Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home, and must look far and wide to find one. Home is the centre of my being, where I can hear the voice that says, “You are my beloved.” I have heard that never-interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity and giving life and love wherever it is heard. When I hear that voice, I know that I am home with God and have nothing to fear. The younger son in me returns home in the very moment that I reclaim my sonship.
The Elder Son
The ‘homelessness’ of the elder son is more difficult to identify. After all he was physically at home and did all the right things. The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realise how deeply rooted this form of homelessness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Resentment and cold anger are not easily distinguished and dealt with rationally. Both sons needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to return home. Both needed the embrace of a forgiving father. All of us will someday have to deal with the elder son or the elder daughter in us. The question before us is simply: What can we do to make the return home possible? We must not only recognise that we are lost but must be prepared to be found and brought home. How? Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God and be healed by his love through the concrete and daily practice of trust and gratitude. Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home. Gratitude and resentment cannot co-exist since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as gift.
Today’s gospel is a story that speaks about a love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate. Though I am both the younger son and the elder son, I am not to remain them, but to become the Father. Do I want to be like the Father? Do I want to be not just the one who is forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but also the one who offers it as well? The return home to the Father is ultimately to become the compassionate Father.
In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us Jesus was addressing “large crowds” where there would have been people in a variety of different places in their relationship to Jesus and his teaching. So many must have asked, ‘Who exactly is this teacher?’ Some people in that crowd may have had some awareness that Jesus was everything we are created to be.
Where do we find ourselves in that ‘crowd’? Do we truly and deeply long for all that is best, deepest, and most real in the human condition? Or, are we willing to settle for something less? Are we willing to allow some human relationship or our possessiveness to prevent our living fully our identity as being created in God’s image? If we desire true life, if we desire to live deeply and authentically we must take up our cross and surrender over and over any attachment, any clinging that might in any way separate us from the fullness of God’s presence in our lives. We will then ‘be rooted and grounded in love and have the power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of the love of Christ and be filled with the fullness of God’ ( cf Ephesians 3: 17 -19) We will grow in awareness that love is not really an action that we do. Love is what and who we are, in our deepest essence. Love is a place that already exists inside of us, but is also greater than us. We know that we’ve found a well that will never go dry, as Jesus says (cf John 4:13-14).
Choosing life with Christ means that every relationship we have with people and possessions must be understood from a new perspective. When we make that choice, we will eventually see that there is a tremendous irony in Jesus’ challenge to the crowds – and to us. Our growth in awareness of who we are in God will lead us to see others in their deepest essence and we will truly love “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.”
Adapted from various sources: Christopher Page, Nate Holdridge, R. Rohr
A story is told of a gentleman at Los Angeles airport. Bad weather had led to the cancellation of many flights and consequently there were many people stranded and forming long queues in an attempt to change their flights. One gentleman, who had been waiting patiently in line for some time, finally left his place and stormed up to the counter demanding that the agent find him a first class ticket to Chicago and to do so immediately. When the agent very politely told him to go back to his place in the queue and wait just as everyone else had to do, he pounded on the counter and shouted, “Do you have any idea who I am?” The agent calmly picked up the microphone and made an announcement to the entire airport: “Ladies and gentlemen. There is a man here who has no idea who he is. If anyone can identify him, will they please come forward.” With that, the gentleman took his place in the queue and waited.
The more we grow in awareness of who we are in God, the more humble we will be and the more we will realise that we are all gifted and beautiful, faulted and broken in our own ways. And each of us is loved by the God who created and sustains us. That gives us a dignity that we don’t have to earn and that can never be taken away. Humility is an inner attitude that candidly allows us to know, love and accept ourselves. If we are humble, we see our talents and accomplishments as gifts and recognise our limitations and failures as opportunities for growth. Humility allows us to see ourselves honestly. Humility is a virtue which allows us to love ourselves with no pretences. Humility really frees us to be ourselves and to grow and change. Humility frees us from the need or compulsion to wear a mask and pretend to be someone else.
Since the humble are secure, they are strong. And since they have nothing to prove, they don’t have to flaunt their strength or use it to dominate others. Humility leads to meekness. And meekness is not weakness. Rather, it is strength under control, power used to build up rather than tear down. The humble are not threatened either by God’s greatness or the reflection of that greatness in the talents of others. In fact, this is what naturally catches their eye and absorbs their attention – the goodness of God, wherever it may be found. The form of prayer that extols God’s goodness is called praise. The activity that honours God’s goodness in other people is called affirmation. The humble take delight in praising God and affirming people.
Do we have any idea who we are?
Adapted from a talk given by Fr Ferrer Quigley O.P.
Today’s Gospel is a patchwork quilt of images: who will be saved, the narrow door, closed door, the master of the house refusing entry, the kingdom of God, being outside the kingdom, weeping and grinding of teeth, people coming from East and West, being first, being last. Perhaps this passage doesn’t fit in with our concept of a God who loves unconditionally. The temptation may be to file this gospel passage under ‘Remind me later’ or we may want to press the delete button! We may also try to unravel only one image and focus on that. How can we bring these images, these ‘patches’ together to create a beautiful work of art and then wrap this ‘quilt’ around us so that once more we experience the reassuring warmth of God’s eternal and unconditional love.
Perhaps the thread that joins the patches together is our gift of freedom. Most of the world religions have some concept of heaven and hell. Why? Because human freedom matters. We have to be given the freedom to say no to love and life, and one word for that is hell. Heaven and hell are not geographic places. They are states of consciousness and they are right now. We choose right now if we want to live in a living relationship with God and our neighbour or we choose to live a life of excluding others, protecting our own individual identities and possessions no matter what it takes to do so, choosing separation from the source of all life, love and joy. We are choosing our destiny right now. Do we want to live in constant opposition to others and life itself? Or do we want to live in love and communion?
When we choose love and life we choose to walk through ‘the narrow door’. Jesus’ listeners would have known he was referring to the ‘Eye of the Needle Gate’ in Jerusalem. The gate was so small that a man would have had to unload his camel of all that it was carrying and then carefully lead his camel through this small gate. Jesus is inviting us to let go of any baggage that prevents us from moving forward. However frightening that might feel, we need always remember that everything that matters, from all the experiences and encounters in our lives, has been internalised and is always part of us. It will continue to enrich us. When we realise this, we will find a new freedom in letting go of all that does not matter; we will be saved right now (‘saved’ is from the Greek meaning true wellness, complete wholeness); we will experience God within us right now.
Adapted from various sources: Donal Neary, Margaret Silf, R.Rohr
Anthony de Mello tells the following parable of the man who invented fire: “A long time ago, there was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and visited a tribe in the north, where the climate was bitter cold. The man taught the people how to make fire. And the people were spellbound. He showed them many uses for fire: they could cook, keep themselves warm, keep predators at bay and dance by firelight. So they built fire and were very grateful. But before they could express their gratitude, the man disappeared, because he wasn’t concerned with recognition or gratitude. He was concerned only with their well-being.
The fire-making man visited a different tribe, and began to teach the art of making fire. Like the first tribe, this tribe was mesmerised. But the tribe members’ passion unnerved the tribe’s leaders. It didn’t take long for them to notice that the fire-making man drew large crowds, and the leaders worried about lost influence and power. Because of their fear, the leaders determined to kill the fire-making man and they devised a clever plan because they were worried that the tribe people might revolt. Can you guess what they did? The leaders made a portrait of the fire-making man, and displayed it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire. The veneration and the worship went on for centuries. But there was no more fire.”
“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
“In many ways, waiting is the missing link in the transformation process. I’m not referring to waiting as we’re accustomed to it, but waiting as the passionate and contemplative crucible in which new life and spiritual wholeness can be birthed.”
Sue Monk Kidd: When the Heart Waits
One reality of life is waiting; waiting for someone to show up, for something to happen, for things to change. Another reality of life is that most of us do not like waiting. We look for the shortest line at the supermarket or we become impatient, even angry, waiting for someone who is slow or inattentive. At some level waiting takes place every day. Each of us could name the things or people for which we wait. Sometimes we live with the overwhelming feeling of waiting but with no clear idea of what we are waiting for. In our waiting, we generally don’t wait in the present. We either move into the past or into the future. The great tragedy is that in doing so we lose the present moment. That’s part of what makes waiting so painful and difficult. Waiting in the past brings sadness, anger, or guilt about things that have happened, or the things done and left undone. Waiting in the future most often brings fear and anxiety about what will happen. We are haunted by the unknown and lack of control.
In today’s gospel Jesus is teaching us how to wait. He’s inviting us to be present to the One who is always already present: “Do not be afraid. It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” The ‘kingdom’ is God’s life within us. (cf Luke 17:21) We are not waiting until we die to enter the kingdom. We don’t die into it. We awaken into it. (Cynthia Bourgeault) If we allow our waiting to be a time of growing awareness of the reality of God within us, within each other, within creation and within the circumstances of our lives, then it will be a time of transformation, a time when we discover the inexhaustible treasure within us, a treasure which no ‘thief’ can take from us.
We might be tempted to ask, “Where is God in all our waiting?” But maybe the better question is “Where are we?”
I was in a plane descending into Portland and I gazed upon a brilliant pink sunrise over blue and purple mountains, and my heart ached. Instinctively, I looked over to Eva to share this breath-taking moment, but she was sleeping. I felt incomplete, not being able to share the moment with her, or with anyone. Its beauty was slipping through my fingers. This was a teachable moment for me: I somehow felt this moment wasn’t enough, without being able to share it. It took me a second to remind myself: this moment is enough. It’s enough, without needing to be shared or photographed or improved or commented upon. It’s enough, awe-inspiring just as it is.
I’m not alone in this feeling, that the moment needs to be captured by photo to be complete, or shared somehow on social media. We feel the moment isn’t enough unless we talk about it, share it, somehow solidify it. The moment is ephemeral, and we want solidity and permanence. This kind of groundlessness can scare us. This feeling of not-enoughness is fairly pervasive in our lives:
We sit down to eat and feel we should be reading something online, checking messages, doing work. As if eating the food weren’t enough.
We get annoyed with people when they don’t act as we want them to — the way they are feels like it’s not enough.
We feel directionless and lost in life, as if the life we have is not already enough.
We procrastinate when we know we should sit down to do important work, going for distractions, as if the work is not enough for us.
We mourn the loss of people, of the past, of traditions … because the present feels like it’s not enough.
We are constantly thinking about what’s to come, as if it’s not enough to focus on what’s right in front of us.
We reject situations, reject people, reject ourselves, because we feel they are not enough.
What if we accepted that this moment will slip away when it’s done, and we saw the fleeting time we had with the moment as enough, without needing to share it or capture it? What if we paused and accepted this present moment, and everyone and everything in it, as exactly enough? What if we needed nothing more?
Unfortunately, today’s gospel story has often suffered from dubious interpretations, with Martha becoming the poster child for all that is imperfect with the life of busyness, the implication being that this life is inferior to a perfect life of contemplation. Most of us want to defend Martha probably because we have been in similar situations and can identify with her. The way in which she spoke to Jesus reveals her feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be appreciated, needed and loved. Martha was everything good and right, but she was not present. This kind of goodness does little good! Distracted by her feelings, she couldn’t possibly have been fully present to herself and to the many tasks involved in the meal preparation. If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. How we are present to anything is how we can be present to God, to ourselves, to loved ones, to everyone.
While we might distinguish between Mary and Martha there is a common theme: presence. “Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. The real gift is to be happy and content, even when we are doing the ‘nothingness’ of a chore, a repetitive task, or silent prayer. We can experience the ‘one thing’ whether we are sitting at the feet of the sage or engaged in service in the kitchen, or wherever we finds ourselves.
The presence of God is infinite, everywhere and forever. We cannot not be in the presence of God. There’s no other place to be. It is we who are not present to Presence. We’ll make any excuse to be somewhere else than right here. Right here, right now never seems enough. It actually is, but it is we who are not aware of that yet. Presence lies at the heart of life, prayer, and relationships. All spiritual teaching—this is not an oversimplification—is about how to be present to the moment. When we are present, we will experience the Presence.
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” So often we think of our ‘neighbour’ as separate from ourselves, someone whom we try to love with the same amount of love as we love ourselves, when it really means that it is the same Source and the same Love that allows each of us to love ourself, others, and God at the same time! In and with God, we can love everything and everyone—even our enemies. Alone and by ourselves, our willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. Many people try to love by willpower, with themselves as the only source. They try to obey the second commandment without the first. When we grow in our awareness that “in Him we all live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), we will grow in the realisation that we are all truly in Love and we will then hear Jesus’ words to mean “Love your neighbour as being yourself.”
Our transformed consciousness will enable us to surrender to Love, to allow God to see our woundedness, to see and love us as we really are rather than what we ideally wish to be. We will then want to give others this same experience of divine love, of being looked upon tenderly in their woundedness, be it physical, emotional or psychological. We will want to reach out to our ‘neighbour’ with compassion, notice his/her wounds and touch them with gentleness. For us all to grow in love, “all must come to the light, both the dark parts of oneself that need healing and the light parts that need birthing. “
Often young children are more in touch with the ‘light parts that need birthing’. When asked by their four-year old child what ‘Namaste’ meant, the parents explained that each person is saying, “I bow to God in you.” With an all-knowing look, the child replied, “But Mama. The God in you is the same God that’s in me.” Out of the mouths of babes…
One word that occurs in all
three readings today is “peace”. Isaiah speaks of God sending “flowing peace,
like a river”. Paul speaks of the peace and mercy that come to all who become “an
altogether new creature”, a genuinely transformed person in the image of Jesus.
And, in the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to bring peace with them to every
house they enter. This peace is not dependent on outside circumstances. It can
exist even when we are surrounded by storms. It is the peace Jesus experienced
after his prayer in the garden. It is the peace that Paul experiences, even
though he has had his share of the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” and bears
in his own body the marks of Jesus’ pain and suffering.
What is this peace? “When we keep our spiritual centre, our spiritual ground; when we know what is essential i.e. to know who we really are at our deepest level, then we experience true peace. Only then can we share what we have to offer.”
We are called today to
become labourers with Jesus in the harvest that is the society in which we
live. It is a society that seems so rich and prosperous and yet is so
impoverished of the security and peace it so frenetically seeks to find. We are
called today to labour so that our society may be gradually transformed into a
place where the values of the Gospel, often so little understood even by
ourselves, will prevail.
Christianity is not an end in itself. It is simply a very effective way of becoming that altogether new kind of human person that Jesus and Paul speak about. This new person has a deep sense of both God’s utter transcendence and utter immanence, the God who constantly calls us beyond where we are and who, at the same time, deeply penetrates our being and our every experience. This new person lives a life of perfect integrity and truth, a life of deep compassion and concern. This new person lives in freedom and peace.
Living Space / Sacred Space
“Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies
beneath the chaos, where you find the peace you did not think possible and see
what shimmers within the storm.”