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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ in the Wilderness: Lent – the Season of Preparation – Luke 4: 1-2.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. (Gospel of Luke chapter 4: verses 1-2)

In the extraordinary painting  below, we see Jesus after He was led into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He is surrounded by rocks and sand. He sits on a boulder, hands in front of Him. His eyes are filled with the knowledge of reality, of passions, power, and pain, ego and emptiness, sin and self aggrandizement.

This painting may move us from the awareness that in the desert wilderness Jesus is not only thinking through His ministry, Passion, and death but is also viewing our lives – our ministries, our passions, our death.

What do we see?

Let us examine His face.

christ_in_the_wilderness_detail_400

We see the seriousness of the forthcoming temptations; the physical, mental, and the spiritually violent struggle with the devil. It is written plainly upon His emaciated face.

We see the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.

We see that He is like unto us, except for sin.

This is the face of our Savior; but the victory is not His, yet.

His temptations, public ministry, Passion, and death are still to occur.

What do we see?

We see a man who knows His Mind. He knows His Body, Soul, and Spirit.

He knows His freely accepted duty to accomplish His Father’s will.

This is not the face of a defeated man. It is the face of a determined man who is also Lord and Savior.

**679px-Kramskoi_Christ_dans_le_désert

Observe Christ’s clenched hands, gaze deeply into His eyes, and you will see the artist’s portrayal of a Savior that is already, at the beginning of His ministry, aware of the viciousness of the tempter and the burden of our sins. Sins accepted by Him, and through His Passion and death, makes all things new.

christ_in_the_wilderness_detail_400

Jesus had to confront in that desert assault whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission.

The Gospel passage above challenges us with the same questions: are we going to be faithful to the Commandments, to our Baptismal promises, to the mission given us in Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us?

Are we going to be faithful to the spiritual power and grace given to us, not just when we feel like it, but even in the most difficult of circumstances?

As disciples of Christ we are on a daily basis constantly revolving around the axis of temptation and sin – faith and grace. We understand that temptation, in and of itself, is a test – it is not sin. It is only sin when we willfully place ourselves in its shackles, when we give into its fueled power to overwhelm our body and soul. That power  – a deadly power – obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter and liar – Lucifer himself.

Hell is real. It is not a mental construct. To say that it doesn’t exist is to call Jesus a liar, and His Passion, death, and Resurrection meaningless.

Jesus the Christ lived heroically in the face of Hell’s demons and witnessed to the power of God’s grace.

But you say, I am not Jesus Christ, I am a weak man or woman, boy or girl.

I say true, we all are; but by virtue of our faithful reception of the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) of Reconciliation (Penance/Confession) and the Holy Eucharist we have the power of Christ’s grace within us. A power, freely given by God and unmerited by us, to resist and overcome temptation and sin.

If we do sin – if we do “miss the mark” – we have a remedy.  We follow St. Paul’s advice: pick yourself up, dust yourself off (confess your sins), and confidently continue on your journey. We must do our part in cooperation with God’s love and mercy.

The Season of Lent is a time of joyful repentance, prayer, and fasting.

Let’s remember the  words of Nehemiah, who in the Hebrew Scriptures says: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength! (Nehemiah 8: 9-10. 5th century BC)

***

The painting above was created and completed in the late 19th century by Ivan Kramskoi. He was a gifted Russian painter, noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher. The painting is entitled Christ in the Wilderness.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Portions of this essay may be used in accordance with correct notation and bibliographical insertion; contact deaconiacono@icloud.com for more information or questions.

Paul in Arabia and Damascus

Galatians 1:15-18 relates St. Paul saying: “But when God, who had set me apart from the time when I was in my mother’s womb, called me through His grace and chose to reveal His Son in me, so that I should preach Him to the Gentiles, I was in no hurry to confer with any human being, or to go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me. Instead I went off into Arabia, and later I came back to Damascus. Only after three years did I go up to Jerusalem to meet Cephas (Peter). I stayed fifteen days with him.”

St. Paul’s wanderings were not without profit. Galatians, being the first Epistle after Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, relates Paul’s working through how his life had changed since his theophany of Jesus Christ. It relates his plan for spreading the Good News, debating issues of Jewish Law, and invoking all to live in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Time undoubtedly was spent praying about how the Lord was working in his life, what the Lord was requesting of him, future plans, settling up business affairs in Damascus,  and other large and small personal issues.

We all go through periods similar to those just described by St. Paul. So has it been for me. No theophany was experienced (!) but personal and medical issues have had their affect. The lessons learned echoes what is read in the first chapter of Galatians. I am better for it. For all types of adversities are allowed by the Lord, not because He wants us to suffer, but “to burnish us,” to make us shine with the virtues of fortitude, humility, and patient endurance. As the Saint says: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit…”

I see from the subscription list that this blog site has not lost any subscribers, in fact over the last two years of inactivity it has increased in membership. Thank you! I have plans for new posts for the upcoming months, specifically a series on the spirituality and virtues of Beato Fra Angelico and how they influenced his art. Are the virtues of a 15th century Italian Dominican priest transferable to us? I believe so, because, in reality, they are based on the Beatitudes that all Christians, regardless of Rite or denomination, hold dear.

May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Thanks, talk to you soon.img_2151The above sacred image is an unfinished copy of St. Paul based on St. Andrei Rublev’s masterpiece. It is being painted by Deacon Paul O. Iacono. It is egg tempera on a gessoed wood panel.

Copyright © 2011- 2017 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Apocalypse and Christian Duty – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

It has been said that we are living between times – between Advents – in the times between Christ’s first coming – as an infant in the manger, and His second coming – as Lord and Judge of this earth. Our Scriptures challenge us today – the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – with an important question: “Do my actions in public and private indicate that I am a disciple of Christ, dutifully preparing to meet the Lord?”

You see, we could spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out the signs of the times, discussing this visionary and that seer, trying to determine whether or not we are in the actual last days before the Second Coming. We could speculate on how various personalities in the media discuss the deterioration of political effectiveness, the degradation of cultural discourse, or our precarious economic situation. We could also become unsettled over the apocalyptic scenario of what continues to occur at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, the possible demise of its nuclear core, and the resulting catastrophic impact on the Pacific region.

Troubled times were also prevalent two thousand years ago when St. Paul penned his letters to the Greeks of Thessaly. St. Paul was alarmed that the gossiping about current events and apocalyptic speculations were causing disruptive behavior. The Greek word that Paul uses to describe their behavior refers “to actions that interrupt the truthful announcement and living out” of the Good News of Christ. He carefully tells us that these alarmists are false prophets if they are causing such unease as to reduce the effectiveness and the realization of the Gospel in the lives of the people.

So what does Jesus and St. Paul suggest?

First, we need to take them seriously and not be overly concerned about when the last days will come. Christians should be alert – but not worry; rather, like Noah upon hearing the word of God, they should prepare and rejoice. We need not worry because we have plenty to do in the interim by concentrating our attention on our duties to love God with our whole heart and our whole soul, repent of our sins, and love and assist our neighbors, too.

St. Paul, echoing Christ, is very specific on this point, he says, “Your love must be sincere. Detest what is evil, cling to what is good. Love one another with the affection of brothers and sisters. Anticipate each other in showing respect. Do not grow slack but be fervent in spirit; He whom you serve is the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient under trial, and persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12: 9-12)

Let us pray that whatever the role we find ourselves in, we faithfully carry out the duties the Holy Spirit has asked us to complete. Each of our jobs and duties are important in the eyes of God. How, and in what spirit we perform them affects our life, and the lives of others, both on earth and in eternity. So let us be worthy of the trust, love, and friendship that Jesus has for us. If we do that, and live in the prayer and grace-filled life of His Word and Sacraments, we will have nothing to fear.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. I will deliver this homily at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island on Sunday November 17, 2013.