Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32. The Prodigal: Which Brother Are We?

I once heard a friend repeat a quote by the author Katherine Mansfield: If you wish to live, you must first attend your own funeral.”

How true. We begin to live life perceptively only when we project ourselves to the time of our own death, imagining how we’ve lived our life and wondering whether we’ve met the mark.

Depending on our frame of mind, and perspective on life, we may not include the spiritual in our self-assessment, or, only give it a passing thought. That is why Mansfield’s phrase may be viewed as spiritually deficient.

In today’s Gospel on the parable of the Prodigal Son there are family members that Jesus is requiring us to understand. The behavior of these people, the father and the two sons, provokes four questions. Questions not so much about our secular situation but our spiritual – our relation to God, and, each other.

At first glance, the younger son impresses us as an individual who is quite selfish. When he requests his inheritance from his father, he isn’t just asking for the cash, he is in effect saying to his father: “I want to live my life now and without any strings attached. To me you’re unimportant, this family is unimportant. Just let me get on with my life and give me my share right now.”

Are we living in  a way that categorizes God? Are we willing to acknowledge  Him only because we want to get something out of Him? Do we play upon His charity and generosity?

If this is so, if we have the younger son’s attitude, we end up like him – swimming with the pigs.  What will be our inheritance? It will undoubtedly be spiritual poverty and secular discontent. Sadly, sometimes people understand this only in the last few months of their life, or, in the moments right before their death.

Jesus is teaching us that the prodigal son was only able to enter into a state of recovery when he “attended his own funeral.” When he was able to perceive his own personal endpoint, his own material and spiritual poverty. He was finally able to admit that he was grievously wrong only when this realization slammed into his consciousness.

His new perception demanded that he learn the root causes of his problem, reject his worldly self, and humbly ask for repentance. He needed to realize that his father and family were all important to his happiness. This required acceptance of and humbly requesting his father’s mercy and love.

This perception did not demand psychoanalysis. He did not need years of therapy on a psychologist’s couch. He had the intelligence to figure it out because he confronted himself as he truly was and extended that personal analysis to his family and surroundings. He acknowledged his sins, and how truly needy he was of his father’s love and mercy.

We are half way through the Season of Lent. Like the younger son, have we confronted our own faults, our lack of perception, and yes – our own sins?

The Prodigal says: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.”

This is the turning point in the Prodigal’s life. It can also be ours.

Improvement begins with a decision to change the way we do things, the way we behave and perceive reality, both in a secular and spiritual sense. If you are a Western Rite Catholic, this is accomplished in three ways: Sacramental Confession, prayer, and resolution of purpose. Reconciliation is always possible. Our God is a God of justice, but also, a God of infinite familial love and mercy.

Do we behave like the younger son or the elder son? Are our hearts cold?

What the younger son ultimately accepts the elder son initially rejects. At first, the elder son resents the generosity of the father’s love – he resents the generosity of the act of forgiveness. It appears that he is unable to accept his repentant brother or his generous father.

Does this, in any way, apply to us? Do we ignore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s love for us; do we resent people who have converted, changed their spiritual way of life? Or do we continue to judge them as if they were still enveloped by their sins? Do we verbalize our resentment or question their repentance? Are we unwilling to repent of these attitudes? Are our hearts cold?

I am a sinner and you are a sinner. There are very few people on this earth that are living saints. Regardless of whether our sins are small or large, visible or hidden, it is paramount that we remember the words of St. Paul: God the Father “reconciles us to Himself [through the passion and death of His Son] and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21).

We need to take stock of ourselves this Lenten season, repent and return to the Father’s embrace. This can only be done through the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation – a Sacrament made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-illustration-for-the-life-of-christ1.jpglarge
Painting by James Tissot (French; 1836 – 1902). “Return of the Prodigal Son.”

Thank you for reading this post.

 Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God is a God of Compassion

“God of all compassion, Father of all goodness,

to heal the wounds our sins and selfishness bring upon us

You bid us turn to fasting, prayer, and sharing with our brothers and sisters.

We acknowledge our sinfulness, our guilt is ever before us;

when our weakness causes discouragement,

let your compassion fill us with hope

and lead us through a Lent of repentance to the beauty of Easter joy.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.”*    Amen.

 

*Roman Breviary – Vol. 2; Third Sunday of Lent, Evening Prayer I, Closing Prayer, pg. 210.

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Detail_Father_Son

Rembrandt-The_return_of_the_prodigal_son
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.

Luke: 16: 19-31 – Is Lazarus in Your House?

This passage from the Gospel of St. Luke is a parable about a destitute man named Lazarus and a rich man, who at times is called by the name Dives (the word dives in the Latin Bible refers to a “rich man”).

Jesus places Lazarus sitting day after day by the rich man’s front door. Lazarus is sick. He is at Dives’ home hoping to receive a scrap of food from his table. The food never comes.

Jesus continues to tell the story which culminates in the death of both men and their subsequent judgment.  Lazarus is welcomed into Paradise and is seen talking to Abraham, while Dives is condemned to the flames of Hell hoping for a drop of water to quench his thirst.

The parable concludes with Abraham rejecting Dives’ wish that someone from Paradise will inform his relatives of his eternal sentence in an attempt to get them to change their way of life.

Abraham says that it is fruitless: “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

You see its not just the issue of Dives, as a fellow human being, not providing nourishment and solace to Lazarus. It is the fact that Dives does not even acknowledge Lazarus. He and his servants pass him every day with no perception, no acknowledgement, no understanding, no charity.

How many times have we done that to men and women standing at intersections, asking for a scrap that falls from our table. We get uncomfortable at the thought that they are there. Irritated at bad government decisions that pushed them out on the street, supposedly to be helped by the social justice safety nets; nets filled with holes. I saw a woman today holding a sign that said “I need a miracle.” There was no exclamation point or happy face penned next to it.

Lazarus may be outside our front door, or, even in the house.

Question: are we passing by people in our own family who are in need? The neighbor who lives next door? A member of our parish? Are we passing by Jesus Christ?

Lent is the natural time to reflect on how well we remember and assist, in some small way, those around us who are in need. It may be financial help, or it might just be they need someone to talk to.

Upon reflection, we may find ourselves missing the mark, even committing sins of omission. Let’s remember that, unlike Dives, we still have time to do something about it.

300px-Meister_des_Codex_Aureus_Epternacensis_001
“Meister des Codex Aureus of Echternach” (the Master’s Golden Book of Echternach) – a page from this illuminated Gospel created in the mid 11th century. When seen by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III, it stimulated him to commission similar manuscripts from the Abbey of Echternach (Germany).

 

My thanks to Rev. Msgr. Anthony Mancini, Pastor of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, Providence, Rhode Island USA, for stimulating this blog post.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved.

A Most Amicable Teacher – The Insights of Artist Robert Henri

One of the great pleasures of life is discovering and becoming friends with people who have a similar philosophy of life – especially when it comes to understanding truth, goodness, and beauty.

Some of us may have been fortunate to have had the experience of great teachers in our lives. In my junior year of high school I experienced  teachers of English and history who opened up for me the nature of those two subjects and introduced me to the idea of inquisitive scholarship. On an undergraduate level I remember three teachers in particular – one in comparative literature, the second in physical and cultural anthropology, and the third in the philosophy of education that definitely influenced my own desire to someday walk into a classroom and teach my own class.

I spent thirty years in the field of education. Two of those years were in an administrative role, and twenty-eight were in the classroom. During that time I had the opportunity to study not only the philosophy of education but implement it as well.

In the process of the great adventure of being a classroom teacher, you come across individuals and books that have a marvelous impact on your own style and understanding of the art and craft of becoming a quality teacher.  For example, Gilbert Highet, first introduced me to viewing teaching as an art, and the truth that all who desired to be great teachers must become artists of their craft. Another who molded my teaching behavior (literally like a potter molding a vase) was Haim Ginott. Listen to this beautiful and critical phrase which discusses the power that a teacher has over the lives of their students (from his book Teacher and Child):

“I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

Another teacher that influenced me was Robert Henri. As artists we may all benefit from the wisdom of Henri. He was an influential artist, art teacher, and critical force in the American art community during the early 20th century. Henri died before I was born, yet, in reading his wonderful book The Art Spirit, published in 1923, I find a kindred spirit, a brother in arms, our weapons: our brushes, our helmets: our words that inspire others to see themselves as artists.

Allow these paragraphs from his The Art Spirit  to roll around inside your mind and touch your heart:

“Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his [or her] kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he [or she] opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he [or she] opens it, shows there are still more pages possible. Art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.”

So, Henri implores us to see ourselves as artists; to see ourselves as people who desire to create beauty, express truth as we understand it, and to always keep the book open – in a spirit of charity and goodness. Robert Henri can teach us a great deal. He continues to teach and prod me to create everyday. Maybe he will touch your mind and heart, too.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Photo of Robert Henri courtesy of the Parrish Art Museum:http://www.parrishart.org/.

The Demons Say “We Are Legion.” Jesus says “Trust Me.”

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain the story of the demoniac from the territory in northern Israel called the land of the Gerasenes. They describe the fact that the demons had united within this man for a specific purpose – to torment this poor sinner and to terrorize the countryside with demonic power so concentrated – that the evil was unable to be controlled.

Unclean spirits fueled the demoniac’s actions; and as Jesus steps out of the boat onto the shore the demoniac immediately confronts Jesus and the demons within him beg to be left alone.

Jesus enters into dialogue with the possessed man. He asks him his name, and the demons respond, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The disciples, hearing this response would have been horrified because a legion, at that time, was no small force – in the Roman army a legion encompassed  6,000 soldiers.

What’s left of the possessed man’s free will had run toward the Lord – and the psalmist tells us to do the same because they both realize who God is, the magnitude of His power and mercy, and that true healing, security, and protection from evil can only be found under His protection.

 

Psalm 91 alludes to this, and uses military language to express its message as it says: “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but [evil] will not come near you Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation.”

At times, our technologically driven society has desensitized us to the wonder of Jesus’ mercy, or, like the people in the city – upon hearing of the demoniac’s healing – recoil from Mercy’s power. Like them we may be satisfied with our own circumstances, we may feel that we do not need to be healed or evangelized, that we don’t need the grace of God’s mercy in the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Recon-ciliation,  what an extraordinary mistake – what a rejection of God’s grace that would be for us.

Perhaps we are afraid to pay the price of liberation from the power of evil in our lives. Yet, what is the cost to us? Is it the cost of being healed of our sins? The true cost was paid by Jesus Christ in His suffering and death upon the Cross.

The cost, having been paid by the Son, provides the opportunity for the Father and the Holy Spirit to freely give us the grace that Christ has merited for us. The only thing that Jesus requests of the healed demoniac is that he go home and give witness. Jesus says,  “Go home to your friends, and [and in thanks] tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.”

The only price that needs to be paid is the price of thankful witness – the price of unselfconsciously showing others that we have turned away from evil – and that God has changed our lives through the power of His grace and mercy.

The freed and healed demoniac was asked to evangelize his friends, and we, are asked to do the same. Interestingly, the territory of the Ten Cities – the Decapolis – which were primarily Greek and pagan territories was an extraordinarily difficult missionary area. The now healed man was asked to go into that territory – to those Ten Cities –and preach to them of his healing and deliverance. He was, in no uncertain terms, a missionary – a missionary to the Gentile people of the Decapolis. It appears that he was successful, because, Mark (in his Gospel’s 7th  chapter, vs. 31ff) speaks of the hopeful crowds from the Ten Cities bringing Jesus another man to be healed.

So what is the final message of this Gospel for us today? It may be that even though, thank God, we may not be possessed by one or thousands of demons, we are still tempted, we fall, and we do sin.

So we are always in need of God’s mercy – and after repenting of our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness, mercy, and healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we need to give thanks to the Lord; and like the healed demoniac, share the story of our spiritual journey, healing,  and God’s love for us with all those who will listen.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved