Saturday, March 17, 2007

Coming to our senses

Murphy, O’Brien and Mitchell were sitting in a bar discussing the words they would like to hear spoken over their coffins at their wakes. Mitchell says, “I would like them to say ‘He was a wonderful family man- he always supported his wife and kids, and they never wanted for anything.’“ O’Brien says, “That’s lovely Mitchell. But I would like to hear them say, ‘He was a great man in the community - he undertook a lot of projects to make his community a better place.’“ Finally, Murphy says, “That’s very nice, O’Brien. But what I would like to hear them say is, ‘Look! He’s moving!’“

A bit of St. Patrick’s humor for you this weekend. I hope everyone enjoyed some corned beef and cabbage and a good, tall Guinness yesterday!

“Father, I have signed against heaven and against you.” A few years ago, Fr. John Powell wrote a best selling book called Happiness Is An Inside Job. In it, he tells a story about a woman who came from a poor economic background. One day, she met the man of her dreams. He was not only a wonderful person, but he was also a man of considerable wealth. She could not believe her ears when he asked her to marry him. After the wedding, they moved into a beautiful suburban home. There she lived in surroundings that were more wonderful and lavish than anything she had ever known before in her life. It was more than even her wildest dreams could have ever imagined. She thought she had it all.

Then, tragedy struck. One day she began to feel ill, in a way she never had before. To make a long story short, she went to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Here is Fr. Powell’s description of the impact that this news had on her. “She felt a fire of anger ignite inside of her. In her fury, she wanted to tell God off. So, in her hospital gown and robe, she struggled through the corridors on her way to the chapel. It was to be a face-to-face confrontation – her and God. She felt so weak, she had to support herself by bracing against the wall as she moved along. When she entered the chapel, it was dark. No one was there. She proceeded up the center aisle on her way to the altar.

“Through what seemed like an endless journey from her room to the chapel, she had been preparing her speech: ‘Oh God, you are a fraud, a real phony. You have been passing yourself off as ‘love’ for 2,000 years. But every time anyone finds a little happiness, you pull out the rug from under her feet. Well, I just want you to know that I have had it. I see through you.’ In the center aisle and near the front of the chapel, she fell from her weakness. She was so weak, she could hardly see. Her eyes could barely read the words woven into the carpet at the step into the sanctuary. She read and then repeated the words: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
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“Suddenly, all the angry words, all the desire to tell God off was gone. All that was left was, ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Then she put her tired head down over her crossed arms and listened. Deep within herself she heard, ‘All of this is a simple invitation to ask you to turn your life over to me. You have never done that, you know. The doctors here do their best to treat you, but I alone can cure you.’
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“In the silence and darkness of that night, she turned her life over to God. She signed her blank check and turned it over to God to fill in the amounts. It was the hour of God. It was the moment of her surrender. Finding her way back to her room in the hospital, she slipped off into a deep sleep.”
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Her story had a happy ending. Her illness took a miraculous turn and she was healthy once gain. And, her story is sort of a modern-day version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son we heard today. It is the story of a woman who, like the Prodigal Son, enjoyed great material resources. It is the story of a woman who, like the Prodigal Son, turned against her loving Father when things didn’t work out the way she wanted them to. It is the story of a woman who, again like the Prodigal Son, turned back to her loving Father when she came to her senses. It is the story of someone we can all relate to. For, we have all been at one point or another in our lives a Prodigal Son or Daughter.
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And perhaps we are at a very different point than the woman or the Prodigal Son. Maybe our story hasn’t turned out as beautifully as theirs did. Perhaps we are still in a state of anger with God over some misfortune that has befallen us, or tragedy we struggle to understand. Perhaps we are still at the stage where the woman was as she struggled through the hospital corridors on her way to the chapel, preparing our angry speech to God. Or perhaps we are like the Prodigal Son, who had wrecked his life, but had not yet mustered up the courage to return home and ask for his father’s forgiveness.
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Regardless of our personal situation, the message in today’s Gospel is the same for each of us as it was for the Prodigal Son and for the woman. The Father says to us all, “Come home, come home, come home! Rejoice and be reconciled to me once again.”
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The British poet Francis Thompson expresses that message beautifully in his poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” In the poem, the poet has been fleeing God because he feels that God has been treating him badly. When God finally catches him, as a hound catches a prey, God says to him: “All which I took from thee, I did but take not for thy harm, But just that thou might seek it in My arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have restored for thee at home. Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”
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After teaching her Sunday school kids about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a teacher asked them: "Now tell me: Who suffered the most in the story?" A child raised her hand and answered, "the fatted cow." Absolutely! But more than that, the greatest suffering came when the Prodigal Son was separated from the unity with his Father.
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Today, let us “come to our senses” and return once again to our Loving Father. Let us run into the embrace of His welcoming arms. Let us be reunited once again firmly in the family of God.
“Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
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May God give you peace.

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