In preparing for today, I found myself examining the story of the prodigal son from a different perspective. I have never really seen myself as a prodigal son. I am one of the only people of my generation, that I know personally, who never left the church. Most of my family and friends did the typical “stray from the church” during college, trying to find themselves or decide for themselves where God fit in their lives. Many came back to church to get married, baptize their children or bury their loved ones. Some stayed, realizing how much they missed their church family and worship. Some left again until the next event.
Some left the church of their youth to join a large evangelical church like Calvary Chapel or Legacy Church. I used to get a kick out of how my mom would always pray for all the fallen-away Catholics, that they would come back to the true church. I know she particularly meant members of my extended family who left for Calvary over the years. Mom, I said, why don’t you pray for all those fallen-away who are not going to church at all, they probably need your prayer even more.
Some left their church after a bad personal experience with a pastor or priest, or a church that shunned them.
You know, you’re only a prodigal until you come back, some find a new church community that is loving and accepting very quickly. Some stay on the prodigal road for years, turning their backs on the Lord. The funny thing is, when you turn your back on someone, that doesn’t mean they’re not there anymore, you just don’t look at them. In any prodigal time in our lives, we turn our backs on Jesus, but He still has our backs. I’ve always kind of chucked at the question, “Have you found Jesus?” Why, I didn’t know He was lost. The prodigal son was lost and is found.
So I think it’s fair to say that each of us has had some type of “prodigal time” in our lives that eventually brought us home to God.
Now how about the other side of the coin? The brother who stayed at home, working for his father…could be like many of us, involved in everything at church from being an acolyte, proclaiming the scriptures, Eucharistic minister, choir, working in the food pantry or as part of the vestry.
I remember that in my family, I always felt like the odd one out. My oldest brother Diego was the firstborn and really smart. Next was Steve who became a dad at 18 and gave us our nephew and the first grandson, Ramon, but who had many struggles as a young man. Then came my sister Theresa who was the middle child, but she was the only girl. Next was me, nothing much to talk about…and last but not least my youngest brother Julian, the baby of the family. Then one day when I was in my 30’s, Steve told me, “You know you’re mom’s favorite right?” Why me? “Because you’re the only one of us who goes to church every Sunday!” That’s when he called me the white sheep of the family.
In the parable, the oldest son, who stayed home with dad working his fingers to the bone, doesn’t like the father’s excessive reacting to the prodigal returning home. Do we as church react to the prodigal’s return in the same way? At my old parish, a very proud church in the Atrisco area in the South Valley, most of the families are Hispanic with deep roots in the community. In the last twenty or so years, the influx of Mexican, Central American and South American immigrants has been huge and it bothers many of the old-timers that the church is just fawning over these new church members, who are only coming back to the church they worshipped at in their homelands. After all, we built this church.
Why did the elder brother have so many issues about the younger son coming back? I think he was being jealous and selfish because, he built this and the younger wasn’t going to get any of my stuff.
I really feel like this community is like the older brother but with the right attitude…welcome home. Like my father, I have been waiting for you too. Sometimes we even have a little celebration after mass for us to share.
One final thought, the father waited every day, looking out at the horizon waiting and hoping for prodigal to return. And whether we’re gone for a long time, or during a time of anger or resentment in our lives, or for the five minutes we are bad mouthing that person in the office or screaming at the jerk that just cut you off on the freeway, God is waiting. And in those times when we have the desire but just don’t have the strength to make it back all the way, God will run to us, take us in His arms and love us, for we were dead and are alive again, we were lost and are found.