Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Prodigal Son?

Today;s Gospel, taken from St. Luke, is one that most people know almost from memory.  It is the story of two sons of a wealthy father.  One is a bit of a loner and the other is faithful to his father and the work at hand.  The loner decides that he has had enough of his father's house and asks his father for his portion of the inheritance in order that he may leave home and see the rest of the world.  The father obliges and the son sets out on his bold adventure.

The wandering son lives life to the fullest.  He spends his money freely paying little heed to just how much might be left.  Before he knows it, all the parties and hard living catch up with him and he finds himself homeless.  He tries to find work wherever he can, taking any job that will help to see him from one day to the next.  Finally, he ends up feeding pigs.  Nearly starving and without hope of things getting any better any time soon, he comes to his senses and heads for home.

His father we can imagine, has been heartbroken by his son's departure.  We can see him looking to the distant horizon to see if by some miracle, his missing son is returning.  Day after day, the father looks to the distant landscape in vain.  His son seems to be gone forever.  Then, one day, much to the father's amazement, he sees a small figure on the horizon.  The lone figure of a man draws closer and soon the father realizes that his dream of his son returning is about to come true.  Unwilling to await him at their home, the father rushes out to greet the prodigal.  He hugs him and welcomes him back home, throwing him a huge party to celebrate his return.

Meanwhile, the faithful son returns to the house after a long day's work in the fields to discover his errant brother has returned.  Not only that, but their father has rolled out the red carpet to welcome the offending son back home.  Indignant, he approaches his father and demands an explanation for all the celebrating.  After all, the faithful son tells the father, never once had he been the recipient of such a party and he is the one who has remained at his father's side all these years.

The father, we can imagine, sees the hurt in his faithful son's eyes and rather than responding to his anger, he responds to the son's hurt.  He tells his son that the heavens are rejoicing over the return of the wandering son because, as the Gospel puts it, "your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found."  (Lk 15: 32)

Most people see this as a parable about the two sons.  But I think the parable is really more about the father than the son.  The father of the boys represents, of course, God, our Heavenly Father.  The two sons represent all of humanity in its various stages and forms.  The message that Jesus was conveying didn't have so much to do with the sons as it did the forgiving nature of the Father.

The prodigal who goes to his father to demand his inheritance so that he may seek adventure must have hurt the father very much.  The son's demands were a rejection of the father's world and way of life.  It was a way of saying that the son had a better idea than his father of how his life should be lived.  Rather than arguing the point, the father, because he loved his son so much, gave his son his due portion.  It is certain that the father was wounded through and through because of this rejection.  It is equally certain that the father wanted to implore the son to stay home because he could see the dire consequences that lay ahead for his boy.  But there were no arguments, no debates, no desperate pleas ala Hollywood.  Only the father honoring his son's request and wishing him well.

Upon the son's return, we see a father filled with compassion and love.  We see a father who, rather than scolding the son with a million "I told you so's"  embracing him and welcoming him back home.  We also see a father whose healing capacity knows no bounds.  His faithful son, confused and disillusioned by his father's actions, comes to his father with very legitimate questions.  Instead of demeaning the son by telling him that he ought to be glad that his brother has returned and be ashamed of himself because of his selfishness, tells the faithful son of the eternal truth of all of us sinners: we were once dead and, because of the father's forgiveness, we are now alive.  We were once lost to the eternal life that awaits us all but now, because we do have a merciful father, we are found and the heavens rejoice.

Jesus, a remarkable story teller, conveys to us through this marvelous parable, the amazing Father all of us has.  We, like the sons in the parable, need the Father's forgiveness and compassion more than life itself for it is that compassion and love that sustains us from one day to the next.  Daily, we should seek His compassionate heart in seeking forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed.  We must also know through the parable that God is not to be feared as long as we approach Him humbly and with a contrite heart.  He will accept us back "home" as long as we are truly sorry for our transgressions and make a firm commitment to repent.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent: A Season of Hope?

It is only natural to think of Lent as a somber season, a season of deep contemplation about our relationship with God and what we can do to correct our sinful nature.  It is seen as a time of focus upon our upcoming commemoration of our Lord's Passion and Death as played out during Holy Week liturgies.

While all of these things are true, Lent can also be seen as a season of hope.

Without the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God become man, we would have no hope whatsoever.  But because He did consent to become man, our hope is alive and well in Him.  We can hope because of the saving act of Good Friday.  He willingly chose to die for us so that we would have eternal life.  So often during this season, we focus only on the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, nearly forgetting that without Easter these two days would mean nothing.  But because there is a Resurrection of the Savior, Holy Thursday and Good Friday have become two of the most holy of days throughout the year.

We are urged to give something up for Lent to aid us along our journey in discovering what is really important in our lives.  When we give something up, we offer this sacrifice to God so that we may clear our minds and lives of some clutter in order to come to know Him better and include Him further in our lives.  In addition to giving something up, it is also important to choose to become a better person through something positive.  Giving something up tends to be a negative approach.  One of the best ways of doing something is learning what the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy are.  These works are actions we can take to reach out to others and help them either with their physical or spiritual needs.  They are actions that allow one to step outside of their own concerns to help someone who may be struggling.

In practicing these works, we come to imitate Christ.  His life was one of complete outreach both to the human race and to His Father through prayer.  What better way do we have of getting closer to someone than to imitate their actions?  In a sense, when we do this, we step into their shoes and experience their life from their vantage point.

These works of mercy are not necessarily labor intensive.  One can put as much into them as they prefer.  The most important thing about them is that they help us turn our hearts and minds to God.  And that is what Lent is all about; looking at the world and those around us as God sees them, not as we view them.

Below is a list of both the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.  Seriously consider adopting some of these works as a part of your Lenten journey to Easter.  Step outside of yourself and your world and experience life through the eyes of the Lord.  Lent will never look the same again!

Spiritual Works of Mercy

1.  Admonish the sinner.  ". . .there will be more joy in heaven at the repentance of one sinner than at ninety-nine of the righteous who had no need of repentance."  Lk 15: 7
2.  Teach others of Jesus.  "Go into the world and proclaim the good news to all creation."  Mk 16: 15
3.  Counsel the doubtful.  "Peace I leave you.  My peace I give you. . .Let not your hearts be troubled."
     Jn 14: 27
4.  Comfort the sorrowful.  "Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will refresh you."  Mt 11: 28
5.  Bear wrongs patiently.  "Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse                         you."  Lk 6: 27-28
6.  Forgive all injuries.  "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."  Mt 6: 12
7.  Pray for the living and the dead.  "Father, I desire that they, too, may be with me where I am.  Jn 17: 24

Corporal Works of Mercy

1.  Feed the hungry.  "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat."  Mt 25: 35
2.  Give drink to the thirsty.  "I was thirsty and you gave me to drink."  Mt 25: 35
3.  Clothe the naked.  "I was naked and you clothed me."  Mt 25: 36
4.  Visit the imprisoned.  "I was in prison and you came to me."  Mt 25: 35
5.  Shelter the homeless.  "I was a stranger and you took me in."  Mt 25: 35
6.  Visit the sick.  "I was sick and you cared for me."  Mt 25: 36
7.  bury the dead.  "Amen, I say to you, insofar as you did it for one of least of my brothers, you did it for me."  Mt 25: 40

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lent 2011

In a mere three days, we begin the season of Lent, the most solemn season of the Christian calendar.  Lent is unique among the liturgical seasons because of its contemplative nature.  It is a time of deep introspection.  It is a time of honest examination of where we are in terms of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is a time of not only looking back to see what we have done wrong and correct the conditions that caused this wrong-doing, but also a time of looking forward into the future to see where God might be taking us.  In addition, Lent is also a time of healing broken relationships in our lives.

Jesus came to teach us and to heal our brokenness.  He came to deliver to us the hope of the Heavenly Father, that we would one day join Him in the heavens for an eternal joy that is not known nor even comprehended upon this earth.  

He taught us through both words and actions that all our thoughts, all that we do should be done in honor of the Father who sacrificed everything so that we may have this promised eternal life.  From the Beatitudes given to us at the Sermon on the Mount to the great Priestly Prayer at the Last Supper, Jesus showed us the way to His heavenly kingdom.  He taught us how to live among each other in the Spirit of Love that flows from the Father, takes life in the Son, and touches our hearts through the Spirit.

He taught us the importance of personal and private prayer through His own example.  Numerous times in the Gospel we see Jesus going off by Himself, often for long periods of time, to pray to His Father in Heaven.  This was His lifeline.  From the beginning of His ministry when He went off into the desert for forty days to the night before He died, Jesus conversed with His Father continually through prayer.  His very life was prayer, a living communication with the Creator.  It was through this prayer that He was kept in perpetual harmony with the Will of God.  We need to emulate the prayerful actions of the Savior who never condemned the sinner but fully disdained the sin.  Nowadays, we seem to have that completely reversed.  We are quick to condemn the person but ignore the actions.

Jesus taught us the great lesson that seems to have been lost on our modern society, that of sacrifice.  His entire existence represented sacrifice.  His Incarnation, God lowering Himself to become man, was a sacrifice.  He gave to all throughout His life.  A quick glance at the Gospels will reveal that often He was surrounded by huge crowds seeking healing and teaching and He never turned His back on them.  He always answered their pleas sometimes in ways they did not anticipate nor welcome, but answer He did!  We can attest to that today.  Our own lives are perfect examples of the Master answering our prayers but not always in ways that we had hoped.

Throughout the season of Lent, we are asked to sacrifice, to give up something that has meaning to us.  We are not asked to do this in a negative fashion.  Every time we may desire that thing that we have given up, our thoughts should turn the Lord our God from Whom all good things come so that we can more clearly see the origin of our happiness.  Its not so much what we give up that counts, it is what we put into it that will fulfill our needs to be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

Perhaps the second most important thing we need to contemplate during these weeks leading to the great celebration of Easter is that of our relationships with others.  How have we been wounded in this area of our lives?  How willing are we to follow in the footsteps of the Crucified Christ who cried out to God, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?"  (Lk 23:24)  How eager are we to turn the other cheek as Jesus taught us?  (cf Matt 5:39)  To what lengths are we willing to go to really put on Christ as St. Paul instructs us to do? (cf Rom 13:14)

Lent is a time of great opportunity to draw nearer to God our Creator and, in the process, to one another.  It doesn't require a great deal of us.  Just a little time and a great deal of love and desire for the One who gave His all so that we might live eternally with the Father, united by the love of the Spirit and the sacrifice of the Son.  This is time well-spent that will make the supreme joy of Easter burn even brighter in our hears and minds!