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JRS Online Retreat: Day 6 – The Prodigal Son: Forgiveness and Returning
Saturday, November 06, 2010

“The one who forgives goes to the other side, fleeing the lands of slavery and death for the land of freedom and life. He becomes like God in placing himself above evil and not accepting its domination.”

As you begin your prayer today, remember that you are in God’s holy presence. Become aware of how God gazes on you all the time, how tenderly and powerfully God regards you. Ask God for what you want in prayer:

Ask God to help you experience the reality of evil in the world, its sinful structures, and your own part in the world’s brokenness. 

Reflections for Prayer

Kapitula Nzanzu, S.J.
Regional Director
JRS West Africa

Abidjan, 6 November 2010 – In the 1990s, citizens from a sub-Saharan nation attempted to take power by force, believing that they had not received a fair share of the revenues generated by their region’s natural resources. When their attempted coup d’etat failed, the region was overtaken by severe repression which led to the death and exile of thousands of people. Following long years of suffering, reflection and negotiations, many of these exiles were finally able to return home and were welcomed back warmly. Celebrations were held in their honor and some were even invited to take part in the national unity government. Not only did they reclaim their country and families, but they found that they had come upon a new day, a new country, even a new spirit under brand new skies.  But those who were unable to forgive still remained far from home, living in exile as stateless persons.

The forgiveness-reconciliation equation is not a one-way process. Rather it is based on reciprocity: it is a process in space and in time. In order to avoid recurring cycles of violence and vengeance, it important to appreciate and understand how much exiles also suffer and how they experience their defeat as a humiliation from which they can only free themselves through a justice that takes the form of revenge.

At the same time, the victors, though they can be haughty, self-centered, pretentious and provocative, live in constant fear of the defeated enemy. The spectre of possible revenge from the exiles haunts them. They become unyielding guards afraid of the least suspicion that the vanquished will rise up again, that the exiles will return.

How can we help those who are humiliated and vanquished to love, to be reconciled with themselves? How can one offer them an alternative if they cannot forgive themselves for their inability to find dignity again in any other way except that of revenge?

And how can we also help the insolent victors to love and to be reconciled with themselves? How can we offer a way out to the very people who cannot forgive themselves for not being vigilant enough to hold on to their victory? Inner healing alone on both sides is the single mustard seed that can grow into forgiveness, reconciliation and a broader future for all the children of God.

Let us reflect on the story of the prodigal son — the returning exile – and ask for grace to recognize sin and forgiveness in our lives. Consider the father’s surprising forgiveness, instead of punishment. The mercy of the father is compassion which forgives.

The resurrection and rehabilitation of the son is a consequence of the father’s compassion: forgiveness as a passage from death to life, slavery to freedom, mental illness to mental health.

Address God as a friend speaks to a friend. 

Talk to God about your response, your own needs and your deepest desires.

End your prayer with the Our Father, the prayer Jesus taught us.

Suggested Reading for Prayer

Luke 15: 17-24

Coming to his senses the younger son thought, “How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.’" So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But his father ordered his servants, “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.”

"The one who forgives goes to the other side, fleeing the lands of slavery and death for the land of freedom and life. He becomes like God in placing himself above evil and not accepting its domination." ~ Wilfrid Okambawa