Dear Parishioners and Friends,
One of the three parables told by Jesus in this week’s Gospel is one of his more famous ones – usually called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. So, what does the word “prodigal” mean? I found two definitions: The first says that it means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly.” This would certainly fit the description of the younger son. The second definition says “having or giving something on a lavish scale.” Wouldn’t this fit the description of the father? And it’s the father’s actions upon his lost son’s return that sometimes gives the title of this parable “The Prodigal Father.” But really, all three figures in the parable – the father as well as his two sons – who play significant roles, and all three are necessary for Jesus to make his point.
For me, this parable conjures up images of great theater. I think of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and his two sons, Biff and Happy. I also think of Frank Barone and his sons Robert and Raymond in “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Much of that classic television sitcom dealt with the never-ending sibling rivalry between Robert and Raymond, much of it riotously funny but sometimes quite real and touching. One such example is the episode titled “Boys’ Therapy” in which the three wives (Marie, Deborah and Amy) urge the men to get counseling to work out their angry differences. But instead of going to the therapist’s office they go to the race track. In between races, they get into some honest heart-to-heart conversation about their father-and-son relationships. In the end, they come to a much needed and greater understanding of themselves and the way they relate to each other – not to mention some significant winnings, especially after betting on a horse named “Marie’s Mouth.” Get the connection?
Sibling rivalry is certainly an important element in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Obviously, the two brothers were quite competitive, as brothers often are. They were competitive with each other, but also competitive for their father’s affections. But in a beautifully constructed story line, Jesus emphasizes the extraordinary prodigal love of the father, who couldn’t bear to live without either of them.
Jesus presents us with an image of God that some folks find difficult to accept. For them, their image of God is that of a mean disciplinarian, just waiting to catch them up and punish them for even the slightest perceived offense. Unfortunately, over the course of time, the Church has only reinforced this image with its teachings on sin. But the parable shows us that we don’t need to be perfect in order to receive the Father’s love. We don’t have to earn that love; we just need to recognize our need for it and accept it without always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Perhaps the most important lesson here might be our need to learn how to live with our own imperfections as well as the imperfections of others. Even more importantly, we must try not to allow those imperfections to stand in the way of knowing how much we are loved by a Father who will never, ever, stop loving us.
Blessings on your week ahead.
Fr. Tim Shreenan, O.F.M.
On this September 11th, we remember with love all those who were lost on 9/11/01 during the tragic terrorist attack on the United States. Our memories are seared with the images of that day, and we continue to grieve for the thousands who did not go home on what should have been an ordinary Tuesday in September: the workers in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon; the passengers on four airliners; the hundreds of first responders who bravely sacrificed their lives for the safety of others.
We were all changed that day forever. Our task now is to continue, not only to honor the memory of those we lost, but also to protect and defend our democracy and the freedoms we all treasure.