Sunday, September 11, 2016

Homily Sept 11, 2016. Fifteen years. The Father of the Prodigal and Elder Son

The Father: Compassionate, Caring, Challenging us to respond and reconcile, not retaliate.
Rick Malloy, S.J.  -  24th Year C Prodigal Son Sept 11, 2016


(prenote.  I didn't say all of this in the homily...)
A father passing by his 16 year old son's bedroom was astonished to see the bed was nicely made and everything was picked up. Then he saw an envelope propped up prominently on the center of the bed. It was addressed, "Dad". With the worst premonition, the father opened the envelope and read the letter with trembling hands:
Dear Dad, It is with great regret and sorrow that I'm writing you. I had to elope with my new girlfriend because I wanted to avoid a scene with mom and you. I've been finding real passion with Joan and she is so nice even with all her piercing, tattoos and her tight motorcycle clothes. But it's not only the passion dad, she's pregnant and Joan said that we will be very happy. Even though you don't care for her as she is so much older than I, she already owns a trailer in the woods and has a stack of firewood for the whole winter. She wants to have many more children with me and that's now one of my dreams too. Joan taught me that marijuana doesn't really hurt anyone and we'll be growing it for us and trading it with her friends for all the cocaine and ecstasy we want! In the meantime, we'll pray that science will find a cure for Herpes so Joan can get better; she sure deserves it!!
Don't worry Dad. Someday I'm sure we'll be back to visit so you can get to know your grandchildren

Your son, Roy

P. S. Dad, none of the above is true. I'm over at the neighbor's house. I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than my report card that's in my desk center drawer. I love you! Call when it is safe for me to come home

Another story.  Jim asks his teen age son about Spanish grade.  I’m doing fine Dad.  Two days later the report card comes.  Jim runs up stairs.  “Damn Jimmy.  I asked you about Spanish and you said you were doing fine. Now I see you’ve flunked.  What the hell?”  “Gee Dad.  To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to get yelled at twice”

1.  What’s going on in these readings?  God is calling us to forgiveness and reconciliation.  Moses pleads for the bozos who made the golden calf.  St. Paul admits that he was a horrible sinner and that Christ has come to save us all.  Jesus tells the most famous parables of all.  We know it as the prodigal son, but it would be better titled Two Lost Sons; One Incredibly Forgiving, Compassionate and Understanding Father
Some awareness of cultural conflicts going on help us appreciate what Jesus is doing here.  He’s being attacked by the Pharisees for hanging out with sinners.  So, he responds directly and strongly, insulting the learned and pride filled Pharisees.  Reference to shepherds is an insult.  Pharisees considered shepherds “unclean, members of a despised and forbidden profession” (Pilch 1997:136).  So when Jesus says, “Which one of you having one hundred sheep…” he’s really giving it to them.  It would be like someone addressing a bunch of Catholic Bishops saying, “Which one of you having one hundred prostitutes…”  To use the example of a woman is also a pretty direct insult when directed at this group of Pharisees.  This was a world where women weren’t even considered persons.
So realize the parable of the prodigal son is told in a situation where people don’t want to hear it.  The Pharisees find Jesus’ way of being religious offensive.  Jesus is all about forgiveness and reconciliation; the Pharisees are all about enforcing rules and regulations, bolstering their own self-esteem and sense of importance by being religious the “right” way.
The son who takes the money and runs is a real mess.  He’s squandering not just his inheritance; he’s putting his father in jeopardy because his father may have no one to care for him when he’s old.  The son’s actions insult and repulse not only his father; he alienates his older brother and the entire village.  That’s why the father’s killing the calf is so important.  It’s not just a goat or a sheep, which would be like serving burgers and hot dogs.  To kill a calf meant the whole village would feast; it’s like a big expensive wedding party.  The father generously and emphatically announces to the world that the ruptured relationship with his son is reestablished.  His son was dead and is now brought back to life.  This is more than the boy could have dreamed of or hoped for.
The older son doesn’t get it.  He insults his father by addressing him without a title.  He sneers, “I have slaved for you…”  Has he worked for his father, or just for himself?  The older son continues to insult his father by comparing the calf killed for the younger son to a goat he never got (“MARCIA! MARCIA! MARCIA!” or whining “He’s your favorite”).  He slanders his little brother by bringing up an unsubstantiated charge about playing with prostitutes.  The father addresses him with a title: “Son.”  The father invites him to join the feast. 
“The two sons in this parable are essentially the same and equally offensive.  They differ only in their response to unexpected and undeserved love demonstrated by their humiliated father.  Like these sons, all who hear this story must decide how they should respond to forgiving love” (Pilch 1997:138).
2.  What was going on with the Son and why was the Father so forgiving?  The younger son goes off and gets all screwed up.  Soon he’s got a lousy job, hanging out with the pigs (today, to convey the foulness of his situation, we’d say he’s eating spam and living in a cockroach and rat infested apt.).  In the Greek text it says, literally, “he came to himself” and realized how stupid and stubborn he has been.  He decides to go back and beg his father’s forgiveness.
His father is waiting for him, sees him afar off and pulls all the plugs and throws a party to welcome the kid home.  Maybe the father was feeling he hadn’t done a good job as a parent.  Maybe he realizes he’d screwed up by giving the kid half of the inheritance.  Maybe he realized he’s been too indulgent with the boy.  Or maybe he knew the boy lived in a world that mitigated against his growing happy and healthy and holy and free.
3.  What does this say to us today?  One key to the parable’s message is the curious phrase describing the son’s realization of the way out of his predicament: “he came to himself.”  The root of the younger son’s problem was that he had lost his self, or maybe he’d never developed a sense of self, a robust confidence in who and what he was. 
Today many young adults suffer the younger son’s affliction.  Despite all the Mr. Rodgers’ messages of self-worth and self-esteem, too many teens and young adults exhibit symptoms of severe unhappiness, deep depression and a real sense of being lost. 
Today, 15 years after 9/11 it can seem that our people in the USA feel unhappy with our politics, are deeply worried about the direction of the country.  We’re told too often and too loudly that we are lost.
4.  Hope:  If you are one of these people who feel lost, there is hope.  If you are one of those who have been lucky enough to escape such a fate, don’t feel superior.  You are called to show your “younger” brothers and sisters the way.  We are all called to not be like the older brother.  We are called to be like the Father.  Caring, Compassionate, Challenging.  We need to come to ourselves.  To respond and reconcile, not just “respond and retaliate” as the Defense Secretary Ash Carter said this morning in NYC.
The way is found in creating a good and just world for one another.  America is great when America makes the whole world great for all.  The way is found in knowing who we are and letting the wonder of our being fill us with faith and hope and love.  Stop looking for love in all the wrong places.  Start looking for God.
What if on September 12, 2001, we had responded by saying, “We are largely a Christian nation.  As a people, we want to respond to the atrocities of 9/11 with forgiveness.  Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt 5:44).  Yesterday, those who desecrate the name of Allah, murdered almost 3000 innocent Americans.  We will not retaliate in kind.  We will not allow terrorists to turn us into revengeful people.  We do not live by the law of an eye for an eye, for such a law leads to a world gone blind.  We welcome and respect people of all religions that teach peace, mercy, forgiveness and love.”
Such a response would have been truly revolutionary.  Such a response would have made the ideologies of Al Queda and ISIS less attractive to young Muslims.  Such a response would have held forth the possibility of peace.  Such a response would have saved us upwards of some three trillion dollars.  And such a response would have saved the lives of thousands and thousands who have died since September 11, 2001. 
It is not too late to change our ways.  We can peer into our souls and see things afresh.  In this Year of Mercy, we can look on ISIS with compassion and love instead of fear and hatred.  The young people in ISIS need to be converted to the true meanings and values of Islam.  Deep in our souls we find a desire to treat ISIS as Jesus would.  Rather than trumpeting the need to retaliate with bombs and boots on the ground, imagine risking relationship with those in ISIS rather than maintaining an eternal stalemate of us v. them.
When threatened with death Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52).  The Good News is that we do not have to remain trapped and enslaved in modes of violence and retaliation.  We can choose to do things differently.  We are free to be loving, peaceful and joyful.  We need not cower in fear.
The crisis of ISIS is rooted in ideas of God, who God is and what God wants.  We need to flood the Middle East with ideas that challenge ISIS’s misreading of the Quran.  Islam is a religion of peace.  So too is Christianity.  It is time, and has been for forever, to put down the guns. 
Pick up the scriptures and start talking.  Stop fighting.  Give peace a chance.  Young, radical Muslims think they are doing good by killing us.  The more we kill in retaliation, the more their insane misreading of Islam is reinforced.  If we stop killing terrorists, it would force those blinded by Wahhabist ideology to rethink their interpretation of Islam.
We should flood the Middle East with ambassadors of peace.  Get thousands of young American Muslims, Jews and Christians to go there and engage the Jihadists in transformative conversation.  You cannot easily lop the head off of someone who comes, speaks your language, and simply wants to live in peace.  Let us strive together to bring justice and peace to those war torn lands.
And if such ambassadors of peace are killed, their blood will water the plants of reconciliation and peace.  Where have we seen such before?  When the child in the crib grew and was crucified by the brutal Roman Empire.  Jesus’ death transformed our war, weary world.  The true and living God would rather be killed, than kill.  Jesus shows us the way to be truly human.
Can we dare to believe the radical Jihadists are human?  Can we see and trust that deep in their souls reside desires for the same peace and order we desire?  We must be courageous enough to go, extend an olive branch, and say, “Let us sit together, talk and work this out.” 
To some degree, we must admit we created this monstrous band.  Our disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and our flooding the region with weapons have spawned the terrorists bent on destroying us.  Honestly admitting our sins can lead to reconciliation.  Asking forgiveness would signal to the terrorists our willingness to change our warlike ways.
The only way to stop terrorists is to make the terrorists want to stop killing.  The ideology of ISIS will wither if there is no enemy attacking.  We need to disarm ISIS by taking away not only their arms, bank accounts and lines of credit, but ultimately their reason for being.
Israel too must practice peace.  And wouldn’t Israel lay down arms immediately if peace could be established and assured?
I can hear you now: “Father, this is stupid.  We can’t even imagine doing what you suggest.” 
So.  What’s the plan?  What is the alternative to practicing peace?  Endlessly wage war?  Are the one percent of Americans who do all our fighting going to be at war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, on and on, for the next five, ten, twenty-five, fifty years?  Will we spend three, nine, eighty one trillion dollars more and still not achieve peace?  Is there any strategy to end this insane, constant war on terror?  Dare we hope for and choose peace?
In response to ISIS, our practicing non-violence and peace can end the conflict.  With such practices, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and their followers changed the world.  So too must we.  If we laid down our arms, true followers of Islam would be required to do so as well: “If the enemy desists, then you must also cease hostilities” (Quran 2:193)  [Aslan, Reza  (2005).  No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam.  New York: Random House.  P. 134].
Forgiveness, reconciliation, love and justice, are the answers.  It is not crazy to propose that the practice of Jesus’ teachings are the solution to the crisis of ISIS.  Forgiving, reconciling, responding with love, establishing justice, are the only strategic, safe and sane alternatives (The section in italics appeared in the National Catholic Reporter Feb 2016.
Hope heals and love lies in re-establishing relationships.  We need to heal and strengthen relationships with others, with ourselves, and with God.  WE NEED TO COME TO OURSELVESWE need to Wake up.  Realize we are all the loved daughters and sons of God who is love.
The way to do this is to pray.  Real Prayer forces us to get in touch with reality.  Real Prayer opens us to the transformative grace of God.  Real Prayer helps us come to ourselves and then we can do what we need to do to establish the relationships that make for peace and prosperity, joy and justice, faith and freedom, hope and healing, love and life.  Dare to pray.  Have the courage to pray.  Pick up and read the Bible.  Pray the rosary.  Go to daily Mass.  Learn about the Examen and Centering Prayer.  Risk coming on the silent retreat this October.
Hope lies in getting some time to reflect on who and what you are.  Hope lies is “coming to yourself,” in the hard, but so joy filled work of coming to know and love yourself.  There’s a great person in each and every one of us.  God has graced us with his divine presence living vibrantly and freely on the heart of each of us.  We’ve all been given a marvelous gift: life.  Open the gift.  Play.  Be Happy.  Enjoy life.  Live free.
And keep your parents happy.  Get a good report card.

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