Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Great Question

Some weeks back, this questions was posted, "I wonder how many times is the Prodigal allowed to return?".

This is a great question, “Why?”. Because it allows us to focus, not on our understanding of mercy and compassion but on God's infinite mercy and compassion. The simple answer is- there is no limit to the mercy, acceptance, empathy, generosity of our Prodigal Father. I like to take my cue from Henry Nowen’s book, "The Return of the Prodigal Son" [that book radically changed my understanding of the sacrament of reconciliation and my own understanding of what it means to be the beloved]. In his book, Nowen points out it is the love of the Father which is prodigal. You and I are the rebellious son and the resentful son as well [this is also read as rebellious daughter and resentful daughter]. Both are living and at war within each one of us every day. So also is the presence of the Prodigal Father. All three are dwelling within the cave of our souls. In our rebellion, we leave the home where we are loved with a reckless love. We move off to a far off land. In that far off land, seeking what we have left behind. We can rent, at a price, but can never find a home to be at home in. Yet it is in that far off place away from the comfort of home, in a moment of clarity, which always comes to us in pain, we are reminded of who we are, where we are and what we have left behind. So, we make a u-ee and head back knowing we will be received as the rebellious son was, with a reception beyond our imagination and expectation.

The rebellious son just wanted to return. He wanted to become one of the hired hands, with no relationship to the family. The father wanted none of that. He placed him right back into his inheritance. I am sure to the consternation of the resentful son. Being returned to his rightful place came responsibility. The rebellious son will one day have to be as his father, is. This is going to take a great deal of hard work, patience and perseverance. His plan was to practice "the spirituality of evasion". Evasion does not bring out the best in us. And so, the father said "no". He wanted the best for his son and so he would not allow him, as the son wished. He not only wants everything that is good for his beloved son, but what is BEST for his beloved.


The Prodigal Father is the incarnation of Paul's words on love, "Love is patient, love is kind, love takes no offense and is not resentful". These qualities of love defined what the father of the parable is. He is patient with his rebellious son. When he returns, there are no questions like, "Why did you do this to me? Look, I gave you a lot, what more could I have done?" "So you could not wait for me to die, so you could get your share and waste it." The love of the father is not resentful, only accepting. Down the road, what a wonderful gift the son has to share with those who will need a love that is patient, kind, and takes no offense.

Here is what the anonymous author of "The Cloud of Unknowing" wrote many centuries ago,

"I believe...that our Lord deliberately chooses to work in those that have been habitual sinners rather than in those who, by comparison, have never grieved Him at all. Yes, He seems to do this very often. For I think He wants us to realize that He is all merciful and all mighty and He is perfectly free to work as He pleases, where He pleases and when He pleases."

I have read that passage over and over so as to get the full brunt of the meaning. It is always like a splash of cold water in the July Arizona heat. It cleans, refreshes and encourages. It strengthens, it vivifies, it frees up something inside. This will provide a new strength, and a new hope. We will have a new strength for a new phase of the journey we are on. We will have the strength to carry on.

A dreamer's journey continues...