As an oldest child, I have long found today’s Gospel reading to be challenging. The oldest child does everything right, as usual, and the youngest misbehaves and completely gets away with it. Yeah, that sounds about right.
But this narrow focus on the literal story of the parable ignores the beautiful story that shines through. Today’s readings all have a simple message—the parable of the prodigal son, the first reading of a God “who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency” and the psalm to a God who is kind and merciful and pardons all our iniquities. To those who have broken from God, God loves you. God is not vengeful, God will forgive your sins, your missteps, and mistakes. And another, even simpler: It is not too late.
Right now, as we look at how we have squandered humanity’s own inheritance, this beautiful world, it can feel as if it is too late. We have already increased the planet’s temperature by .8C/1.4F over the last 100 years—just over half of the 1.5C/2.7F warming the world can take. We hear of increasingly violent storms, wildfires, floods, and heat waves that are hot enough to melt pavement. These are events that were previously called “acts of God” and blamed on a too-sinful population and are now a result of our ecological sins, our greed, and our disregard for the poor and vulnerable populations most at risk. Our society has been the prodigal son for too long—wasteful, spending our resources recklessly, engaging in the ‘throwaway culture’ that Pope Francis has decried in Laudato Si’.
However, even here we can return to the message: It is not too late. We can, and must, change our habits. We must change because the world depends on it. More changes will certainly be needed. It may be difficult, and it will require a change of heart, a true conversion, for individuals and for all of society. It will require us to recognize our past sins of greed and turn to compassion and humility—to be willing to change our lives. But it is not too late. The Lord is kind and merciful.
This year I am joining Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten call to give up meat, a primary driver of deforestation and climate change. ISN is also coordinating a Lenten Plastic Fast. It’s not enough, but it’s a start. What are you doing during Lent to care for creation?
Marisa Vertrees is a social justice Catholic, advocate, and mom living in Washington, D.C., with her husband and three children. She has spent her career engaging Catholics in our call to social justice, and has cared deeply for the environment since her childhood growing up on the beach in southwest Florida. She is currently the organizing director for Global Catholic Climate Movement.