For me, one of the saddest phrases in the English language is this: It’s too late. The words exude powerlessness, hopelessness, and perhaps even serious regret. For the truth is, sometimes it is too late.
For example, if you forget to take your banana bread out of the oven and you don’t remember until it has become a loaf of charcoal (as I have done!), then it is too late to do anything about it except 1) toss it in the garbage, 2) start over, and 3) learn a valuable lesson about mindfulness.
Or if you don’t make time to play with your kids or grandkids when they’re still little, it’s too late to start playing with them when they’re packing the car to go off to college or walking down the aisle to get married. Or if we listen to our scientists and don’t take steps now to curb global warming, it will be too late. And then what?
What makes these words, “it’s too late” so sad is this: they imply that we had a chance to influence or change the future for the better and we didn’t do it. And now we are powerless to do anything about it—except to regret, apologize, or make a resolution for the future.
But when it comes to the spiritual realm, more specifically forgiveness, things are different. In his parables, Jesus implies it is never too late to receive God’s forgiveness. If we are to forgive others 7 X 70 times (meaning an infinite number of times), that means I can flub things 7 X 70 times and still be forgiven by God. Does that seem too good to be true?
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the younger son messed things up in a bad way. He wanted his inheritance. He couldn’t wait for his Dad to “kick the bucket.” He demanded “his” money NOW! Then he runs off and squanders the whole kitten kaboodle trying to buy friendship and love with his vast stash of coins—until his money bag is empty and all his “friends” have deserted him.
The story could have ended there. He could have said, “It’s too late” and curled up in a ball, waiting for death to come with only pigs for company. But something inside must have nudged him to think, “Maybe it’s not too late.” He returns home intending to acknowledge his grave sinfulness in carefully rehearsed words—hoping only for a menial job on the farm. But before he can make his speech, he is smothered in his Dad’s embrace and given a party—in his honor! Imagine that! In his honor! Oh, the irony of those words!
So, what can we do with all of this? First, if something really is too late in our life (for example, I will never be the Olympic ice-skater I wanted to be at age 12), then don’t pine. Let go and move on.
Or, if something is too late, then at least extropulate some lesson from the experience that can influence your current and future choices. Or, maybe an apology is in order, to let someone know you regret something in the past that you did or did not do.
If the “something” involves forgiveness, then remember the parable of the Prodigal Son. As some theologians maintain, the essence of all of Jesus’ teachings can be found in this parable. Commit the plot to memory. Remember, when extending forgiveness, it is never too late—even if the person we are forgiving is already dead. And when seeking God’s forgiveness, it is also never too late. In that fact lies our salvation! Amen! Alleluia!
Did anything in this reflection speak to you today?
Have you ever had an “it’s too late” experience? How did you respond to it?
What makes forgiving someone so difficult? What helps you to forgive someone?
Does anything in the parable of the Prodigal Son stand out for you? If so, what and why?
PS: A BIG thank you to the 40 women who participated in the Advent retreat on Saturday, sponsored by the St. Francis Renewal Center in Bethlehem, PA. We had a beautiful group of individuals from 10 states: PA, NY, WY, CA, MO, OR, VA, NJ, IL, and OH. And special thanks to Sister Marguerite for inviting me back to facilitate this retreat, and to Maryann my tech adviser and DJ! And thank you to my Sunflower Community for your prayerful support!
I chose Jesuit Dan Schutte’s song “Be Not Afraid” for today. This group of Catholic artists got together in May 2020, in the early days of the pandemic to sing together and remind us of God’s presence and God’s promises: Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come, follow me and I will give you rest… though you cross the barren desert… though you do not know the way… know that I am with you through it all. May these beautiful words give all of us comfort and strength during these difficult days.
I invite you to respond below to anything in this reflection, the pictures, the video, or other responses.