Some comments from the participants of the Prodigal Son Retreat held at the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM) Penang were that they had no idea that the painting by Rembrandt Van Rijn (dated 1669) was so meaningful with so many different aspects to it. Many remarked that the perspectives shown of the older and younger sons were reflective of themselves at different stages of their lives.
The Prodigal Son retreat was conducted by Archbishop John Ha, Dr Jeffery Goh and his wife, Angeline. It was held over a two-day weekend on the 20th – 21st February, 2016. The parish priest of CDM, Fr Martin Arlando had especially arranged to have these three well-known facilitators to come to Penang from Kuching during this time as a religious preparation of the parishioners for this period of Lent. The retreat was attended by 148 participants, some of whom were non-Catholics. The main focus of the retreat was the theological reflections of Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son based much on the book written by Henri J. M. Nouwen entitled The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (1992). The background of the retreat was the parable of the Prodigal Son found the Gospel of St Luke 15:10-32. The character of the Younger son was explained by Dr. Jeffery Goh while Angeline Goh explained the Father. Archbishop Ha then explained the Elder son.
In his reflection on the Younger son, Dr. Jeffery provided some of the reasons why the Younger son left home and how he did it with its implications on the Father. He linked these reasons to the same reasons why we turn away from God. Angeline Goh then provided acute observations of the drawing of the Father in terms of his apparent poor sight, his open arms of masculine and feminine nature and his stooping enveloping welcome of the younger son on his return. She linked these features to the unconditional love and ever forgiving Father who welcomes home all repentant sinners, no matter how grave their sins.
In his session on the Elder son, His Grace explained the arrogant attitude of the son through the conversation between him and his father. The participants were shown what they thought was a perfectly natural reaction of the feelings of the elder brother to his brother to be one of self-conceitedness, selfishness and alarmingly more sinful than the younger son. His Grace, Archbishop John Ha really captured the character of the elder brother to display all his faults and inner feelings towards his brother and his father. He explained that both the sons needed healing but the elder brother had chosen to stay outside of the family. His resentment had blocked reconciliation and he needed to develop gratitude. He was physically at home but mentally apart. He suffered the five attitudes many of us cultivate as we live our lives. Firstly, I can earn my way to heaven. Secondly, I am better than you. Thirdly, I am the center of the world (self-centeredness). Fourthly, I can play God, I want to be God’s God. And lastly, I seek recognition. His Grace remarked that the parable did not have an ending. The open questions posed to the elder son and all of us are as follows: Do you want to come home? Do you deserve to inherit the Kingdom of God?Do you want to take that step into the sea of love to accept the Father’s invitation? The choice is ours.
Dr Jeffery concluded the retreat by explaining meaning of Spiritual Fatherhood through Grief, Generosity and Forgiveness. He captured the attention of the participants with his lively and humorous stories of personal life experiences. His experience of conducting this retreat for over 40 times was clearly shown by his quick remarks on the trend of thought that was going on among the audience after each of his comments. The retreat also gave the participants a chance for reconciliation and to speak with Jesus in a Service to the Cross session. For many it was a most enriching experience and totally appropriate for this time of Lent.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
28th February, 2016