Loving and letting go

“The younger [son] said to the Father, ‘Father, let me have the share of the estate that will come to me.’ So his father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country…”  – Luke 15:12-13

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I know that this parable is about the love and mercy of God, but could it also be a lesson about God’s parenting style? Now that I have adult children living at home, I look to the father in this parable in hopes of gleaning some insights as to how my fatherhood can reflect the Fatherhood of God.

Yet when I turn to the parable, I must admit finding the father excessively permissive and somewhat naive. It seems as if he allows himself to be taken advantage of by his younger son. The father here reminds me of the tree in the story The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I always had a problem with that book. The tree was foolish, the boy spoiled and entitled. The tree goes so far as to practically annihilate itself – giving its fruit, its limbs, its trunk, and even its stump to this boy as he grows up – and the boy never once seems grateful or to give a thought to the well-being of the tree. The boy is all wrapped up in himself and what he wants, and just takes and takes and takes. And when he keeps coming back for more, the tree keeps letting him come back and, without condition, keeps giving. A story that was supposed to be about love appeared to me to encourage injustice and to promote a warped idea of love: “Love means letting yourself be used.”

And so, I understand the protests of the older son. He may have been resentful and wrapped up in himself as well, but he was powerfully struck by the injustice of it all. You can almost detect in his tone a stroke of contempt for his father’s foolishness and for his spoiled younger brother’s disrespect. (Incidentally, to Jesus’ audience the father’s “prodigality” and seeming foolishness would have been the disorienting and surprising component of this parable, especially given that, in any historical context let alone in ancient Israel, what the younger son’s request indicates is the extreme disrespect of wishing his father dead and would have typically been returned with corporal punishment and disinheritance.)

But could it be that both I and the older son have it wrong? Might we have misjudged the method to what seems like the sheer madness of the father? Perhaps the first mercy of the father was letting his son leave home. Perhaps loving means letting go. Continue reading

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Morning commute

“My Beloved is the mountains, and lonely wooded valleys… resounding rivers, the whistling of love-stirring breezes, the tranquil night at the time of rising dawn…” – St. John of the Cross

Blackbirds flock

The soft peach glow

outlines the ridge

as the world wakes

to the sun’s gentle touch

 

Pink, shadowed clouds

viewed through limbs bare

pass as film frames

prey to the morning rush

 

The blackbirds tide

that ebbs and flows

serves to accent

the cerulean crest

 

The world is bathed

in golden hue…

my sole thought – you

as the east becomes west

 

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You are my beloved son

The following is the reflection I gave at our son’s baptism back on October 1, 2016. I am reposting it in honor of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

“On coming up out of the water [Jesus] saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:10-11, my brackets

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Venerable Fulton Sheen was once approached by a man and asked, “Are you the Bishop Sheen who gave the mission sermon at St. Patrick’s Cathedral two years ago?” Sheen replied, “Yes, I am.” The man exclaimed, “That was a wonderful sermon! I enjoyed every minute of that hour and a half.” The Bishop protested, “My good man, I have never talked an hour and a half in my life!” “Well,” the man said, “it seemed that long to me.”

You will be happy to know, in mercy to the young ones and those who mind them, as well as to all of our hungry stomachs, this reflection will not be an hour and a half! Hopefully, it will not seem like it is either.

“You are my beloved son…” It is one thing to know this intellectually – as a statement of fact, as it appears in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved son…” It is quite another to know it personally – as a tender word spoken by the Father to our hearts: “You are my beloved son…” Mark’s account emphasizes this personal voice. It is Jesus who hears the voice of the Father – the voice that confirms his true identity and vocation. We can hear in these words an echo of those spoken by God to King David: “You are my son – this day I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7). It is a personal word, a personal call, a word spoken to my heart and to yours. And today, in a special way, it is a word spoken to Crosby Fulton’s little heart. Continue reading

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Creating space

“I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10

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When I was young, my father, adapting an image from St. Therese, explained to me how there could be “levels” in heaven, with certain saints reaching higher degrees of happiness, while at the same time everyone being perfectly happy. My Dad told me to imagine a large glass and a small one, both filled to the brim with water.

“Which one is more full?” He inquired.

“Neither one,” I replied. “They are both completely full.”

“That’s right. But which one has more water in it?” He pressed.

“The bigger one.” I said.

“And that’s how it is in heaven. Everyone is full, but some have more of God in them because they have made more room for him, and so they experience a greater joy.”

And then he gave me this charge: “David – you always want to have a bigger glass!” Continue reading

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On Deserving

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.”  – Luke 15:21, NJB

Hand and Flowers

Deserve. This word automatically evokes a sense of justice. You get what you deserve: what is your right, what is coming to you. “Father, let me have the share of the estate that will come to me” (Luke 15:12).  You get what you have earned, what you have worked for. There are merits and demerits. “All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours” (Luke 15:29).

Deserving is different when viewed through the paradigm of justice than it is through the paradigm of gift. Deserving in the paradigm of justice is dependent on what you have done, or the status you have attained. Deserving in the paradigm of gift is dependent on how the “giver” regards you, on the status he or she bestows. Perhaps, both sons in the parable suffer from the same misunderstanding. Both claim justice (later on, the younger son even believed he deserved a demotion for his sins), when for the father all is gift. Continue reading

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Consuming fire

“Our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:29

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Love, Pure Love

is a Consuming Fire.

Fire consumes all that is not fire.

It devours completely,

assimilating every worthy element

and transforming it into itself.

Nothing of what was remains.

What remains is nothingness.

A transubstantiation.

Thus is Love,

consuming all that is not Love,

annihilating all lesser loves.

Some vanish as droplets before they are touched.

Some burn slowly and suffer violence,

their torture observed as through bars

until they too are digested, destroyed.

Only Love is inexorable.

Only Love endures.

The Unquenchable Fire that quenches all

and is All.

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My only one

“My dove is my only one, perfect and mine.” – Song of Songs 6:9

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In the Book of Exodus we learn something about God – a name of God in fact – that seems strange to us: “You will worship no other god, since Yahweh’s name is the Jealous One; he is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14).

Today, jealousy is seen solely as something negative, undesirable. It almost always signals possessiveness, insecurity, suspicion, and a  lack of trust.  Jealousy destroys relationships, indeed, suffocates them.

So how can God be the “Jealous One”? He is the Jealous One because he wants my everything. He wants me, not just part of me, but all of me – total, exclusive, undivided.

Yet, it is truly me that he wants. He wants my all, but it is my all.  He wants me to give myself totally to him – to hold nothing back of myself for myself, as St. Francis of Assisi exhorts. But this complete giving of myself to him never means the annihilation of me or of my freedom; it is the highest expression of my freedom. It is not the kind of possessiveness that suffocates, but that sets free. To become one with him, to permeate him and be permeated by him, to melt with him (or, in St. Teresa of Avila’s words, to be dissolved in him) never means losing myself. I do not disappear, but become most fully me in the surrender. Continue reading

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