Lent IV (March 31st Sunday Homily) one-page summary
Introduction: Traditionally, the Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare Sunday (Rejoice Sunday). Anticipating Easter joy, today’s readings invite us to rejoice by being reconciled with God through repentance and the confession of our sins and by celebrating our coming home to be with our loving and forgiving God.
Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, the Chosen People of God are portrayed as celebrating, for the first time in their own land, the feast of their freedom, by using wheat that had grown in the Promised Land. In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 34), a rejoicing Psalmist invites us, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us together extol His Name!” In the second reading, St. Paul invites the Corinthian Christian community to rejoice because Jesus has reconciled them with God by his suffering and death.
Today’s Gospel celebrates the joy of the prodigal son on his “homecoming” where he discovers his father’s forgiving and overflowing love. It is also the story of the rejoicing of a loving and forgiving father who celebrates the return of his prodigal son by throwing a big party in his honor, a banquet celebrating the reconciliation of the son with his father, his family, his community and his God. At the same time, by presenting a self-righteous elder brother, the parable invites us to avoid self-righteousness and self-justification by imitating the repentant younger brother. Let us admit the truth that we are an assembly of sinful people, repentant, and now ready to receive God’s forgiveness and to experience Jesus’ Personal Presence in the Holy Eucharist as our loving and forgiving God.
Life messages: 1) Let us return to our Heavenly Father with repentant hearts: As prodigal children, we face spiritual famine all around us in the form of drug and alcohol abuse, fraud and theft in the workplace, murders, abortions and violence, premarital sex, marital infidelity and priestly infidelity, as well as in hostility between and among people. All of these evils have proliferated because we have been squandering God’s abundant blessings, not only in our country and in our families, but also in our personal lives. Hence, let us repent and return to our Heavenly Father’s home.
2) Holy Mass enhances our “pass over,” from a world of sin to a world of reconciliation. At every Mass, we come to our loving Heavenly Father’s house as prodigal children acknowledging that we have sinned (“I confess to Almighty God.”). In the Offertory, we give ourselves back to the Father, and this is the moment of our surrendering our sinful lives to God our Father. At the consecration, we hear God’s invitation through Jesus: “… this is My Body, which will be given up for you… this is the chalice of My Blood … which will be poured out for you…” (= ”All I have is yours”). In Holy Communion, we participate in the banquet of reconciliation, thus restoring our full relationship with God and our fellow human beings. (L/19)
LENT IV (March 31): Jos 5:9, 10-12; II Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Homily starter anecdote: # 1: Gandhi’s confession: Mohandas K. Gandhi, “the Father of the Nation” in India, in his famous autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, writes about his own experience of theft, confession and forgiveness as a schoolboy. “I was fifteen when I stole a bit of gold out of my brother’s armlet to clear a debt of about twenty-five rupees, (U.S. $3 in those days), which he had incurred. He had on his arm an armlet (bracelet) of solid gold. It was not difficult to clip a bit out of it. Well, it was done, and the debt cleared. But this became more than I could bear. I resolved never to steal again. I also made up my mind to confess it to my father. But I did not dare to speak…. I decided at last to write out the confession, submit it to my father, and ask his forgiveness. I wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to him myself. In this note not only did I confess my guilt, but also requested an adequate punishment for it, and closed with a request to him not to punish himself for my offence. I also pledged myself never to steal in the future. I was trembling as I handed the confession to my father. He was then confined to bed. I handed him the note and sat on his bed. He sat up to read it. He read it through, and pearl-drops trickled down his cheeks, wetting the paper. For a moment he closed his eyes in thought and then tore up the note. He again lay down. I also cried. I could see my father’s agony. Those pearl-drops of love cleansed my heart and washed my sin away. Only he who has experienced such love can know what it is… This sort of sublime forgiveness was not natural to my father. I had thought that he would be angry, say hard things, and strike his forehead. But he was so wonderfully peaceful, and I believe this was due to my clean confession. A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of repentance. I know that my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me and increased his affection for me beyond measure.”
# 2: A Father’s Forgiveness: In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Phillip Yancey tells the story of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway grew up in a very devout evangelical family, yet there he never experienced the grace of Christ. He lived a libertine life that most of us would call “dissolute”… but there was no father, no parent waiting for him, and he sank into the mire of a graceless depression. In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Capital of the World”, a Spanish Newspaper El Liberal, carried a poignant story about a father and his son. It went like this. A teen-aged boy, Paco, and his very wealthy father had a falling out, and the young man ran away from home. The father was crushed. After a few days, he realized that the boy was serious, so the father set out to find him. He searched high and low for five months to no avail. Finally, in a last, desperate attempt to find his son, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read, “Dear Paco, Meet me at the Hotel Montana noon Tuesday. All is forgiven. I love you. Signed, Your Father. On Tuesday, in the office of Hotel Montana, over 800 Pacos showed up, looking for love and forgiveness from their fathers. What a magnet that ad was! Over 800 Pacos!! We all hunger for pardon. We are all “Pacos” yearning to run and find a father who will declare, “All is forgiven.”
Introduction: The fourth Sunday of Lent marks the midpoint in the Lenten preparation for Easter. Traditionally, it is called Laetare Sunday (Rejoice Sunday). It is a sign of what liturgical authors call “anticipatory joy”— a reminder that we are moving swiftly toward the end of our Lenten fast, and the joy of Easter is already on the horizon. This Sunday is set aside for us to recall God’s graciousness and to rejoice because of it. In many ways we have been dead, but through God’s grace we have come to life again; we have been lost but have now been found. We have every reason to rejoice. Hence, each of the three readings characterizes one of the many facets of Easter joy. In the first reading, the Chosen People of God are portrayed as celebrating, for the first time in their own land, the feast of their freedom. Their joy is one of promises fulfilled. In today’s Responsorial Psalm the joyful Psalmist invites us, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us together extol His Name!” then gives us our reason for rejoicing, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears!” The second reading joyfully proclaims the effect of Jesus’ saving act as the reconciliation of all peoples to the Father. In the Gospel, the joy is that of a young son’s “coming home,” where he discovers and is healed by the reality his father’s forgiving and gratuitous love. It is also the story of a loving and forgiving father who celebrates the return of his prodigal son by throwing a big party in his honor, a banquet celebrating the reconciliation of the son with his father, his family, his community and his God. It is really the Parable of the Forgiving Father, the story of Divine love and mercy for us sinners, a love that is almost beyond belief. The common theme of joy resulting from reconciliation with God and other human beings is announced to all of us present in this Church – an assembly of sinful people, ready to receive God’s forgiveness and His Personal Presence as a forgiving God in the Holy Eucharist.
The first reading (Joshua 5:9, 10-12), explained: Today we hear the story of the reconciliation of God’s Chosen People with their God at Gilgal (within the eastern limits of Jericho), by means of a Passover meal, which made use of grain that had grown Promised Land. This celebration of the Passover banquet by Joshua and the Israelites while encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho marks the “homecoming” of God’s people to the Promised Land. Their paschal banquet at Jericho also marks the beginning of their new life as God’s liberated and covenant people. For forty years in the desert, they had rebelled again and again against God, and against the leadership of Moses. Nevertheless, God had forgiven them every time they repented. Finally, He had brought them to the Promised Land. In thanksgiving, they celebrated the Passover, asking Yahweh’s forgiveness, just as they had begun their journey out of Egypt with the first Passover sacrifice and meal. Joshua’s story is particularly pertinent to the Israelites who were taken to Babylon as slaves in 587 BC. It reminded them that the same God who had brought their ancestors from Egypt to the Promised Land would be merciful to them and forgive their sins of infidelity, provided they repented and were reconciled with Him. The people were to believe that, as God had responded positively to their repentant ancestors in the past, He would also hear their penitent cries, forgive them once again and keep all His ancient promises. Lent is a time for us to “pass over,” from the world of injustice we have created to a world of reconciliation. It is our time to turn hatred to love, conflict to peace, death to eternal life.
The second reading (II Cor. 5: 17-21) explained: Here, St. Paul emphasizes the uniqueness of every individual in the Corinthian community – “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation!” Then he explains “the ministry of reconciliation” he had received from Christ and exercised among them, as the continuation both of Yahweh’s ministry and of the reconciliation that occurred in Temple worship. He tells the Corinthian converts that they are a new creation, made so through the blood of Christ. It is the shedding of Christ’s blood that has reconciled them with God and made them righteous, so they have reason to rejoice. Paul further reminds the faithful at Corinth that the apostles are ambassadors of Christ, announcing this reconciliation, which God offers to all humanity through Jesus Christ. Hence, he appeals to the Corinthians to be reconciled to God and to one another, thus sharing in God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle teaches us that God is constantly reconciling everyone to Himself. Like the Corinthians, we have each been made a new creation, and each of us has been given many second chances. Hence, it is also our ministry to proclaim that reconciliation by being reconciled with those around us, unconditionally, with no strings attached.
Gospel exegesis: The significance of the parable: The parable of the prodigal son is called “the greatest short story in the world” (Charles Dickens), “the gospel of the gospels“, “the gospel of the outcasts,” and the “parable of the prodigal father“ (because the father is generous, excessive and extravagant with his love and because the Father’s prodigal love finds its completion in Jesus Christ). But the popular name, parable of the prodigal son, fails to indicate that the father has two lost sons, not one. The world-famous portrait of the “Return of the Prodigal Son” by the 17th century Dutch artist Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669; Wikipedia), now at the Hermitage museum in Russia, Balanchine’s famous choreography of this parable, the Russian composer Prokofiev’s suite based on the Prodigal Son, and numerous other artistic works around the world depicting this theme, demonstrate the lingering impact of this parable on human hearts down through the centuries. Acknowledging the allegation that he mingled with the sinners, Jesus outlines the three aspects or dimensions of repentance, by presenting three characters in this parable: 1) the repentant younger son, 2) the forgiving father and 3) the self-justifying elder son. This is a double-edged parable. The lesson of Divine mercy to sinners is shown by the Father’s reception of the returned younger son. A stern warning is given to the self-righteous people by presenting the dialogue between the father and his older son.
The repenting son: He began by wanting freedom from his father. Hence, he forced his father to give him his right to one-third of his father’s property (as stipulated in Deuteronomy 21:17). The son then sold his property and traveled to a far-off city where he realized all his wild dreams of a carefree life. Finally, bankrupt, abandoned by his “friends,” and faced with a local famine, he was forced to take up the job of feeding pigs – a job forbidden to the Jews. At last, awakened by his sufferings, he gathered enough courage to return to his father and confess his sin, thus becoming the model for repentant sinners. He had resolved to become a “hired servant” of his family, thereby regaining a measure of honor and independence, but with a social status matching his guilt and failure. Moreover, he would be able to take care of his father for as long as the father lived.
The prodigal father: The father in the story represents God the Father. According to the law and customs in ancient Palestine, a father could dispose of his property by making a will that would be executed when he died (Numbers 36:7-9) or he could give his possessions to his children while still alive. Usually the eldest son received a double share or twice the amount that each of the other sons would receive. But in the parable, the father promptly gave a share of his property to his younger son, bid him a tearful farewell and waited daily for his return. Finally, after squandering his money, his morals and even his Jewish religious heritage, the boy returned in rags. He confessed his sins, and his father promptly forgave him, kissed him on the cheeks, and healed the broken relationship between them. He ordered a bath for his son, gave him new garments (a sign of honor) and a golden signet ring (sign of authority and trust). By ordering sandals for the feet of his son, the father signaled his reacceptance of the returned penitent as his son. The robe and ring and shoes were a sign that the son would not be received into the house as a servant (slaves did not wear shoes, robes or finger rings) but in his former status as son. The killing of the fatted calf, specially raised for the Passover feast, meant that the entire village was invited for the grand party given in the returned son’s honor. When the elder brother refused to join in the party, the father went out to beg him to be reconciled with his younger brother and to share in the father’s joy. The father assured the elder son of his continuing love and of the son’s secure inheritance and place in the family by saying, “All I have is yours.” Thus, the father symbolizes the loving and unconditionally forgiving Heavenly Father who is excessive, extravagant and generous with His forgiveness and mercy. Mirroring our Heavenly Father, Jesus, too, squanders his love on those who need it most. Although the story of the prodigal son is often given as an example of repentance, it is actually the story of how God forgives and heals the repentant sinner. Like God, the father in the parable was ready to forgive both of his “sinful” sons even before they repented. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that God already forgives us as soon as we repent, even before we go to confession or perform any penance. The forgiveness the father offers in the parable parallels the forgiveness God offers in real life. That is why Jesus in the Gospels frequently describes God more like a defense attorney than a prosecuting attorney.
The self-justifying elder son: The unforgiving elder son represents the self-righteous Pharisees. He had no feelings of sympathy for his brother. He played the part of a dutiful son, but his heart was not in it. He was resentful, bitter and angry. He was so jealous of his younger brother that he never wanted to see him again. He leveled a series of allegations against his prodigal brother, whom he viewed as a rival. Instead of honoring his father by joining him in accepting his brother and playing an appropriate role at the meal, the elder son publicly insulted and humiliated his father (vv. 28-30). Jesus includes this character in the story to represent the scribes and Pharisees who began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are not told how the elder son responded to his father’s plea, or to his father’s assurances of continued love, place and inheritance (“All I have is yours”). Perhaps that is because Jesus meant the scribes and Pharisees to see that their own final response to the Father’s love in sending Jesus had yet to be made, and that they still had time to “return home” to their Father in welcoming Him.
Life messages: 1) We need to accept the fact that we are all prodigal children who have squandered our Father’s inheritance. There is a spiritual famine even in countries with a booming economy. Because of this spiritual famine, we resemble the younger son who lived with pigs. Examples of this spiritual famine can be seen in drug and alcohol abuse, fraud and theft in the workplace, murders, abortions and violence, premarital sex, marital infidelity and priestly infidelity, as well as in hostility between people. Sometimes this “spiritual famine” exists in our own families. That is why we condemn some of our family members to “survival-level” existence, and even contribute to the death of some of them, by refusing to associate with them. Let us accept the fact that we have been squandering God’s abundant blessings not only in our country and in our families, but also in our personal lives.
2) Lent is a time to “pass over,” from a world of sin to a world of reconciliation. The story of the prodigal son asks each of us an important question: Will you accept the Father’s forgiveness and partake of the banquet, or will you remain outside? Lent is a time to transform hatred into love, conflict into peace, death into eternal life. The message of Lent then, is, as St. Paul tells us, “We implore you, in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God.” The first step, of course, is to do as the younger son did: “When he came to himself, he said: ‘I will break away and return to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against you.”‘” At every Mass, we come to our loving Heavenly Father’s house as prodigal children. We begin the Mass acknowledging that we have sinned and have closed our hearts to God’s perfect love: (“I no longer deserve to be called your child, so do with me as you will”). Next, we listen to the Word that heals our broken and imperfect relationships with God (“say the Word and I shall be healed“). In the Offertory, we give ourselves back to the Father, and this is the moment of our surrendering our sinful lives to God our Father. At the consecration, we hear God’s invitation through Jesus: “… this is My Body, which will be given up for you… this is the chalice of My Blood … which will be poured out for you…” (=”All I have is yours”). In Holy Communion, we participate in God’s feast of reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist, the gift of unity with God and with His whole family. Here, we experience again the fully loving, give-and-take relationship with Him and His family, our restored brothers and sisters whom God gave us first in our Baptism. Let us come to the house of God as often as we can to be reconciled with God, our forgiving Father, by asking His pardon and forgiveness, and to enjoy the Eucharistic banquet of reconciliation and acceptance He has prepared for us, His returned prodigal sons and daughters.
3) We need to accept the loving offer of our Heavenly Father: “All I have is yours”.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Robert Frost in “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”)
Faraway hills and forest look green; there are many attractions in life; there are many voices saying to us, “Follow me,” or “Follow your desires and you will find happiness.” But the best and the only real offer of lasting happiness is from God our Father, “All I have is yours.” God our Heavenly Father stands outside our door waiting for us to open it to Him. For the remainder of Lent, let us try to make every effort to answer that invitation from our Heavenly Father, “All I have is yours.” Each Lent offers us sinners a chance to return home with a confession of sins, where we will find His welcome and open-armed love. Such a confession will enable us to hasten toward Easter with the eagerness of Faith and love, and it will make possible the rejoicing which today’s liturgy assures us in our Lord’s words: “There is more joy in Heaven over the one sinner who does penance than over the ninety-nine just who do not need penance.”
JOKE OF THE WEEK: # 1: Sad at prodigal’s return: The Sunday School teacher was explaining the story of the Prodigal Son to his class, clearly emphasizing the resentment the older brother expressed at the return of his brother. When he finished telling the story, he asked the class, “Now who was really sad that the prodigal son had come home?” After a few minutes of silence, one little boy raised his hand and confidently stated, “The fatted calf.”
# 2: “Release this guilty wretch at once!” The Prussian king, Frederick the Great, was once touring a Berlin prison. The prisoners all fell on their knees before him to proclaim their innocence – except for one man, who remained silent. Frederick called to him, “Why are you here?” “Armed robbery, Your Majesty,” was the reply. “And are you guilty?” “Yes indeed, Your Majesty, I deserve my punishment.” Frederick then summoned the jailer and ordered him, “Release this guilty wretch at once. I will not have him kept in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who occupy it!”
# 3: Letter from Prodigal Son? Dear folks, I feel miserable because I have to keep writing for money. I feel ashamed and unhappy to have to ask for another hundred, but every cell in my body rebels. I beg on bended knee that you forgive me. Your son, Marvin. P.S. I felt so terrible I ran after the mailman who picked this up in the box at the corner. I wanted to take this letter and burn it. I prayed that I could get it back. But it was too late. A few days later Marvin received a letter from his father. It said, “Your prayers were answered. Your letter never came!”
# 4: Reconciliation with a hook: An elderly man on the beach found a magic lamp. As he picked it up and started cleaning it, a genie appeared and said: “Because you have freed me I will grant you a wish.” The man responded. “I had a fight with my only and older brother thirty years ago. I want to be reconciled with him so that he may forgive me and start loving me.” The genie said, “I am glad that you did not ask for money or riches. Your wish is granted. Are you sick and about to die?” the genie enquired. “No way!” the man shouted. “But my unmarried, older brother is about to die and he’s worth about $60 million!!”
Websites of the week
- Vatican website: http://w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html
- Monks of the desert video: https://youtu.be/U5YY684ZXDE
- Catholic League: http://www.catholicleague.org/
- Community in mission blog: http://blog.adw.org/author/cpope/
- Church teachings index: http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/teach/index.html
- Catholic liturgy library: http://www.catholicliturgy.com/
- Church cartoons: http://www.toonfever.com/
26 Additional Anecdotes (The prodigal son) for Lent IV [C] Sunday
1) Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son: In 1986 Henri Nouwen, a Dutch theologian and writer, toured St. Petersburg, Russia, the former Leningrad. While there he visited the famous Hermitage where he saw, among other things, Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son. The painting was in a hallway and received the natural light of a nearby window. Nouwen stood for two hours, mesmerized by this remarkable painting. As he stood there the sun changed, and at every change of the light’s angle he saw a different aspect of the painting revealed. He would later write: “There were as many paintings in the Prodigal Son as there were changes in the day.” It is difficult for us to see something new in the parable of the Prodigal son because we have heard the story so often. Yet, I would suggest that just as Henri Nouwen saw a half dozen different facets in Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, so, too, are there many different facets in the story itself.
2) Prodigal son’s prodigal father: The son was a rebel, a college drop-out, a carouser, and a partyer. He smoked, he drank Johnnie-Walker, he was a brawler, and had more run-ins with the law than you would care to count. By his own admission, he was the quintessential prodigal son. Following his 1974 conversion experience, he lived as a committed Christian and was ordained by Grace Community Church (Tempt Arizona), in 1982. Now he carries on the evangelizing work of the most respected, admired, and perhaps famous American of the Twentieth Century, the late Billy Graham (born November 7, 1918, Charlotte, NC; died February 21, 2018, Montreat, NC) . His name is Franklin Graham. Today Franklin Graham not only has a tremendous benevolent ministry called The Samaritan Purse, and has met needs all over the world, but he is now preaching the Gospel just as his Dad did, to thousands and thousands of people. He is where he is today because he had a father who made sure the door was always open.
3) The returned millionaire prodigal: The late Alvin Rogness, a former seminary professor and author of the book When Things Go Wrong, once suggested that he would have told the story of the prodigal son in a slightly different way. He would have had the prodigal go to the far country with his inheritance, but instead of having him squander it, he would have had the prodigal invest it in stocks and bonds . . . He would have him become the richest man in the land. Then, one evening when his fellow citizens had thrown a big banquet in his honor, and with everyone fawning over him, he would have had the prodigal come to himself and say “What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I have done nothing of value with all I have earned, I have only remembered the big I, me, my and mine.”
4) Six years in jail for the returned prodigal: Retired seminary professor Fred B. Craddock was preaching on the parable of the prodigal son. After the service a man said, “I really didn’t care much for that, frankly.” Craddock asked, “What is it you don’t like about it?” He said, “Forgiving that boy was violation of moral responsibility.” Craddock asked, “Well, what would you have done?” The man said, “I think when he came home he should’ve been arrested.” “This fellow was serious,” says Craddock. “He was an attorney.” Craddock thought the man was going to tell him a joke. But he was really serious. This man, according to Craddock, “belonged to this unofficial organization of quality control people or the moral police who gave mandatory sentences and no parole.” Craddock asked the man, “What would you have given the prodigal as his punishment?” The man said, “Six years.” (Craddock Stories (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001). This man working for “quality control” and acting like the “moral police“ wanted the same strict standards that apply to industry and to the law to apply to relationships within the family, as well as to our relationship with God. Would you want this man to be your Dad? Jesus was telling a parable about God. Would you want God to operate with mandatory sentences for doing wrong? Be careful how you answer, for, according to the Bible, all of us have done wrong.
5) Michale Mohr’s prodigal son Jeff: In 1990, Michale Mohr’s son, Jeff, moved to Arizona to work as a computer technician. Michale, back in Portland, Oregon, looked forward to her son’s weekly calls. But after a few years in Arizona, Jeff’s phone calls began to taper off. When Michale’s letters to him were returned, she decided to investigate. Michale found out from Jeff’s friends that he had become addicted to crystal meth, a powerful drug. One day, Jeff had just walked away from his house. No one knew where he was. For the next three years, Michale Mohr made it her mission in life to find her son. She flew back and forth between Oregon and Arizona, canvassing Jeff’s old neighborhood and talking to his friends and associates. The police offered little help. Michale’s quest to find her drug‑addicted son led her into dangerous, run‑down neighborhoods. She witnessed horrible decay and poverty in these drug‑infested hellholes. She faced constant threats to her safety. At one point, she even dressed as a homeless woman in order to relate to the street people she interviewed. Finally, after three years, Michale made contact with someone who knew Jeff. She remembers distinctly the day she found him. Jeff rode up on his bicycle. He had lost weight, his teeth were rotting, he was bruised from a recent beating. But he had ridden on his bicycle for ten miles in the sweltering Arizona heat to find her. They ran into each other’s arms. Jeff had been trying to fight his addiction, but he had been afraid to contact his mother, afraid of how his addiction might hurt her. You will be happy to know that Jeff Mohr moved back to Oregon, got a steady job, and joined Narcotics Anonymous. Michale Mohr’s story appeared in Newsweek magazine [“The Seamier Side of Life” by Michale Mohr, Newsweek (August 18, 1997), p. 14.] It is a story that is all too often repeated in families across our land. And don’t think that Church families are immune to the curse of losing a child to chemical addiction or even to crime.
6) Prodigal girl December’s return: Many years ago, comedian Chonda Pierce met a young woman named December. December’s father was a pastor. December got the message early on that pastor’s children are supposed to be perfect. December knew she would never be good enough for the people at Church. So December began rebelling against her family’s and her Church’s expectations. By her late teens, she was living on the streets. She spent her nights partying, sleeping with any man who caught her eye. Sometimes, she would slip into her parents’ Church during the service, but she always left before anyone could talk to her. After she became pregnant, December decided to return to her parents. She expected shame and condemnation. Instead, December’s parents welcomed her back with open arms. As she says, “The bottom line is that I came back to my family and God because they love me with no strings attached. They forgave me. . . I thought I could do something to make them disown me, but I was wrong.” [Chonda Pierce, It’s Always Darkest Before the Fun Comes Up (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1998), pp. 80-84.]
7) A ghost story: In Henderson County, North Carolina they tell the story of the ghost that haunts Mount Hebron Church Road. People say that on some nights if you travel down Mount Hebron, you might catch the glimpse of a woman, dressed all in black clothes of a style a century old. She seems agitated, and those who have looked into her face say that it is full of sadness and longing. Anyone foolish enough to try and confront her soon realizes that he is all alone on the road. The woman has seemingly vanished. Some believe that the apparition is the ghost of a widow who lost her beloved son in the Civil War. She has never reconciled herself to his death, and so she wanders up and down Mount Hebron Church Road, looking for his carriage, waiting for his return from the battlefields. She is doomed to live out her grief and disappointment every night as she realizes that, once again, her son has not come back. [Carden, Gary and Nina Anderson. Belled Buzzards, Hucksters and Grieving Specters. Appalachian Tales: Strange, True & Legendary (Asheboro, N.C.: Down Home Press, 1994), pp. 5-6.] That’s a simple ghost story, but it is the horror of every parent – a child who does not return home, a child addicted to drugs, or in a destructive relationship, or in jail.
8) Prodigal couple: I once knew a young couple, a husband and wife, who won the grand prize on a TV show called “The One Hundred Thousand Dollar Pyramid.” One night, they showed me a videotape of the show and I saw them there on television, jumping up and down and screaming like people do on game shows. They won more money than they had ever imagined, an American dream come true. But winning all that money really ruined their lives. Whereas they had always lived within their means in the past, now they went out and got dozens of credit cards and ran up enormous debts. By the time I met them, they were about to lose everything they had and were on their way to getting a divorce. I know many people would love the chance to ruin their lives with all that money! Maybe you’d like that chance, too. But remember, this couple was truly sad. They were prodigal children.
9) The prodigal in a pigpen: Writer Tom Mullins in his book The Confidence Factor tells about a friend named Dana who was staying at a rehabilitation center in Indiantown, Florida. Dana was dealing with some destructive issues in his life, so Tom decided to drive out and visit him. As he pulled into the center, Tom was directed to the barn where Dana was working. When Tom found him, Dana was standing knee‑deep in a pigpen with a large can of feed under his arm. He was covered in mud from impatient pigs scurrying to be fed. What a scene. Here was this successful businessman, who was usually well dressed, standing in the thick stench of a muddy pen, feeding pigs on a brutally hot day.
As Tom watched Dana clomp through the mud, he couldn’t help but think about the story of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son had squandered his inheritance, only to find himself sleeping in a pigpen, eating with the swine. Tom says he was overwhelmed at the thought of the miracle God wanted to do through Dana’s life. Tom got out of the car, walked into the muddy stench, and hugged Dana. He told him he loved him and was proud of his efforts to know God and to work through some of the challenges in his life.
Eventually, Dana got his life turned around and his marriage restored. Today, he runs a ministry where hundreds of people find healing and restoration through the power of Christ. Dana was abused as a child. He would be the first to tell you that the key to dealing with the pain and abuse of his childhood was getting his life refocused on God. For years, he tried to mask his pain with alcohol and drugs. He was dealing with his hurt in isolation, decreasing his chances of keeping his life intact. The pigpen experience forced his focus off himself. Once he learned how to trust God with his hurt, he gained confidence to take action and rescue the things that mattered most to him. [The Key to Developing the Winning Edge in Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), pp. 130-131.] My friends, you and I need to refocus our lives on God. Whether we’ve strayed only a few baby steps away from God or have taken our inheritance into the far country, the key to regaining our lives is to lose them in trusting God in all things.
10) The prodigal Cherry Sisters: Back in 1893 there was a group of four sisters, the Cherry Sisters they called themselves, who made their stage debut in Cedar Rapids in a skit they wrote themselves. For three years, the Cherry Sisters performed to packed theaters throughout the Midwest. People came to see them to find out if they were as bad as they had heard. Their unbelievably atrocious acting enraged critics and provoked the audience to throw vegetables at the would-be actresses. Wisely, the sisters thought it best to travel with an iron screen which they would erect in front of the stage in self-defense.
Amazingly, in 1896 the girls were offered a thousand dollars a week to perform on Broadway — not because they were so good, but because they were so unbelievably bad. Seven years later, after the Cherry Sisters had earned what in that day was a respectable fortune of $200,000, they retired from the stage for the peaceful life back on the farm. Oddly enough, these successful Broadway “stars” remained convinced to the end that they were truly the most talented actresses ever to grace the American stage. They never had a clue as to how bad they truly were!
11) The prodigal father: Perhaps you’ve seen Bill Watterson’s cartoon strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is a little boy with an overactive imagination and a stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who comes to life as his imaginary friend. In one cartoon strip, Calvin turns to his friend Hobbes and says, “I feel bad I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I’m sorry I did that.” Hobbes replies, “Maybe you should apologize to her.” Calvin thinks about it for a moment and then responds, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.” We have trouble accepting those whom God accepts because we take God’s acceptance for granted and God’s forgiveness as our right.
12) Prodigal son: In 1973, Tony Orlando recorded the song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree.” It became the number one hit record for the year, became Tony Orlando’s theme song and grew into an American anthem of hope and homecoming, reunion and renewal. We have used it (and its yellow ribbon symbol) to welcome home soldiers, POW’s, hostages and lost children. The song was probably inspired by the following story. A young man is on a train. He seems deeply troubled, nervous, anxious, afraid, fighting back the tears. An older man seated beside him senses that something is wrong and he asks the younger man if he is all right. The young man, needing to talk, blurts out his story: Three years before, after an argument with his father one evening, the young man had run away from home! He had chased back and forth across the country looking for freedom and happiness and with every passing day had become more miserable. Finally, it dawned on him that more than anything he wanted to go home. Home was where he wanted to be, but he didn’t know how his parents felt about him now. After all, he had hurt them deeply. He had said some cruel, callous things to his father. He had left an arrogant note on his pillow. He wouldn’t blame them if they never wanted to see him again. He had written ahead that he would be passing by their back yard on the afternoon train on this day and if they forgave him, if they wanted to see him, if they wanted him to come home to tie a white rag on the crab apple tree in the back yard. If the white rag were there, he would get off the train and come home; if not, he would stay on the train and stay out of their lives forever.
Just as the young man finished his story, the train began to slow down as it pulled into the town where his family lived. Tension was high, so much so that the young man couldn’t bear to look. The older man said: “I’ll watch for you. You put your head down and relax; close your eyes. I’ll watch for you.” As they came to the old home place, the older man looked and then touched the young man excitedly on the shoulder and said: “Look, son, look! You can go home! You can go home! There’s a white rag on every limb!” Isn’t that a great story? The truth is: that powerful story is simply a modern re-telling of the greatest short story in history, namely, Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The story was probably inspired by the Parable of the prodigal son.
13) “How can I be lost if I’m with you?” Grandpa and his granddaughter were out for a walk one day when Grandpa realized they had walked a whole lot farther than their normal walks. He asked his granddaughter, “Do you know here we are?” The girl said, “No!” “Do you know how to get home?” Again the girl said, “No!” Then Grandpa asked, “If you don’t know where you are or how to get home, does that mean you’re lost?” The girl said, “No, Grandpa! How can I be lost if I’m with you?”
14) Prodigal student: Brady Whitehead, chaplain of Lambuth University in Tennessee, tells the true story of a student whose parents were tragically killed in an accident. This student suddenly became the beneficiary of the estate. According to Brady, he started squandering the money on lavish trips. He would even invite other students to go along at his expense. He was spending the money so fast that Brady called him into his office one day and had a talk with him. He said that as Chaplin of the school he felt it was his responsibility to question his spending habits. The student responded: “But what you don’t understand is just how much money I have inherited.” “Well, that may be so,” said Brady, “but even to a large estate there comes an end.” Well, the student did not listen, and Brady revealed that by the time he graduated from Lambuth, all of his parent’s money was gone.
15) “He nearly killed the prodigal son!” A teenager came to his pastor for advice: “I left home,” said the boy, “and did something that will make my dad furious when he finds out. What should I do?” The minister thought for a moment and replied, “Go home and confess your sin to your father, and he’ll probably forgive you and treat you like the prodigal son.” Sometime later the boy reported to the minister, “Well, I told Dad what I did.” “And did he kill the fatted calf for you?” asked the minister. “No,” said the boy, “but he nearly killed the prodigal son!”
16) “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry.” In the book, Love Story by Eric Segal a Harvard graduate, and a professor at Yale, Jennifer and Oliver have their first serious fight as newlyweds. Jennifer runs from the apartment and disappears. She has tried to build a bridge of reconciliation between her husband and his father … and Oliver in anger tells her to get out of his life. Suddenly, Oliver realizes he has hurt her deeply, but she is gone! Frantically he rushes to the old familiar places searching for her. All the while she becomes more beloved to him in the emptiness of estrangement. Searching fruitlessly, he becomes increasingly frightened at what he has done to hurt her … and he hurts because of hurting her. Finally, having run out of places to look, he dejectedly returns to the apartment. It is very late. But unbelievably she is sitting on the front steps. He hurries to her and begins to express his sorrow for hurting her. She replies: “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry.” That is a beautiful and ideal thought in its own way although it is not an adequate definition of love.
17) “I specialize in misdemeanors!”: While working as a court-appointed attorney, Emory Potter was assigned a client who had been accused of criminal trespass. Mr. Potter probed his client with some general questions of background. He asked if he had any previous arrests or convictions. The man ashamedly said, “Yes, sir. I’ve got quite a few.” The thorough attorney then asked, “Any felonies?” The man indignantly replied, “No sir! I specialize in misdemeanors!” (Readers’ Digest, December 1992, p. 18. Cited in In Other Words). That sounds like many of us. We know in our minds that we are sinners, but we “specialize in misdemeanors not in felonies,“ in small sins not in large ones. In our minds, ours are excusable sins. We are like the Pharisee who thanked God he wasn’t like the tax collector. His sins fell within a range of acceptability.
18) “Momma, I’m sorry I was so naughty”: Roy Angell once told a beautiful story about a widow during the First World War who lost her only son and her husband. She was especially bitter because her neighbor, who had five sons, lost none of them. One night while this woman’s grief was so terribly severe, she had a dream. An angel stood before her and said, “You might have your son back again for ten minutes. What ten minutes would you choose? Would you have him back as a little baby, a dirty-faced little boy, a schoolboy just starting to school, a student just completing high school, or as the young soldier who marched off so bravely to war?” The mother thought a few minutes and then, in her dream, told the angel she would choose none of those times. “Let me have him back,” she said, “when as a little boy, in a moment of anger, he doubled up his fists and shook them at me and said, ’I hate you! I hate you!” Continuing to address the angel, she said: “In a little while his anger subsided and he came back to me, his dirty little face stained with tears, and put his arms around me. He said, ‘Momma, I’m sorry I was so naughty. I promise never to be bad again and I love you with all my heart.’ Let me have him back then,” the mother sobbed. “I never loved him more than at that moment when he changed his attitude and came back to me.” [Roy Angell, Shields of Brass, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1965), pp. 70]. Jesus said that this is how God feels about each of us.
19) “Reestablish your Faith.” Bruce Kimball was a 1984 Silver Medalist in the Olympics. Bruce was involved in an accident sometime back. We are told he was intoxicated at the time. Two people were killed. Bruce withdrew from life because of that tragedy. He was depressed. He secluded himself in a trailer home with his father. He had the shades drawn. He turned inward. He was feeling sorry for himself. He could not sleep at night. Just to pass time he would sit and watch television all night long until he couldn’t hold his eyes open any longer. He would fall asleep from emotional as well as physical exhaustion. A close friend came to see him. Bruce said, “I don’t want to see anybody. I don’t want to talk to anybody.” This friend walked in anyway, looked at Bruce and said three words, “Reestablish your Faith.” That’s all he said, “Reestablish your Faith.” Through those words Bruce Kimball took stock of his life and became a changed man. (As told by Motivational Speaker, Les Brown)
20) Tiger Woods, “I thought, ‘I can use whatever I have, to get whatever I want.’ Today, I realized that this is a wrong philosophy. I messed up my life. I want to return to my religion.”
21) “Why can’t you be reconciled to one another?” Elsa Joseph was a Jewish woman who was cut off from her two children, both girls, during the Second World War. Years later, she discovered that both of her daughters had been gassed at Auschwitz. A former concert violinist, Elsa’s response to this tragic news was to pick up her violin and go and play it in Germany. And there in the halls of the homeland of her children’s murderers, she played her violin and told her story that cried out to Heaven for vengeance. But she did not seek vengeance. She spoke of the world’s deep need for reconciliation and forgiveness, without which it was tearing itself apart. “If I, a Jewish mother, can forgive what happened,” she said to her audiences not only in Germany, but in Northern Ireland and in Lebanon and in Israel, “then why can you not sink your differences and be reconciled to one another?” In today’s Scripture lessons an overwhelmingly merciful, compassionate, and forgiving God challenges us with the same question. (Homily Outlines).
22) Inability to forgive: The singing career of Grammy award winner Marvin Gaye ended in tragedy on April 1, 1983. He was shot to death by his own father. Gaye’s close friend David Ritz wrote Gaye’s biography a year later. He called it Divided Soul. Gaye was indeed a divided soul. He was part artist and part entertainer, part sinner and part saint, part macho man and part gentleman. Gaye’s childhood was tormented by cruelty inflicted upon him by his father. Commenting on the effect this had on Gaye, Ritz says of his friend: “He really believed in Jesus a lot, but he could never apply the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness to his own father. In the end it destroyed them both.” That story of an unforgiving father and his son contrasts sharply with the story of the forgiving father and his son, which Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. And the contrast between the two stories spotlights a growing problem in modern society. It is the inability or unwillingness of people to forgive one another. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
23) Forgive and be forgiven: Some time ago a woman wrote a letter to Ann Landers describing the terrible relationship that once existed between her and her brother. It took the death of their father to get her to forgive him and to treat him as a brother again. Sometime after their reconciliation, her brother had a heart attack and died in her arms. She ends her letter with this moving paragraph. “I am grateful for the years we had together, but I could scream when I think of all the years we missed because we were too bull-headed and short sighted to try to get along. Now he is gone, and I am heartsick.” Today’s readings are an invitation to review the relationships in our lives and to bring them into line with Jesus’ teachings. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
24) The Prodigal Father: Matt Houston is a television program about a wealthy Texan now turned private investigator. The first episode provides the background of Matt Houston’s life. His mother had died giving birth to him. His father was so depressed by her death that he gave up Matt for adoption to his closest friend. The father then drifted away, eventually becoming an alcoholic and a criminal. Many years later he found out that Matt’s life was being threatened because of a case he was working on. So, the father returned to warn him. As the story unfolds, their true relationship is revealed. At first Matt refuses to accept his real father. But when the father steps in front of a bullet aimed for his son, Matt’s eyes are opened and he realizes how much his father loves him. The story ends with the father dying in his son’s arms – forgiven by his son Matt and embraced in love. This television story is really an adaptation of today’s Gospel parable, except that the roles are reversed. In the Gospel story told by Jesus it was a son who went away and wasted his life, only to return and be forgiven by his father. In the Matt Houston story, it was the father who went away and wasted his life, only to return and be reconciled with his son. Both versions show us what a magnificent love there is between parents and children, and, consequently, how boundless God’s love is for us. In his book Rediscovering the Parables, Joachim Jeremias says that the Prodigal Son story tells us with impressive simplicity what God is like – a God of incredible goodness, grace and mercy. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
25) Truth shall prevail: Brinsley Mc Namara wrote a classic story called The Valley of the Squinting Windows. It is a great read, and is available today, many decades later. He came from a very rural area of Ireland, and he was well known because his father was a teacher in the local school. When the story was published, everybody in that small village recognized himself or herself among the characters of the story. This led to public outrage in McNamara’s hometown, while the rest of the country was avidly reading the book! The book was burned in public, his family had to leave town, and, to this day, his name still evokes strong reactions among many of the people of that town. What he wrote was too close to the bone. If he had written a book about the people of some other town, he probably would have been hailed as the local literary hero. To this day none of his descendants would dare return to their roots in that town. That town did, in a symbolic way, take McNamara outside the town, and throw him over a cliff. (Jack McArdle in And that’s the Gospel Truth; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
26) Why not forgive him?” The story is told about a soldier during combat. He was drinking heavily and was a constant menace to his comrades. His commanding officer had had him on the carpet several times. But on this occasion, he was ready to throw the book at him. Said the colonel to his lieutenant, “I have given him every break.” The officer responded, “Sir, you have punished him and it hasn’t worked. Why not forgive him?” The colonel accepted the advice. To the soldier he said, “I have punished you many times. Punishment has not worked. This time I am going to forgive you. Your many offences will be removed from your personnel folder.” The soldier, who had expected a court martial, broke down and wept. More to the point, he never drank again. (Fr. Tony Kayala) L/19
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No. 18) by Fr. Tony: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit this website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at email@example.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.