthodox teachings of the Church can make one an object of ridicule or cause one to be labeled a bigot by the wider culture, certain reported comments of our Holy Father and his method of approach at times towards those who disagree with Church teachings or who have fallen away has been perceived by some as pulling the rug out from those who have done their best to be loyal children of the Church.  To feel in any manner that the Pope may not be backing up those who have striven to be the Church’s unfailing supporters can be more painful and even frightening than anything the fallen culture around us may dish out.  

In recent months, against this backdrop, no passage in the Gospel has stayed in my mind more than the parable with the popular but incomplete title the “Prodigal Son”.  It was not until I was an adult that I really heard the first words of Christ in this story, “There was a man who had TWO sons.”  This parable is as much about the older son, who stayed home, as it is about the lost prodigal son.

When the lost son was headed home, but still a long way off, his father took pity on him, ran to him, threw his arms around him and kissed him, before the lost son even had a chance to say anything.  The image of the father wrapping his arms around his lost son comes to my mind when Pope Francis compares the Church to a field hospital where you heal an injured person’s wounds first and then talk about everything else.  When one finds oneself in the position of the lost son this story of God’s grace and love is of great comfort, but the same parable can be convicting when the thoughts of the older son, who was so angry he would not even go in where his father was celebrating with his brother, become one’s own.  Sometimes it can be easy to say, like the older brother, “through these many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.”

I have heard in Pope Francis’ words and seen in his actions, the father who had to seek out his older son and tell him, ”Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this brother was dead, and is alive, he was lost, and is found.” 

Sin has not gone away, repentance has not gone away, doctrine has not gone away, but Pope Francis, as a father, inspires to try to be a brother different than the angry older brother, a brother who instead will run like his father and put his arms around his lost brother.