Return to Me: Families Who Imitate the Loving Father in Luke 15:11-32
by Anna LaNave, MAPS
Ministry Coordinator, Landings International
Goal: Opportunity to examine the journey of faith for each family member
through reflection on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The retreat will include
time for personal reflection in preparation for the Sacrament of
Reconciliation. The retreat should take 90 minutes–2 hours.
Note: Plan retreat
for Saturday morning if Reconciliation is offered in the afternoon. Otherwise,
ask parish priest to attend so that the sacrament can be offered to all retreatants.
Prayer table with open Bible, candle (at front)
Two packed suitcases or backpacks (under prayer table)
Suitcase one: Items for a vacation (clothes, sunglasses,
bathing suit, camera, snacks, etc.)
Suitcase two: Things for a spiritual journey (Bible,
rosary, missal, hymnal, holy cards of saints, Holy Communion banner [representing
the Eucharist], etc., paper/crayons if younger children)
Free coloring pages 1 and 2
Easel (or chalkboard) with paper/pens or overhead for group
CD player/computer; suggested music:
"Turn to Me" by John Foley, SJ (St. Louis
"Hosea: Come Back to Me" by Gregory Norbet (OCP)
"There Is a Wideness
in God's Mercy" by Frederick William Faber (traditional)
Copies of the USCCB bulletin insert on "How to Go to Confession,"
Seat family groups at round
tables with pencils, crayons/coloring pages (if small children), and handouts
Introductions (15 minutes)
Opening prayer (5 minutes)
Family reflection: Spiritual Journeys of Our Parents (20 minutes)
Meditation: Luke 15:11-32 (20 minutes)
Break (10 minutes)
Personal reflection (20 minutes) (refreshments for younger
children/coloring of the Prodigal Son story)
Group sharing (15 minutes)
Review of Sacrament of Reconciliation (5 minutes)
Closing song/prayer (5 minutes)
Introductions (15 minutes)
Leader: Everyone likes to go on trips, to have adventures. I'd like
the head of each family to introduce their family and one of the younger
children to tell us where you traveled to on a recent vacation.
When we go on a trip, we have to take some
things with us. (Show contents of suitcase
one by having a younger child join you in pulling out items.)
We are all also on a spiritual journey of
faith, a journey that starts with our Baptism into the family of God and
continues into heaven, where we will be with God. This is a very important journey
with many happy times and some sad times. It is a journey of getting to know
our Heavenly Father and building a relationship with him. Our spiritual journey
takes special kinds of tools. (Show
contents of suitcase two by having younger child help. Pull out the contents
and explain how they help us on our faith journey. Represent the sacraments
Our spiritual journey will not be easy. There
will be hard times when we feel far away from God and times when we feel close.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we will celebrate today, "restor[es] us
to God's grace and join[s] us with him in an intimate friendship" (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC],
2nd ed. [Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV)–United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2000], no. 1468.
As we begin our journey today, let's start with
a prayer. Many of the heroes of the Bible wandered far away from the will of
God. King David, a man after God's own heart, wrote about his own sins and his
need for cleansing. Join me in one of his many prayers, Psalm 51:3-15.
Opening Prayer: Psalm 51:
3-15 (unison)—Handout A
Family Reflection: Spiritual
Journeys of Our Parents (20 minutes)
Leader: Parents, we'd like your children to get to know you a
little better. In every spiritual journey toward God, there are times of doubt
and times of faith, times of broken relationships and times of reconciliation. Would
you take the next twenty minutes to tell your spiritual story to your family? Who
were your Catholic influences? Did you ever stop going to Mass? What brought
you back to regular Mass attendance? Why do you think the Sacrament of Penance
is important? Give one special moment where you saw the loving Father at work
in your life. (Leader, write questions on
board or easel paper.)
Our meditation today will be on the story of a
young son who left on a journey and returned home to discover the true depth of
his father's love.
Meditation on Luke 15:11-32
Leader: Close your eyes, and I will read this story slowly twice. Think
of yourself watching the events unfold. Pay attention to the attitudes of the
younger son, the older brother, and the father. What do you see? What do you feel?
Let's look at the
characteristics of each of the family members—both virtues and sins. (Have volunteer write them on easel paper or
The younger son: impulsive, rebellious,
humbled, mean, wild
The older son: reliable, faithful,
judgmental, jealous, selfish
The father: loving unconditionally,
trusting, letting go
Leader: Keep in mind that, in the Jewish
culture, to ask for one's inheritance before the death of the father was to
basically say, "You are as good as dead to me." Thus the father's unconditional
acceptance of the younger son was even more exceptional.
One of the hardest things to do as a parent is
to let our kids make mistakes and find their own way. Many of you struggle with
children or other family members who have left the Catholic Church or are no
longer practicing. This can be very painful. Don't feel like you have done
something wrong, or that God will hold you responsible for your children's choices.
This is part of their unique spiritual journey. Know that the foundation of
faith you laid in their life will bear fruit.
Many inactive Catholics are looking for an
invitation to return. Continue to pray for them, and continue to invite them to
Mass. Pressure or guilt is disrespectful to their journey. Know that the Holy
Spirit continues to hold them in love. Share with them stories of your own spiritual
journey, highs and lows, and how much you love Christ and his Church. Your own Christian
witness is the best you can offer them. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the
strength to love without conditions.
Blessed John Paul II encouraged us, "But we know that God, 'rich in mercy,'
like the father in the parable, does not close his heart to any of his
children. He waits for them, looks for them, goes to meet them at the place
where the refusal of communion imprisons them in isolation and division. He
calls them to gather about his table in the joy of the feast of forgiveness and
and Penance [Reconciliatio
et Paenitentia], no. 10, www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_02121984_reconciliatio-et-paenitentia_en.html).
Break (10 minutes)
Personal Reflection (20 minutes)
Leader: As we prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, let's
reflect on our own spiritual state.
Our Holy Father Francis warns us that we need
to be careful to avoid pride as we examine our lives. We may be struggling with
the sins of the younger or older brother. Follow along as I read from Handout
Take the handouts with you to help you prepare
for Reconciliation. Find a quiet place by yourself to answer the reflection
questions. (Play quiet music to signal end of the time, about 20 minutes. Younger
children can go to the supervised snack table and finish their coloring.)
Group Sharing (15 minutes)
What did you learn about yourself, family members, or God's love?
Review of the Guidelines for
the Sacrament of Reconciliation (5 minutes)
Pass out the USCCB Guide
for Confession. Leader should review the
format of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and answer any questions.
Closing Song/Prayer (5
Leader: With this parable we have studied, Jesus offers us a
glimpse into who God is and how he loves. He is a God who, upon the sight of
his lost child, is filled with compassion and then runs and kisses him. Our
Father is passionate about his children and is always ready to welcome us back
with boundless love and forgiveness. Let us praise God for his great mercy to
Song: "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" (optional)
Leader: Please join me in our closing prayer (unison,
God, even though we wander far from your love, you always are ready to welcome
us home. Open our hearts to make a good confession so our lives will more
clearly mirror Christ Jesus. We praise you and thank you for our salvation. You
are a God of mercy and unimaginable love. Stay close to us as we continue our
spiritual journey, and we look forward to receiving your embrace in heaven.
are] convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor
any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ
Jesus our Lord"(Rom 8:38-39).
for your grace in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Handout A (opening
Psalm 51:3-15, Luke 15:11-32, any song lyrics, closing prayer)
From Pope Francis's Angelus Address (September 15, 2013)
Jesus is all
mercy, Jesus is all love: he is God made man. Each of us, each one of us, is
that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son
who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has
lost everything. But God does not forget us, the Father never abandons us. He
is a patient father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he
remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like
children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for
us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who returns. He is
celebrating because he is joy. God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to
him and asks his forgiveness.
is the danger? It is that we presume we are righteous and judge others. We also
judge God, because we think that he should punish sinners, condemn them to
death, instead of forgiving. So yes, then, we risk staying outside the Father's
house! Like the older brother in the parable, who rather than being content
that his brother has returned, grows angry with the father who welcomes him and
celebrates. If in our heart there is no mercy, no joy of forgiveness, we are
not in communion with God, even if we observe all of his precepts, for it is
love that saves, not the practice of precepts alone. It is love of God and
neighbor that brings fulfillment to all the Commandments. And this is the love
of God, his joy: forgiveness. He waits for us always! Maybe someone has some
heaviness in his heart: "But, I did this, I did that . . . " He expects you! He
is your father: he waits for you always! (www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/angelus/2013/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20130915_en.html)
Personal Reflection (Adults)
relationships in my life need to be healed, or whom do I need to forgive as God
has forgiven me? Resolve to ask the Holy Spirit to help you reconcile with
can I better offer the love of Christ to my family, friends, and neighbors? Can
I accept God's love for my past actions and forgive myself?
you may feel like the younger brother, ready to go out and experience the
world. How did he hurt his family and himself with his actions?
older brother stayed and worked hard for the father. Would you have been
jealous of the celebration for the returning younger brother? Why or why not?
can we learn about family from this story?
can you learn about God's love from the actions of the father?
you prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, think of one or two
relationships in your life where you can be more loving and kind.
In the future, I promise to
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States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.
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of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2000, Libreria
Editrice Vaticana (LEV)–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Excerpt from Pope Francis,
Angelus, September 15, 2013, copyright © 2013, LEV; Pope John Paul II,Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, copyright
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