Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday

On Holy Thursday, I think it is important to reflect on an oft-missed detail that has tremendous applications.  Jesus sent the two disciples, Peter and John, into the city to prepare for the feast by telling that they would meet a man carrying a water jar.  They were to follow him, and, entering the house which he entered, tell the head of the house that the Master was to have the Passover there with His disciples.  This man would show them a large upper room, fully furnished, and there they were to prepare the meal.

Why Jesus used such a cryptic way of pointing out the house was to keep Judas unaware of the place, for Jesus knew that the traitor was looking for an opportune time to have Jesus arrested, and the Lord did not want the Last Supper to be interrupted by the temple guards. 

It is also evident that Jesus knew this man who owned the house, and had arranged something in advance, even if it was simply that this unknown man was a hidden disciple, or at least a friend of Jesus.

This man had the privilege of having the First Mass, the First appearance to the apostles of the Risen Lord, and Pentecost in his home.  Some traditions say he was the father of John Mark, of Gospel fame, but the Gospels themselves are silent on the matter.  Whatever the case, his simple friendship of Jesus and the welcoming attitude of this man gave him a grace of unimaginable joy. His family shared this joy and they were among the first Christians to be sure.

The opportunity is not lost to history, for Christ seeks friendship with all. A welcoming home is among His greatest joys.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reflections on the Prodigal Son

There is no question this is a story of mercy and generosity.  Prodigal can mean wasteful, but also lavishly generous.  Many commentators note that the father is prodigal with his love for his younger son, in the sense of generous, whereas the younger son was prodigal with his inheritance, as in wasteful. 

The younger son’s sin is not just the wasteful way he spent his share of the inheritance, but that, in asking for his share, he basically told his father that he might as well be dead.  Interestingly, the father, not holding a grudge, knew that his son was “killing” himself in leaving the family as he did.  “He was dead, but has come back to life.”  It is in the midst of the divine family that we have life, and leaving it, squandering the graces we’ve been given through mortal sin, is to die in our souls.  God Who raises the dead is able, and more importantly, willing to grant us life again.

It’s also interesting to note that the son, when he’s in the midst of the pigs, does not think of the father in very generous terms.  His desire to return is rather forced upon him by his hunger.  Even in thinking of his father, he does not say, “He still loves me and will take me back”, but he only considers his father’s generosity with the servants.  His penitence is incomplete and imperfect, based upon his own desperate condition. What is more, his awareness of the father’s goodness is incomplete as well.  He doesn’t remember how willingly the father had given him the share of the inheritance.  He doesn’t reflect upon the times he certainly must have enjoyed with his father.  He only remembers the abundance of his father’s wealth, shared by those who served him.

I’d venture to say that the elder son is wasteful in his own way, as he seems to squander his father’s love.  Though he was very cautious and diligent with respect to his father’s wealth and business, he missed out on the love of his father.  One wonders if he ever asked for a young goat to celebrate with his friends.

In this light, I think it is important to remember that, as much as the story reaches out to sinners who need to know how kind and forgiving God the Father is, Jesus told the story for the sake of the Pharisees and scribes who were angry and scandalized when Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors.  The Lord was attempting to instruct them on what they were missing in the God of the Covenant.  God demands obedience to His law, but He is a God of mercy more than anything.  The blindness of the elder son is pointed out by the Lord in the kindest way possible.  While on several occasions the Lord was “in the face” of His enemies, on this occasion He gently instructed them through this and the preceding two parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Did they grasp the meaning of His words, “My son, you are with me always, and everything I have is yours. . . “?  They needed to hear that God was indeed pleased with their fidelity, even if it was incomplete.

Finally, eating is so very central to the story.  It’s the Lord eating with sinners that brings on the criticism of the Pharisees. The younger son most likely feasted while he had his father’s wealth.  His return home is driven by an empty belly.  The father calls for a feast to celebrate his son’s return, killing the fatted calf. The elder son calls feasting with his friends a sign of gratitude from the father.  And of course, the fatted calf is very much an image of the heavenly banquet where we will feast eternally with the Lord.  Eating was part of the cause of our fall; eating the Body and drinking the Blood of the Lord is a major part of our journey towards heaven; heaven itself will be a big party where the Lord will feed us eternally with His divine Love.