|The Return of the Prodigal Son
(1773) by Pompeo Batoni
The illness is idolatry, which is worshipping as god something which is not God. In the case of the ancient Israelites that we heard about in the first reading from Exodus, they fashioned for themselves a golden calf and attributed to this inanimate object of their own creation the powers of the living God! In different ways we can see the same thing happening in our own day. We are constantly fashioning "golden calves" out of money, reputation, possessions and so on and allow these inanimate things to rule us. Among the most dangerous idols wreaking great havoc today are those of power, hatred and pride. These give rise to what Exodus evocatively calls being "stiff-necked", unwilling to listen to the other, to compromise, to admit wrong. This creates barriers of hostility that keep hearts separated from one another long after any outward hostilities may have ceased. Sadly, in the land of Syria, we are witnessing the triumph of this idolatry, and countless thousands of men, women and children are the victims.
The antidote to all of this is mercy. St. Paul had been one of the most stiff-necked of all the persecutors of the Church, as he recalled for us in the second reading from his first Letter to Timothy. What changed everything for him, and indeed for human history, was his encounter with mercy. This happened when he met Jesus Christ.
So let us continue to pray, and to pray earnestly, for an outpouring of mercy on the land and people of Syria. May this mercy heal the combatants of any idolatry that keeps them closed in on themselves and their ideologies and away from one another. We know that prayer works. In the first reading we heard how Moses interceded with God, pleaded with God, on behalf of the people, and God heard and responded. God hears our prayers. God is moved by our prayers. God answers our prayers. And so we pray with confidence and persistence.