Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington star in a scene from the movie "The Shack." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Lent: A season for repentance, forgiveness and healing
Rev. Lawrence D'Anjou
On March 1, we began Lent; a 40-plus day season of repentance, forgiveness and healing. This is a privileged season, though many of us often don't see it that way. Yes, it is a privilege to practice the disciplines of Lent, and as with any discipline there are benefits to those who persevere in it.
The spirit of Lent is perhaps best communicated to us in Jesus' parable from the gospel of Luke; a story about two brothers and their father (15: 11-32). The younger of the two brothers incredibly insults his father by telling him to give him his inheritance early. Essentially, he's saying to him, "Dad, you're better off dead to me than alive, give me now what I'll get when you're dead."
How does the father react? obediently. He knows this boy's temperament and he knows how this story is going to end. Off the son goes to live high on the hog; drinking, orgies and all. Finding himself dirt poor and miserable, the son discovers that even hogs have a better life than him. And things change.
Change. This is the heart of what Lent is about. The younger son repents, which is to say he changes his direction. Recognizing his deep sin, he stops going away from the father and starts making his way back.
And what has the father been doing while he was away? Something you and I must take to heart, because it precisely illustrates the perspective of our Heavenly Father: He's watching for our return. This is God's never-changing perspective toward us; no matter how grave our sin.
Seeing his hardly recognizable son approaching at a distance, the father does an outlandish thing for a father of that time, he runs to his son. In those days a son would always approach the father out of respect for him, and especially if he were looking for acceptance after a wrong done. But in Jesus' parable it's the father who approaches the son, running, robes flying to meet him.
Aloud the son confesses, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I don't deserve to be called your son." He can't even get his last words out, asking his father to hire him, before the father can forgive him and outwardly restore his dignity with new sandals and clothes. Then he calls for a celebration.
This 2000-year-old parable communicates an essential truth about God, and about the Sacrament of Reconciliation which God has given to the Church. In the Sacrament, the Father who's been always looking for our return, forgives us and clothes us with dignity. Then the celebration begins. In the season of Lent, come and experience the grace of the amazing sacrament of God's Church for you.
A new "parable" about God's love, forgiveness and healing power is out there now. The movie, "The Shack" started in theaters on Ash Wednesday. I highly recommend this film, which is based on the book of the same title by William Young. I had the privilege of seeing a preview of "The Shack" with a group of local Protestant pastors not long ago.
What a film! Without giving away any spoilers, this film takes the viewer on a journey through perhaps the most horrendous experience a family can endure.
What is great about "The Shack" is the struggle that the father endures as God compassionately prods him along toward restoration and healing. Deep wounds are made raw, something that must happen for all or us to completely heal from a wound, and the Holy Trinity (as you never imagined them) lovingly take turns treating his legitimate questions, pains and doubts.
"The Shack" does bring up some unconventional and unorthodox ideas about the Church Jesus came to establish. But these are brief asides in an overall authentic story of God's immense love for those who have experienced great tragedies in their lives.
Whether these tragedies come at the hands of others or through our own sin, God does what He does best by bringing healing and restoration. As seen in Jesus' parable and in this new movie, God's nature is to reach out to us, heal us and make us whole again.
(Father Lawrence D'Anjou is pastor at St. Raymond Parish, Dublin.)
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