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Anderson: Never too late to begin again (column)

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

Last Saturday evening, I sat in the five o’clock Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic church on French Street, listening to Father Wojciech share a homily on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. I love attending the Saturday evening Mass. The light that comes through the stained glass windows softens as the day turns to dusk and fills the church with an intimacy that reflects the comforting celebration of Communion.

St. Mary’s is often filled to overflowing with both Breckenridge residents and visitors here for a weekend of skiing. That we take time in our workweek or holiday to gather to celebrate Mass together, underscores God’s message that we are all welcome in His Church. Like the father who welcomed his prodigal son home, God, our Father, our Source of infinite love and compassion stands with arms wide open to always welcome each of us home.

Are you familiar with the parable of the prodigal son?

A wealthy man has two sons. His younger son comes to him one day and says, “I want my share of my inheritance now so I can go out make my way in the world.” His father gives his son his inheritance. Instead of using this wealth to build a new life for himself, the son spends all of the money on wine and women. Soon, the son is broke and homeless. The son realizes that even his father’s servants eat better. Desperate, the son returns home to beg his father to allow him to live as a servant. To the shock of both sons, the father greets the prodigal son with open arms, the finest clothing, and a feast to welcome home his lost son.

We probably imagine the prodigal son as young and spoiled. Perhaps he’s in his early 20s, how else to explain such hedonistic recklessness? It certainly reminds me of my early twenties, enjoying the nightclub heyday of New York in the mid-’80s and all that that occasioned.

But now I am 53, turning 54 this month, and I speak from the wisdom of years to tell you that the prodigal son could also be me. Starting over can occur at any age.

Like many of the parables taught by Jesus, the parable of the prodigal son remains relevant over these thousands of years because it is multi-layered with timeless and universal truths.

Father Wojciech explained that the prodigal son is a profound message about God’s unconditional love and the forgiveness that awaits each of us, as soon as we turn around, run back, and allow ourselves to be embraced by God’s open arms, no matter how far we have fallen or how long we have been away.

But as I listened to Father Wojciech, it occurred to me that this is also a parable about second chances, where the redemptive power of Jesus’ unconditional love can take impossible situations and make them opportunities for fresh starts.

For the prodigal son to be ready to return home and start again, he had to hit bottom. How many times do we see the same in ourselves or someone we love?

When we reach that place, we are often filled with shame or regret, feelings which can stop us from asking for help because we see our failure an indictment of our worth.

But look at the reaction of the father…our Father…he greets his filthy, starving son with an embrace that draws him to his heart. He covers his son with the finest robes and prepares the most exquisite feast.

What Jesus is sharing, is that when we hit bottom and then choose to change, there is not only the liberation of forgiveness, there is also the gift of a clean slate. The opportunity to begin again.

I believe that we are offered the same gift every day of our lives.

No matter how we have failed.

Many of us lost businesses or homes or both in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Many of us have faced divorce, death of a loved one, depression, or discovered that the golden years of retirement need to be filled with new meaning.

Second chances, or second acts, can happen at any age. Whether you are 88 years old and finally summoning the courage to live independently for the first time in your life, as my mother has; or battling cancer, not once but twice, as a friend did, and choosing to use the experience to live a larger life than before.

There will always be set backs in life. Our challenge is to remember that if we are humble and brave, like the prodigal son, we can embrace our second chance to live a more remarkable life.

But we must take the first step.

When we do, God waits with open arms to strengthen us with His Love and guide us with His wisdom. It’s never too late to begin the next adventure.

Suzanne Anderson writes a regular religion column for the Summit Daily News.


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