Marriage Enrichment: Mornings spent reflecting on mercy

Parishioners urged to explore one of God’s greatest gifts with Monsignor Humbrecht

By Marian Christiana

On Sept. 10, Monsignor Al Humbrecht partnered with the diocesan Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment to offer the first of four Mornings of Reflection on Mercy.

As one of about 1,000 missionary priests of mercy in the world designated by Pope Francis to carry his message of mercy to the faithful, Monsignor Humbrecht led participants at St. John Neumann Parish in Farragut through the various ways that we give and receive mercy.

Monsignor Humbrecht centered his reflection on Pope Francis’ books The Name of God is Mercy and Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love. Starting with the mercy of God, we worked through other aspects of mercy, such as the mercy of the Church, the mercy of individuals, and in particular how couples can give and receive mercy between themselves and their families.

Without giving too much away about this first reflection, I did want to focus on part of the monsignor’s presentation. Monsignor Humbrecht, who is pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Soddy-Daisy and has been designated a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis, read the parable of the prodigal son to us. He then gave everyone an exercise to enrich our discussion on the mercy displayed by the father in this parable.

His exercise reminded me of another one I had read about using the same parable. In that exercise, the reader is asked to read the parable of the prodigal son and picture themselves as someone in the story. Are you the father? Are you the son who leaves and returns, or are you the brother who stayed at home?

I have to admit that when I did this exercise I was pretty sure that I would be the merciful father. But as I meditated on the parable I was surprised to realize that sometimes I have been all three characters. Which character I identified with depended on the situation. Sure, sometimes I model the merciful father, or mother in my case, but I would hate to poll my children to see how often I truly succeeded in modeling mercy. How often did they hear me say that I forgive them but…? The but… doesn’t model true mercy.

There are no stipulations on the mercy of God. He provides it freely as a gift and wants to celebrate with us. It can be hard for us to accept God’s gift of mercy if we’ve never experienced true mercy in any other aspect of our lives.

I was lucky as a child. My dad was very good at forgiving transgressions without stipulations. Any admission of wrongdoing was always celebrated with big hugs from dad. We were never punished by dad that I can remember. My mother was the disciplinarian, but as I have mentioned, she died when I was young. My father modeled the mercy of God for me.

There are times when I feel like the brother: jealous of the positive attention others may get after they skated through something or messed up while I was plugging along doing what I was supposed to be doing.

My husband and I joke that I do all the work while he gets all the glory. Sure, sometimes I feel like I do all of the work but I know that isn’t true. We are a team and together we make our lives work. I realize that I am modeling the brother in this parable whenever I give in to self-pity. It is hard to see your many blessings when you focus on the negatives of a situation.

The third character in this story is the son who asks for his inheritance and then after squandering it returns home to ask his father’s forgiveness. This son’s return is motivated by starvation, not regret. I know we all have asked for forgiveness for reasons other than actual sorrow for our actions.

My personal example of being this son is when I was a teenager and borrowed a friend’s sweater. My friend had a weekend job and paid for all of her own clothes. She lent me her new wool turtleneck sweater so I could wear it to a party. After the party I decided to wash the sweater for her but I didn’t read the washing instructions. When I finished washing it, the sweater would have fit my 3-year-old niece. I apologized to my friend and offered to buy her a new one.

My main motivation for offering the apology was that I didn’t want her to be mad and possibly stop talking to me for a while. I was busy making excuses for myself because of the accident instead of expressing sincere regret. My friend was incredibly gracious. She showed me mercy when I know she had to be disappointed. She told me it was OK and then she let it go. Even as a teenager she was able to reflect the mercy of God to me. In this example I was definitely modeling the prodigal son.

I hope I have piqued your interest in exploring the gift of mercy through this type of prayer meditation. You also can join Monsignor Humbrecht and me at one of the three remaining Mornings of Reflection on Mercy for a more in-depth look at mercy. The next one will be at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Fairfield Glade on Nov. 12. The two sessions following that are on Nov. 19 at Holy Trinity in Jefferson City and at St. Stephen in Chattanooga on Jan. 14. You and your spouse will be happy that you joined us.

To register or for information, go to ■

Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.

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