Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 9:05 am | Fair 42º

 
 
 
 

Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: Prodigal Daughters and Sons

Could we be prodigal daughters and sons, and still be loved by God? Like the younger son in Jesus’ famous parable, the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes has stepped beyond the official boundaries of our parental church. What is the message of the parable for us? Is God simply waiting for us to repent and return back home, destitute and contrite? Or is it more complicated than that?

Those of us who are parents know what it’s like to watch our children leave home. On the one hand we admire their courage in stepping out into a larger world, and we want them to be able to test their mettle in a new environment. On the other hand, we are afraid that inexperience, poor judgment and, yes, the lure of excitement will lead them astray and land them in serious trouble. But when all is said and done, do we really want our kids always to play it safe?

In his parable, Jesus tells the story of a “prodigal” son, an extravagantly forgiving father and an obedient but resentful older brother. The prodigal has ventured out, lived high on the hog and gone through all of his money. So he is forced to return home, destitute and broken in spirit. The stay-at-home older son is faithful and obedient, but not without sin himself.

Jesus is speaking to two sets of listeners in this parable. Gathered close around are his usual companions, who are largely “prodigals”: tax collectors, who are trying to make the oppressive social system of Roman-dominated Palestine work to their advantage; and “sinners,” who sell their bodies to make ends meet. This inner group must have rejoiced greatly at Jesus’ story of a warm “welcome home” and the promise of a fresh start without rancor or reproach.

Jesus’ second set of listeners are the scribes and Pharisees, who are looking on from a distance. “He welcomes and eats with sinners,” they murmur to themselves. Addressing them, Jesus recounts the older son’s reaction to his brother’s return. In the process, he says out loud what the scribes are muttering under their breath: “This son of yours,” the older son charges, “has wasted what you gave him on prostitutes!” And there sits Jesus, surrounded by prostitutes, as if to identify with the younger, wayward son. To the disapproval of the religiously correct, Jesus himself has stepped beyond the boundaries of proper behavior to engage with the wider world around him, with all its joys and its sorrows, its goodness and its sin.

The older son may be “good” and “obedient,” but he is also envious and resentful. The prodigal’s return has upset his apple cart, his notion of how things ought to be. He represents the old order, the status quo. As heir presumptive, he has something to lose. Perhaps that is why he speaks so reproachfully; he thinks he knows better than his father what ought to be done and said.

The father — that is, God — continues to love both children: the risk-taking prodigal and the play-it-safe, dutiful child. “All I have is yours,” he reminds the older son, even though the latter does not seem fully to use or appreciate his access to these assets.

The scribes and Pharisees are representatives of the old order, the religious tradition of their time, but the same phenomenon occurs in almost every era. Religious leaders feel called to speak in the name of God, but they often do so in ways that are condemnatory and stingy, that exclude rather than include. Jesus tells of a God who reaches out to embrace everyone.

It is not inevitable, however, that religious institutions must always play the role of the older brother. Fifty years ago, at the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic bishops of the world resolved to step out of their comfort zone, to venture beyond the familiar confines of the church they had grown up in. Like Jesus, they wanted to share “the joy and hope, the grief and anguish, of the people of our time.” Those are the opening words of Gaudium et spes (“joy and hope” in Latin), the groundbreaking document they created (also known as the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).

Thus began an era of renewal that was probably best exemplified in the religious sisters, of which last summer’s Nuns on the Bus are a recent American example. The sisters revisioned their lives, stepping out of their convents and leaving behind their religious habits, so that they might befriend and serve people in need. Though this did not happen without controversy and criticism — there will always be “older brothers” — these “prodigal sisters” continue to provide inspiration and hope.

In recent days the church has welcomed a new pope, one who has spent most of his life far from the church’s ancestral home in Rome; one who has shared the joys and sorrows of rich and poor alike in Argentina — “almost at the ends of the Earth,” as he said in his first words from the papal balcony. We prodigal daughters and sons rejoice in his election, hoping and believing that he and we alike are embraced and held together in the arms of a loving God.

— Anne Heck is a member and homilist at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >