Michelle discusses different ways God shows us His mercy and how we can give focus on this during Lent.
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”Lk. 15:20
1. Michelle says that many people have difficulty seeing God as a loving Father, often because of imperfect relationships with our earthly fathers. Do you ever think of God as distant, harsh, or irritated with you? How might your relationship with your earthly father color your perception of God the Father?
2. In the Parable of the Lost Son, the situation of the returning son was very shameful. He would have been pronounced dead. Instead of allowing this to happen, the father runs to meet the son, taking the son’s shame upon himself. Have you experienced shame for sins and mistakes in your past? How can you work on giving this shame to God so that He may take it on for you?
3. Though the older son in the Parable of the Lost Son has remained outwardly faithful to the father, the older son has actually wandered away in his heart. Have you ever wandered away from God in your heart like the older son? How can you grow in a more loving relationship with God the Father right now?
4. Knowing that we are a son or daughter of God is foundational to a loving relationship with God. Have you ever felt God call you His son or daughter? How can you work on growing in faith that God loves you as His son or daughter?
Text: The Father’s Merciful Love
Peace of Christ. Dear friends, hello and welcome back to the Pray More Lenten Retreat. My name is Michelle Karen D’Silva and I’m joining you from Qatar and I’m so glad to be accompanying you on this Lenten journey. Today is all about returning to the heart of the Father, something we all desire. It’s something we all struggle with. So before we begin, shall we pray?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen. Come Holy Spirit. Father, as we come into your presence, I pray that we become very aware of this deep-seated desire to know you as you really are. And so at this time, Lord, we ask you to the power of your spirit to help us surrender any kind of false knowledge resulting from bitter experiences or any kind of falsehood stemming from deep wounds. Bring us the revelation of who the Father is, Holy Spirit God, that He’s a good, good Father who meets us at the point of our need. This Father who is so tender, so kind, so respectful of our wounds. And Father, I pray that as we come to know you intimately that we will find ourselves completely at rest in your presence, completely at home, in your presence. Your presence where there is fullness of joy and where all is made well. This we ask to the intercession of our blessed Mother. And in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
What do You Think About God?
Friends, in 2019 during one of our annual youth conferences in Qatar, we had planned for the adoration to take place in a certain way but the Holy Spirit had put it in our hearts unexpectedly to invite the retreat animators to stand in the position of a spiritual mother and father and then called the youth forward for a hug. At first it seemed so silly but as young people began to flock forward, God’s presence moved powerfully through that physical touch. Young people began to sob loudly as words of life were being spoken over them.
Brother and sisters, I don’t think there is anyone here, young or not, who doesn’t desire that touch. Each one of us desires to be seen, known and loved at the deepest level of our human existence. But so often in our lives because of pain and suffering, because of sin, rather than experiencing intimacy with God, we experience rather a wound, a void, unable to pray and unable to draw near to God. The theologian AW Tozer said, “What you think about God is the most important thing about yourself. What you think about God is the most important thing about yourself.” Meaning to say how you receive yourself, how you perceive your life during suffering. How you treat yourself after you’ve sinned speaks more about what you think about God than about yourself. And so let me ask you, who is God to you? What do you think about God?
Seeing God in a Broken Lens
During the pandemic, I counseled a young boy with a deep drug addiction. Not only was he on drugs, he was also practicing witchcraft. As he began to unfold his story, his countenance changed from calmness to rage. He began to vent out. He said, “I’m angry with myself. I’m angry because I cannot repair. I cannot undo what I’ve done. And so I have no right to ask for mercy.” But as I began to pray over him, invoking God as Father, he began to weep helplessly. After weeping for a long time, he said to me, “My father hates me. He calls me a devil every single day. I will never be good enough for him.” The whole time his face was downcast. And then he said, “How can God love someone like me whose own father cannot?” Pope Francis I believe says it accurately. He says, “We live in a fatherless generation where people live orphaned.” It is no secret that many of us here have been wounded by our earthly fathers. Fathers who are passive, who are busy, fathers who walked away, fathers who are abusive. We’ve seen them beat up our moms, fathers instead of blessing us with words of life have spoken rather words of death over us. And because of these experiences and because of sin that brings shame and guilt, we have a tendency to project our human experiences onto God. And we have a tendency to see God through that same broken tainted lens.
We perceive God to be this distant, cold, cosmic warrior removed from our reality. Sometimes he’s this active policeman waiting to catch our mistakes. Other times we perceive God looking at us with a cringey face irritable because there we’ve done it again. A moving example is told of Saint Margaret of Cortona. Following her conversion, she experienced terrible darkness. She began to see repeated visions of her sins. And God seemed so distant that she came to a moment where she thought, “Maybe I’ve made a mistake. Maybe I’m not worth it.” But one day after holy communion, she heard a voice within saying, “My daughter.” And in that moment, it’s like all those months of repeated visions reminding her of her sins began to fade n light of that one voice. Everyone around us saw the look on her face. It was like she was in some sort of ecstasy because she began to shout out, “My daughter. He said, my daughter, my God said my daughter.” Brothers and sisters, the saints show us the heart of the gospel. The saints demonstrate what Jesus came to reveal. And the saints indicate what must happen in the heart of every son and daughter of God time and time again, a discovery or rather a rediscovery of God as Father, this Father who will never leave us, never abandon us no matter how great the vision of our sin is. And so today is such a great day, such a great day to renew our understanding of who God is. And to begin again.
Luke Chapter 15
Today is such a great day to remember that God is inviting us in this Lenten season to return to the heart of the Father. God is inviting us to return home. My dear friends, I invite you at this time if you have your Bibles to turn to Luke chapter 15. It’s a story we know so well. You know, it’s a story of the prodigal son. But what I’d like to do is to journey with you through sacred art. I love painting and I love how God reveals His heart through sacred art. And so I’d like to navigate this story through a very famous painting by the renowned Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. It’s housed in the prestigious Museum of St. Petersburg and it’s titled “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” And what I’d like you to do is as we see these different characters in the story, I’d like you to poignantly discover or rather reflect on this one character perhaps in the story that speaks more to you this season than others. So let’s reflect on this painting. In this painting, as you can see, the son has come home after squandering his life. We see him in the painting kneeling silently toward the father. The father is tenderly leaning towards his son. You see the son’s cloths torn and tattered. He’s lost everything. In contrast, we see the father, he’s wearing long majestic robes, giving us a glimpse into his extravagant lifestyle. He’s a patriarch. He summons and people do his bidding. We see the son’s face, there’s a look of failure in his eyes. He had gone up to his father demanding his inheritance.
In Jewish culture, that’s like saying, “Father, I wish you were dead.” He was grasping something he already had. And then having received undeserved grace, scripture tells us he wandered off to a distant country. The Greek version calls it the agora, a vast empty space. In other words, he had wandered into the vast emptiness of this world.
And friends, it’s so crucial at this moment that we reflect on who the source of this fulfillment of life that we all desire is. It is God. It is the Father. In His presence, there is fullness of joy. At His right hand are treasures evermore. But when we make the divine gift something to be grasped, something of self-possession, we too, like the son see life as more colorful outside the Father’s house. We too like him, wander into the vast agora, into the great emptiness, only to return back more empty, more unfulfilled and utterly exhausted.
Father Henri Nouwen who’s done a great exposition on this painting says, he writes in his book, he says, “I am a prodigal every time I look for unconditional love where it cannot be found.” And there, my dear friends, in the vast agora God allows the world of his own version of fulfillment to collapse, a famine strikes the land. His dreams are shattered and he finds himself in a pigsty wanting to eat that fodder, a religious abomination for Jews of the day. And it is here, it is here in the deep trenches of his life that he, as it says in verse 17, comes to his senses, he comes to the end of his rebellion. He comes to that moment where he recognizes who the Father is. This is the moment of conversion. It is a moment when we realize all that we’ve been given is unmerited, it is undeserved. This extravagant love that God has put in our hearts, that he’s poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Friends, it is this love that overcomes all things. It is this love that triumphs over sin. It is this love that gives us that courage to get up and go to the Father’s house, regardless of how great the vision of our sin is. It is this love that ultimately leads us home. I was talking about the father and his rich flowing robes giving us a glimpse into his extravagant lifestyle. But in verse 20, something scandalous happens.
It says in verse 20 that when the father saw the son from a distance, he had compassion on him and he ran to him and he embraced him and he kissed him. In Jewish culture, when a son squandered his father’s inheritance, he was brought to justice through a custom called the Kezazah. In the Kezazah, the community elders would gather around the son and they would break apart at his feet. And if found guilty, they would cut him off from family. They would cut him off from community and they would pronounce him dead. And the father knew this. He knew what would happen when the villagers saw the miserable state of the boy as he returned home. And so the Father does what no Middle Eastern patriarch would ever do. He hikes up his robes, exposing his feet, something scandalous for the patriarch of the day. And he runs. He runs even though he can order his servants. He runs as neighbors watch in horror. He runs as little boys and girls in the streets would laugh and mock at him. He runs ahead of justice, he runs ahead of punishment and he takes on himself the son’s shame because he has just one desire: to bring him home. I love how the son has this whole speech prepared. He starts off saying, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.” Interestingly, he calls him father. That is a sign of conversion. And then he goes on to say, “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son,” and the father won’t have it. How unbearable those words are, “I’m not worthy to be your son. I’m not worthy to be a daughter.” Those are unbearable to the ears of the father. How quickly he restores the son’s dignity. He says, “Bring in the robe, bring the ring, bring in the shoes. Bring in the fattened calf. Let’s celebrate. Let’s celebrate.”
A Peaceful Father
I want to bring you back to the painting. Henri Nouwen, reflecting from Rembrandt’s painting, says the painting captures a very still father. There are no recorded words, there doesn’t need to be any dialogue between them. The father won’t receive any words from the son. Neither will he condemn the son by saying, “I told you so.” There’s just peace and stillness. We see a father who recognizes his son, not with the eyes of the body, but with the inner eye of his heart. And we see Rembrandt paints both the hands of the father differently The right hand, he kind of paints like a feminine hand depicting the motherly qualities of God, guarding this son, guarding his heart where he’s most vulnerable, comforting him. And the left hand, he kind of paints more masculine. It’s more stronger, strengthening him, blessing him because, my dear friends, God desires to bless our lives.
In all those moments, we come to the Father expecting punishment, expecting condemnation. That is not the heart of the Father. God desires to bless you. God desires to sing over you. God desires to celebrate over you. I wish I could say this is the end of the story but it’s not. In the painting, we see another son, an older brother, and we see him, he’s dressed like the father, but his countenance and his heart is far from the Father. He’s standing there filled with resentment.
And Henri Nouwen says, you know, Rembrandt actually paints steps between him and the father to show us that he too is invited for this homecoming celebration. But he chooses the distance, and we see him standing there between light and darkness, between joy and resentment, between mercy and judgment. He too has wandered into the vast agora here in his heart. And just like the father reaches for the younger son, the father now has to reach for the oldest son because he realizes that both sons are lost. You know, friends, for a long time, I saw the son, the younger son as the prodigal. But over the years, as God has renewed my understanding on who he is, I believe the true prodigal is the father.
The word prodigal in Latin comes from the word prodigus, which means to lavish extravagantly. That is what the Father does. He lavishes extravagant grace, extravagant love on us wasting so to say, because we squander it time and time again. God is tugging at your heart, whispering those words to you at this moment, my son, my daughter.
Reflection with the Holy Spirit
So as we’ve reflected through this painting, let’s ask the Holy Spirit at this moment, my dear friends, I invite you to perhaps lift your hands. Maybe you can close your eyes. And we just come to this moment where we ask the Spirit of God to move, to move in this place, to move in your homes, to move wherever you are, that the revelation of the Father may be imprinted and grafted in our hearts. Friends, I don’t know who you are in the story. Maybe you are the youngest son who’s wandered into the vast emptiness of this world. Maybe you’ve squandered your life so much that you are so afraid to come back because you’ve perceived God as someone very tyrannical, somebody who was there to catch you for your mistakes and punish you.
Or maybe you are like the oldest son. All your life, you’ve just always checked the boxes, always seen your life by what you do rather than who you are. Maybe you compare yourself with people who live reckless lives, perhaps even in your own home. And you think you deserve more because you say, well, I’ve kept my end of the bargain. God, why don’t you keep yours? Or maybe you are a daughter or a son who’s deeply wounded by your earthly father like the boy I counseled. Maybe it’s difficult for you to see God as Father because of deep wounds inside, because of the relationship with your earthly dad. Regardless of where you are, regardless of how great the vision of your sin is, God is your father and he desires to make himself known to you, he’s a God who reveals himself. And so in this moment, Father, we ask, we ask that your word be imprinted in our hearts. Lord, I pray that you will come very, very tangibly, very personally to us at this moment. Lord, I pray that each one of us will be able to hear my daughter, my son that you bring us, that you bring us the revelation of who you are and that you lead us to the only place where we are completely at rest and completely at home, which is your presence.
And as we conclude, friends, I encourage you, maybe if you’re watching with your family or your friends, you can hold hands as we say the Our Father. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from all that is evil. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. Amen. God bless you.
About Michelle Karen D’Silva
Michelle Karen D’Silva is a Catholic Speaker who has served at numerous international platforms including leading worship at the Golden Jubilee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Rome and the World Youth Day in Panama.
She resides in Doha, Qatar along with her husband Jensil and their 2 kids. Michelle is an active member of her parish – Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. She serves as a member of the National Service of Communion (NSC), attending to the pastoral needs of the community through preaching and mentoring.
Michelle pioneered the first Catholic Charismatic Youth Group in Qatar and continues to serve in the capacity of Youth Mentor. She has spearheaded numerous youth retreats, conferences, and Gospel concerts including leadership and discipleship training for youth leaders across the Gulf.
In 2018 Michelle co-authored the book – ‘Life in the Spirit, Youth Edition’ under the mandate of CHARIS Youth Asia-Oceania and has traveled across the Middle East and Oceania equipping young leaders to lead and animate the Life in the Spirit seminars.
In 2020, Michelle joined the team of ‘Blessed Is She’, USA as their Devotional Writer & Blog Contributor.
Michelle’s passion to equip and empower women has resulted in ‘WellSpring Women’, an online community that has hosted an array of virtual programs bringing women from over 30 countries together. She is also the host of “Unravel” – a podcast show dedicated exclusively for women.
If you would like to know more about Michelle or access a collection of free Catholic resources, please visit her website www.michelledsilva.com