Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Prodigal Son

The long form of today’s Gospel contains the parable of the Prodigal Son. The following is a reflection (6/7/98) on this parable by Msgr. Thomas Wells, as found in the book, “From the Pastor’s Desk”, which is a collection of his writings:

“You mean I’m a sinner!” the woman exclaimed. Two or three times she said the same thing, “You mean I’m a sinner!” She had come into the rectory on a Saturday morning, outraged because we insisted on preparing her child for confession before Communion. (Happily, this is not a recent story.) A child could not sin; a child needed to know the joy of Christianity, not guilt; a child could be damaged by trying to find the negative in her life. And so it went until, as she had become a bit more calm, I asked her about her own use of the Sacrament of Penance and about the reality of sin in her life. Finally, we read together the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and discussed the figure of the second son in that story. You may remember him as the son who stayed at home, never did anything wrong in terms of actions, but who had a heart that was fixed on himself rather than either his father (God) or others (his brother). It was as I was talking about the older brother’s self-righteousness and judgmental attitude that, out of the blue, she cried out her question. Shortly thereafter, she went to confession; I guess the child soon did the same; and I have no clue what became of either mother or daughter.

Read over the story of the Prodigal Son if you are not familiar with it. While we focus on the colorful younger son who spends all his money on loose women, it seems that Jesus was primarily focused on that older son. One of the many lessons of the story is that, while the younger son was most certainly a sinner and most certainly had to pay the consequences of his sin, his realization of his need for his father’s forgiveness gives him a nobility when compared to the older brother who really believes that doing all that he has done around the farm entitles him to happiness. Because he focuses on actions and things, rather than on his hard heart, he completely misses the Father’s love that calls to him as surely as it called to the Prodigal Son.

When an individual says, in actions if not in words, that he does not need the Sacrament of Penance, could he not be imitating the older son? Can any of us listen to Jesus as He says, “Come, follow me,” and really believe that selfishness, fear or lack of faith have not kept us from really obeying? Sin is not so much a stain on our souls, I believe, as a disease which we must always fight. Is it possible on the one hand, to believe in the damaging power of that disease, and on the other, not to take advantage of the antidote, the Sacrament of Penance?


At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please pray for people with mental illness. Many feel trapped and hopeless.

At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing about the prodigal son, for me, although I’m far from perfect (I gladly acknowledge this awareness), is that- I’m the one who stays home. Maybe I’ve strayed, but I’ve always kept one foot in the door. It’s hard to give, and then give- and then give again, when others do not. In my head, I know giving should be for giving sake, and I shouldn’t expect reciprocity, but when those in your life take, and take, and take- at what point does one say enough? That’s where I am, and where I’m stuck.

At 11:27 PM, Blogger fran said...

Well now, that is quite a different "take" on the older brother. I always had it in my mind that the older brother was the good son; the obedient one, mindful of what was expected of him and respectful of his father's wishes. I actually thought that maybe his father had taken him for granted! After all, he had never even been given a "young goat to feast on with my friends."
I agree that doing what is right does not entitle one to happiness, or anything else, for that matter, but if doing what is right is done in a selfish, "what am I going to get out of it" way, then the actions do ring rather hollow.
Never thought of the Prodigal Son story that way before. Guess I will now!

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was irritated when I wrote earlier. I'm part of the "sandwich" generation. I have pulls on me from the generation above and the one below. What was once something I would do to help has become part of my normal responsibilities, and that's okay, but sometimes I need help and/or cannot do all of what’s expected.

I asked for help from a close family member to whom I often give assistance. They said no, which alone is no big deal; however, the reason for saying no was b/c they were, instead, going to help another family member. This other family member perpetually requires others' assistance, and everyone- including me- has assisted over and over again. It's a pattern- not a singular occurrence, and they aren't dire straights in any way (I'm speaking of some basic help one could expect of a babysitter, cook, housekeeper, laundress, etc.).

For the first time in a great while, I felt jealous. That's not the norm for me, but I went there and compared my life (line for line) with another's, actually several others’, and mine came up looking lacking. In this instance, there’s an army helping this small family and no one helping me with my army of a family. I can easily be swallowed up by all I have to do, so why should any (including myself) expect me to look beyond what I need to do for my family alone? Now, I do ultimately know the answer to that question- I just don't like the way I feel about the answer to it!!

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I usually bite my tongue. This time I did not. I asked why this other person "ranks" so high and I so low. My feelings were hurt. I will still "do" what I am to "do", but I feel resentment.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger fran said...

Hi Anon,
My children once owned a yo-yo which had the phrase, "The good you do comes back to you," inscribed on it. We often found ourselves repeating that phrase when situations came up which required a pleasant response or act which was difficult to carry out.
Try to "do" joyfully rather than with resentment. That joy will come back to you in some way, shape or form. Maybe not right away, perhaps not from the person from whom you were expecting it... Remember, by "doing" with a joyful heart, you are storing up heavenly treasure. Definitely some joy to be found in that!

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This doesn't exactly speak to my specific situation of feeling hurt, but yesterday I spoke to someone who counsels people. He specializes in conflict resolution. As I expected, he gave me few things to think about.

He asked if I thought it is always better to give than to receive. He suggested that being a giver had become a defining point, and maybe I thought I must stop giving in order to be on the receiving end of anything.

The solution is that I don't have to stop being who I am, I don't have to stop giving. I just have to allow myself to start receiving too.

He suggested I stop thinking of myself as a giver and to start thinking of myself as being generous. These may appear the same thing, but there are key differences. Being a giver implies giving away (maybe more than I can give) while being generous implies sharing what I have. While giving may feel good, being generous feels joyful. Giving is doing- generous is being.

Being a giver implies certain responsibilities and rules. It tends to restrict how we think about ourselves and often forces us to give way past the point of healthy (that was key). Being generous implies that we are able to share what we have; there is plenty for me and you can have some too.

Most pointedly, he asked me a big question- were most of my relationships personal or transactional? He suggested they were probably the latter, for giving promotes that kind of relationship, while generousity promotes interpersonal growth.

I thought it made some sense, and definately gave me food for thought.


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