The story of the Prodigal Son (reproduced at the end of this article) is familiar to many of us. Perhaps it is even TOO familiar.
I don't know about you but when I hear the first line of a story like this I am tempted to zone out, thinking to myself, "Oh yeah, I know how this one goes."
What can be helpful is to realize that this story of the Prodigal Son is not just something that happened to one man long ago in a far off place.
Even today there are stories of prodigal sons and daughters returning to the house of their father. One such modern day prodigal is Abby Johnson, whose story is presently being told in theaters through the movie titled "Unplanned."
Abby was raised in a faithful Protestant family in Texas. She was taught from an early age to believe the truths of Sacred Scripture. She was also taught about the dignity of every human life and the absolute evil of abortion.
Nevertheless when Abby Johnson was in college she strayed from her roots and found herself volunteering at Planned Parenthood. She did not do this out of a desire to kill unborn children. Rather, she thought she was helping women who found themselves in crisis pregnancies.
But the longer she volunteered and eventually became employed there, and after having two abortions herself, she began to realize that Planned Parenthood is not a charity that helps women.
Instead, it is a business whose mission it is to sell as many abortions as possible.
One similarity between Abby's story and that of the prodigal son is the role played by her parents. Just like the father of the prodigal waited every day by the window looking down the road for his son's return so too did Abby's parents.
They never shunned their daughter as a result of the evil work she was doing, but instead prayed for her and encouraged her to change her ways.
This was also true of Abby's husband who, while deploring her association with Planned Parenthood, continued to love his wife and gently encouraged her to seek other employment.
I think it is so important to remember that even when our loved ones are involved with things we disapprove of we must always keep those lines of communication open. Because if we cut them off it will only solidify them in their sin and make it less likely they will ever experience conversion.
What made the difference for Abby Johnson was the day she was asked to assist with an abortion. Until that day she had always been in the front office working as an administrator.
When she finally saw what abortion really is she was instantly converted and walked down the street to the office of the 40 Days for Life organization that had been praying outside of her clinic.
Abby's story goes to show us that we should never despair of anyone's conversion, no matter how deeply entrenched in sin they seem to be. God's grace is ALWAYS more powerful than our sins!
And God was not done working in Abby's life. Not only did He lead her from being Planned Parenthood's employee of the year to working with a pro-life organization. He also helped her find the True Faith.
At that time Abby had been attending an Episcopal church. When her fellow parishioners there learned of her work in the pro-life movement they rejected her as a conservative extremist and traitor to women's "rights."
But God used this unjust persecution to bring Abby Johnson into the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.
Today Abby runs her own pro-life apostolate called And Then There Were None. Under her leadership this organization labors tirelessly to help other abortion workers make the same decision Abby did and leave behind the murderous work of aborting children for profit.
I tell you this story of Abby Johnson, difficult and unpleasant as it may be to hear, because we must never forget two things.
The first is that abortion can never be justified for any reason. But even if a woman has found herself in this tragic position the Catholic Church is here to help her and to offer healing and forgiveness.
The second thing we must always remember is that God's forgiveness and mercy is not like our own. We offer others limited and conditional forgiveness, but God's mercy is eternal and unconditional.
Towards the end of the Unplanned movie we see Abby waking up in the middle of the night and weeping profusely. Her husband finds her and asks her what's wrong.
She tells him, "Over the years I have been a part of 22,000 abortions! How can I even begin to comprehend the damage I've done? How could God ever forgive me?"
Her husband draws her close and simply says, "Because He's God."
We must never forget that we have a loving Father in heaven Who waits patiently for our return, no matter what our sins may be.
When we return to His house He does not give us a lecture about how awful we have been. He does not make us grovel before Him and remind us of just how guilty we are.
Instead, He puts a robe around us, a ring on our finger, and sandals on our feet. He throws a party to celebrate the fact that we have returned safe and sound and encourages everyone to rejoice over the fact that we had been lost but are now found.
This is a story that never gets old and can never be too familiar. It is a story that plays out in the lives not just of the prodigal son and Abby Johnson, but in the lives of every single one of us.
The movie Unplanned shows us in a very real and beautiful way that God's mercy is available for the asking. All we have to do is humbly confess our sins and ask God to forgive us.
He will always welcome us with open arms and that is why in the middle of Lent, a season of sorrow, we read of the Prodigal Son and take this opportunity to rejoice. (The priest who wrote this wishes to remain anonymous).
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
11Then he said, “A man had two sons,
12and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.
13After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
14When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.
15So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
16And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.
17Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.
18I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
19I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
20So 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.
21His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
22But 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.
23Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast,
24because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
25Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.
26He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
27The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.
29He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
30But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
31He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.
32But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15: 11-32)