24 Sunday Ordinary Time – September 12, 2010 – A Gospel of Patience, Generosity and Hospitality
Exodus 32:7-11,13-14, Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,17,19, 1Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-32 or 1-10
Click here for the complete biblical texts
After the reading of the Prodigal Son parable the assembly was asked to raise their hands if they agreed …
The father did the right thing?
The older son got a bad deal?
Have you been in a similar situation as a parent or child?
The story of the prodigal son is one we all can relate to in different ways. A parent worrying about a child coming home in the middle of the night; a spouse or partner wondering if a loved one will return from fighting a war; a child afraid of being neglected by parents.
The father in the biblical text greeted the son with open arms and said welcome home; I do not care where you’ve been or what you’ve done. I love you and I am so happy you are back. No punishment, just forgiveness. Some call this an act of unconditional love, the kind of love the bible says God has for all of us; the kind of love we can show toward one another.
But, forgiveness is hard work. It requires generosity, patience and humility. In the first reading today Moses asked God to be patient with the Israelites who were losing patience with God. In the new testament passage Paul praised a patient God who called him to Christian ministry even after he persecuted Christians. The gospel provides a message of patient and gracious hospitality as the forlorn parent welcomed home a long lost child.
Was it providential that we listened to these readings at the end of a week when we remembered the terrorist attacks on our homeland nine years ago? How do we treat someone who has hurt us? The son who left the farm in the gospel hurt his father. The older brother who stayed at home was also hurt. These past weeks we have listened to and watch diverse voices clamoring about mosques, memorials and taking back America. No doubt some are hurting, rightly so, from death at the hands of terrorists. Others may be afraid of or prejudiced against people who are different from them. Some spouted gospels of hate and vengeance while two women turned the other cheek.
You may have read about Susan Rettik and Patti Quigley who lost their husbands in the World Trade Center attack.  Both women were pregnant at the time. Their children would never see their fathers. This weekend these women are speaking at a Mosque in Boston to rally others to join the fight against poverty in Afghanistan. They realized that thousands of widows in Afghanistan have lost their husbands in the war being waged there. According to Nicholas Kristoff the action of these women is a welcomed antidote to the “anti-Islamic hysteria that clouds the 9/11 anniversary.” (See the documentary “Beyond Belief” to learn more about the mission of these two women.)
It does not matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been; what matters most is where we are going now; what we will do now with our lives. That is the wisdom of the parent who welcomed, forgave and celebrated his son’s return.
This past week also marked the end of Ramadan when Muslims fast for a month to seek greater spiritual awareness in their lives. Last Thursday Jews celebrated Rosh Hashanah with anticipation of a sweet, healthy and prosperous new year. Both religious traditions consist of good people, who look to the future with hope that a world torn by hatred and fear can find humility and forgiveness, hospitality and generosity.
In our Catholic religion there is a lot to celebrate but there is much to worry about. Many have left our religion because they have been hurt by the institution in some way. Their absence is a loss for us. Others remain active in the Church even while they struggle with institutional clericalism, tentative leadership, inequity, and scandal. The all loving God who created us weeps for all who are hurt or lost. What are the people of God to do?
This parish of St. Vincent de Paul is a faith community steeped in its 125 years of Catholic presence, embracing members from over fifty zip codes, serving countless others. While we have much to be proud of, we are not yet finished. Like the kin-dom of God, which is here but incomplete, so are we. What we do next depends less on what we have accomplished and more on what we will do in the future, like the parent of the prodigal son, with generosity and hospitality toward all.
1 Kristoff, Nicholas D. “Bless the Healers of 9/11” in The New York Times, September 10, 2010.