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We are called to be as compassionate as God is compassionate. We are called to follow Jesus’ example as a son – “the younger son without being rebellious” and “the elder son without being resentful.”

We are also called to grow into spiritual fatherhood – this means both father and mother, masculine and feminine. All of that is easy to say but very difficult to live. To be compassionate means we do not compare ourselves to others and we are not competitive either, Henri says.

Nouwen finds three major traits in a compassionate father: grief (“the discipline of the heart that sees the sins of the world” , forgiveness, and generosity.

The father said to the elder son: “All I have is yours,” and Henri adds: “There is nothing the father keeps for himself. He pours himself out for his sons” . Henri adds to his description of spiritual fatherhood “the radical discipline of being home.” There is something foundational about the father being home, where the father waits and the transformation from son to father that takes place in an individual.

Nouwen admits that he spent time as the rebellious young son in search of a home, which he found at L’Arche Daybreak, and also spent time feeling as angry and alienated as the elder son. He says few people actually claim spiritual fatherhood for themselves because “the pains are too obvious, the joys too hidden” . Henri ultimately relates to the “bent-over old father” who is poised “to stretch out to all who suffer, to rest upon the shoulders of all who come, and to offer the blessing that emerges from the immensity of God’s love” .

Reflect on the picture of the Father and put yourself in his place- How are we living the three major traitis of compassionate father: grief , forgiveness, and generosity in our lives?

Please note- This reflection is taken from the 5 week Reading Group discussion booklet published by the Henri Nouwen society. Please click here to get a copy of this guide.

Please click here to view the details of The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen

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