VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Gospel parable of the prodigal son presents the image of God, the father, who gives people the gift of freedom, even to make mistakes, Pope Francis said.

When it comes to our God-given freedom, “it is up to us to put it to good use. This gift of freedom that God gives us always amazes me,” he said March 7 before reciting the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The day Gospel’s reading of the parable, he said, illustrates the characteristics of God, a father, “who is always ready to forgive and who hopes against all hope.” Even as his son leaves with half of his inheritance and returns humbled, the father meets him with tenderness and welcomes him back.

However, the father also shows the same mercy and love to his oldest son who doesn’t understand and “doesn’t share that goodness toward his brother who did wrong,” the pope said.

“When one feels righteous — ‘I have always done good things’ — the father also comes looking for us, because that attitude of feeling righteous is an evil attitude: It is pride. It comes from the devil,” he said.

The pope said that within the parable, one can catch a glimpse of a third son, Jesus Christ, who is an “extension of the arms and the heart of father,” he washes the prodigal son’s dirtied feet and “prepares the banquet for the feast of forgiveness.”

“Jesus teaches us to be ‘merciful like the father,'” he said.

Pope Francis said that through the sacrament of reconciliation, Christians can experience the faithfulness of God’s love in times of repentance and in times of feeling righteous. God “welcomes us; he restores our dignity as his children and tells us: ‘Go forward! Be at peace! Get up, and go forward.'”

In the evening, the pope and members of the Roman Curia traveled about 20 miles southeast of Rome by bus to the Pauline Fathers’ retreat and conference center in Ariccia for their annual Lenten retreat.

The March 6-11 retreat, led by Servite Father Ermes Ronchi, was to focus on the theme, “The bare questions of the Gospel,” according to the Vatican.

In his first meditation, Father Ronchi said that in many churches today, the beauty of God is insufficiently proclaimed. While God is venerated and adored, he is not often shown as “one who is involved and engaging, who laughs and plays with his children.”

“Every man looks for an engaging God,” he said. “God would die of boredom in our churches. Let us restore his cheerful face, a God we can savor and enjoy; (a God) that is desirable.”