Like most Christians (and even some non-Christians), I love the story of the Prodigal Son. So I decided to do an icon of the story as you see above. The only thing missing from the icon is the older brother -- he is the one I often identify with -- but I chose to draw the version without him.
Most of you know the story that Jesus told. How the younger son thoughtlessly asked for his inheritance before his father had even died. The father gave it to him and off he went to waste it all in "riotous" living. Things reached a point where the son ended up feeding pigs (a job that the Jewish listeners of Jesus would have seen as worse than death) and the boy became so hungry that he finally decided to humble himself and ask his father to take him back into the home -- but this time as one of his servants. He knew that he would at least get fed this way!
As the son came down the road, dirty and ragged and probably practising his plea for forgiveness, his father saw him coming. In spite of all the boy had done, the father had never stopped longing for him to return. The father runs out and before the lad can really begin his plea for forgiveness, the father has gathered him into his arms with joy.
The father calls for the servants to bring clothes and a ring for the boy's finger and to fix a great feast for "My child who was lost has been found". The prodigal son is welcomed back into his father's home, fully forgiven, unconditionally loved.
The older son I mentioned earlier is angry and unhappy because his father is so kind -- he, like me, really does not yet know how to love unconditionally. To learn this is one of my life's goals and I will only succeed by God's grace.
I was very aware of this kind of love today as I was listening to a CD by a Czechoslovakian woman by the name of Anne Marie Schmidt. She, along with her whole village in Czechoslovakia were either killed or shipped to Auschwitz concentration camp. Why, because they would not give up the practice of their Catholic faith and deny Christ. People don't often think of it, but there were huge numbers of Christians of all denominations in Auschwitz and other German concentration camps who ended up their because they refused to deny Christ -- and so many of them were put to death.
Anyway, there was a German guard at Auschwitz that Anne Marie described as the most evil man she had ever seen -- before or since. He caught Anne Marie and her dearest friend, Kristina, praying the Rosary one day. He killed Kristina and beat Anne Marie until she lapsed into a coma. Just before she became unconscious, however, she had the grace to say: "I refuse to hate you; I choose to love you because you are a child of God."
When she came to days later on her bunk, she was amazed to see the guard sitting next to her bed with a cup of goat's milk. She learned later that he had cared for her every day since the beating and even stolen goat's milk and fed it to her spoonful by spoonful. As soon as she was fully conscious, the guard asked her "do you REALLY believe I am a child of God; do you REALLY love me? Anne Marie said it was the most difficult thing in her life to not hate him and seek daily to treat him with love, but it paid off. The guard never killed or beat another prisoner for the remainder of their time together in Auschwitz.
She taught him his prayers, starting with an act of contrition, and eventually even the Rosary -- the very prayer that had cause him to kill Kristina and beat Anne Marie within an inch of her life. Eventually, the guard found a Catholic priest in the camp and became a Catholic.
What a story of love and forgiveness. A true imitation of the father of the prodigal son and of God the Father himself whom the father in this parable represents. We are all His children and He loves us all, totally and unconditionally.
May peace be with you all.