By Susan Bailey
“Our God has opened his arms on the cross and embraced us as we are.”
This was the message of mercy that Benedictine Father Benet Phillips preached during the closing Mass of St. Rose of Lima’s parish mission, “Merciful like the Father.”
The mission, which commenced during the Sunday, Feb. 21 liturgy and ended Wednesday, Feb. 24, explored the parable of the Prodigal Son in depth, the quintessential story of God’s mercy. The mission was led by Father Phillips who is a member of the Order of St. Benedict at St. Anselm Monastery and serves as the registrar of St. Anselm College, in Manchester, N.H.
The church was nearly full with young and old alike.
“His words were thoughtful, prayerful and of great help,” said Eileen Paglia who attended each night of the mission. “I experienced the depth of the Prodigal Son.”
Using a form of Scripture study known as Lectio Divina, Father Phillips helped the people pray the story slowly by focusing on certain words and themes. He led the congregation into times of silence, to experience the Word of God and contemplate its meaning in their hearts.
People were inspired by the experience.
“We tried it at home and found it helpful to slow down with the Word,” said Charlotte Stanley; she and her husband Roger also attended each night of the mission.
Father Phillips focused on each character from the story: the younger son who left home and was welcomed back, the older, dutiful son who was jealous, and the father, who was the symbol of mercy.
In tracing the path of the sons, Father Phillips showed that all people can grow in faith from the faults of the sons to the father’s mercy, and become missionaries of mercy after his example.
“We need to choose to come to God; we roam about in a foreign land,” said Father Phillips during his homily at the closing Mass. “We face dejection and despair without Jesus [describing the younger son]; God comes to us with the passion of a lover [describing the father]. We find acceptance and joy in God’s embrace.”
In referencing the older son who felt his father had committed an injustice against him who had been faithful, Father Phillips emphasized that the father had enough love for both of them.
Father Phillips invited everyone to “come to the feast, all who are imperfect in so many ways,” hinting at the fatted calf that was killed to provide a feast for the younger son who had returned home.
He referenced St. John Paul II’s encyclical letter on the Mass and the Eucharist as a means of illustrating how we can become missionaries of mercy through the example of the Eucharist.
He emphasized four points:
• We are all called to service—how has the Lord called me?
• We are blessed with family, friends, the Church and the sacraments—will we give as freely and as generously as we have received?
• We must be broken—in solidarity with others, we must be compassionate; we must learn to empathize with others.
• We must be given—to become food and life for those around us.
Father Phillips concluded with an interesting question: Where was the mother in the story? While there was no answer to that question, he reminded us that we have our Blessed Mother Mary in this Year of Mercy. “The Word made flesh—no one understands this more than Mary because of her participation in the life of our Lord.”
Father James Houston, pastor, provided some parting words, commenting on the deep Benedictine spirituality of Father Phillips. Having grown up in that tradition, Father Houston wished to share that with his parish family by providing this mission.
“I appreciated Father Benet’s presentation, it was steady and thoughtful. I understood him well,” said Bernie Gillon.
John Zawacki also found the mission meaningful and saw himself in the older son. “I found great freedom in that,” he said. “It was a lesson of life—we play all the roles, eventually evolving into the father. It was the perfect story for the Year of Mercy.”