Friday, June 1, 2018

Return



Joy and resentment cannot coexist. 
The experience of not being able to enter joy is the experience of a resentful heart.
I'm reading Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a Catholic priest, among many other things. He was a prolific writer and servant, and ultimately, a man whose loneliness and desire for relationship shaped his writings and life and his spiritual journey. Though he never publicly acknowledged that he was gay, his personal letters and writings indicate that he was. I must have read a quote by him somewhere that intrigued me to look into who he was because I'd never heard of him. His palpable loneliness was intriguing. It made me sympathetic and so I picked up Return.

If you don't know the parable of the prodigal son, it basically goes like this: A father had two sons. The youngest one day asked for his inheritance, which his father gave him. He then left for a distant country and squandered it all on a life of debauchery. Left with nothing, he is forced to tend pigs. Starving and prohibited from eating even the scraps allotted to pigs, he realizes the servants in his father's home have it better. He recognizes that in his demanding an unwarranted inheritance (his father yet lived!), he had wronged his father and, accordingly, he had no real right to return home. He reasoned, however, that he would beg forgiveness and seek nothing but a place of servitude in his father's home. His father meets him with forgiveness, mercy, and celebration. This angered the older son - he had stayed with the father, was obedient and served him all the years the younger son was gone, "You never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property, you kill the calf we had been fattening!" The father meets him with the same forgiveness and mercy, saying, "My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found."

I hadn't yet read Nouwen's section about the elder son when I happened upon the story of Juan Carlos Cruz and his meeting with Pope Francis. Juan Carlos is a sexual abuse survivor. Specifically, he was abused as a youth in Chile by a Catholic priest. The Pope was in Chile for the purpose of addressing this...what's the word...endemic scourge of the Church. In the process, he met privately with Juan Carlos, who is gay. After the meeting, Juan Carlos told people, some of whom were reporters, that during the meeting, the Pope told him "God made him gay and that God loves him the way he is."

Given that the Church's official stance on homosexuals is that they are "intrinsically disordered," this caused Catholics, particularly priests, I follow on Twitter to go a little nuts. Many called on the Pope to clarify and remind the world about Church teaching on the subject. I even had a twitter exchange with one priest who, I felt, admonished Juan Carlos for not keeping the meeting private. His gripe was that he now had parishioners who had questions and he wasn't happy about having to answer those questions. (I can't make this stuff up)







It really struck me after reading Nouwen's Return, particularly the portion related to the elder son, how easy anger, resentment...judgmentalism comes to all of us.

Nouwen writes:
In response to their complaint, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them," Jesus confronted the Pharisees and scribes not only with the return of the prodigal son, but also with the resentful elder son. It must have come as a shock to these dutiful religious people. They finally had to face their own complaint and choose how they would respond to God's love for the sinners. Would they be willing to join them at the table as Jesus did? It was and still is a challenge: for them, for me, for every human being who is caught in resentment and tempted to settle on a complaintive way of life.
Nouwen says this lostness can become deeply rooted and is very difficult to return home from.

Whether you are a person who views the world and your life through a prism of faith or not, I think it's easy to look around in this age of Trump and wonder just what it is people of faith are representing. How people respond to kindness, mercy, love, especially when it's given or shown to the "other" is telling...Don't listen to what anyone says. Watch what they do.

This has been rolling around in my head and I guess I just wanted to get it out. Til next time...



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