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Things Can’t Change That Much in One Week

I have always questioned the timeline of Holy Week. The triumphant entry to crowds shouting; to them proclaiming, “Crucify Him,” to the empty tomb, all in one week; especially since there was no social media. Attitudes and beliefs cannot change that dramatically in one week, or can they?

Apostles practiced social distancing, the crowds, clearly did not. Previous contributions recommended sitting alone in silence, little did we know at that time that is what this season has become, alone, not so much the silence. Having hosted a Zoom social amongst friends, the need to see and be with people resulted in 12 people all taking at once. People who had resisted social media, three of which were looking on with spouses because their flip phones do not have the capacity, are recognizing the need in this distancing to have contact in some way with others. Did the Apostles?

The Apostles gathered when things were good, they celebrated the Passover feast. They ran and hid when things were not so good; and then locked themselves away when things were at the worst. They sensed, witnessed, and experienced the mood change. They saw the arrest and heard the rooster crow. They listened to one another and understood the doubts. They eventually expanded their circle to other witnesses, slowly at first. Their fear subsided when they began to understand and have faith. Are we capable of that?

When our circle expands what will be our message? Are we capable of proclaiming through action and then word as the Apostles did, the love, compassion, and mercy of Christ? Or, will we resort to the social distancing we practiced prior to the virus through our busy-ness, alienation due to difference of opinions, apathy of neighbors needs, and pursuit of our own goals without thought of others?  

There is a civility present now which has not been seen in sometime. People are calling their elderly neighbors. Families are sharing meals. Children are playing outside. People are saying with great sincerity, thank you. I have always believed in a statement that we are familiar with, “Expect a Miracle.”  Of course, the miracle is not the way people are responding, but will be if we maintain these behaviors.

Community, Simplicity, Service, and Prayer, a miracle. Do you believe and faith as the Apostles did? Yes, you do believe, as your actions and attitudes, not just the crowds, have undergone numerous changes. The constant in our lives, is change. Which change will reflect what you truly believe.

May this Holy Week be a blessed and peaceful time.  Wash your hands!

By Rev. John P. Donovan. JCL, “JD”.  A priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, volunteer since pre-1979, former staff, and an ex officio board member. 

Speaking Love and Life JMJ

We are all powerful beyond imagination. And this power that we possess, is the power of love, gentleness, patience, kindness, and compassion.

This is not a new idea. It is a concept that stretches back to the roots of Genesis, and we first see it when God gives Adam and Eve into the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are called to be stewards of this created Earth, and by the grace of God they begin to do that which we too have the opportunity and power to do in each of our lives: co-creating this world alongside our creator. This idea of our calling to be co-creators with God in the shaping of our lives and the lives of those around us is not something that I happened upon by accident. It is a lesson that God has taught me in the silence and gentleness and unrest and noise of my own heart since the day I was born. However, since moving to the Farm last May, I have had the privilege and blessing of being in a place where we live this truth deeply. Nazareth Farm has allowed me to find more words to understand and express this truth.

Co-creation is not an action in and of itself though it may include actions. It is not words or feelings. It is a disposition of the heart towards the love and unity offered through, and found only in, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Co-creation is life itself, but it is a life particularly ordered for and to the greater glory of God. All of these words are things we hear at mass or recognize as “church-talk” in our day-to-day lives, and it is so easy to brush them aside…but to dive deeper reveals how practical and impactful this idea can be. Co-creation is making the Kingdom of God present here on Earth; making Jesus present in our words and deeds and love. It is the gentle encouragement of a volunteer who is unfamiliar with swinging a hammer. It is seeking forgiveness when we wrong another and offering forgiveness for the same.

Think of a moment from the past week, day, hour when you had an opportunity to speak life and love into the heart of another in the smallest of ways. Perhaps you could have affirmed someone or offered a smile to a stranger. Perhaps you could have refrained from cursing at something inconsequential, or maybe you could have taken an extra minute to be patient with a friend or family member who simply needed someone to be present in their life. Two minutes. Imagine how many times you could say the words “I love you” in two minutes.

This is the power we have, this is co-creation. When we turn our wills towards building the Kingdom here on Earth in our own lives, we participate with God in this ongoing mystery that we call Creation. And there is no better time to recognize this gift that we have than Lent. Lent is a time for turning back to God, for ordering ourselves wholly to His will and using prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as ways to remind ourselves and our communities that Jesus Christ is at the center of all that we do.

As we go through this week let us ponder this idea, that in Sunday’s Gospel Jesus speaks life back into a dead man, his friend Lazarus. We too can speak life back into suffering souls and have life spoken into ours if we will allow it. And we are called to be constant invitations to the love of Christ Jesus through how we live our lives for those around us. We can do this only when we allow God to fill us to overflow with His own grace and love.

And to encourage us in that endeavor I refer to Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation:

Although God lives in the souls of men and women who are unconscious of Him, how can I say that I have found Him and found myself in Him if I never know Him or think of Him, never take any interest in Him or seek Him or desire His presence in my soul? What good does it do to say a few formal prayers to Him and then turn away and give all my mind and all my will to created things, desiring only ends that fall short of Him?

[Lord] give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love.

John Buttner, current staff member at Nazareth Farm

God Is With Us

My Friends,

This is a time of uncertainty in our world.  We have been asked to stay in our homes and keep distance from each other.  We don’t know how long this is going to last.  We don’t know how many people will become infected with COVID-19.  We don’t know the long term effects of this crisis on our country or world.  Anxiety.  Stress.  Compromised physical, mental, and financial health.  It’s a lot.  Let’s take a minute to breathe together. 

Breathe in.

Hold it.

Breathe out.

God is with us.

This week, Sunday’s Gospel, the 9th Chapter of John, Christ heals the man blind from birth by wiping clay on his eyes and commanding the man to wash in a pool.  The man washes and is able to see. 

Can you imagine the revelations that the man has now being able to see?  Coming to understand colors, facial expressions, ease of movement and interaction, changes in light and shadow… so many intricacies unlocked by Christ’s act. 

God is at work in our lives, too.  Thursday prayer at Nazareth Farm invites reflection on where God is at work in our lives each week.  Lent is a time to look at our lives and reevaluate how we want to be living.  Thinking about the past 4 weeks, have you noticed any fruits of your additional fasting, almsgiving, or prayer?  Have you found spaces for quiet?  Space to breathe life into your everyday hurrying?  Where has God been at work?  Where have you been working with God?

Breathe in.

Hold it.

Breathe out.

Sometimes I like to imagine sitting on the front porch swing at the Farm.  Watching the creek go by, waving to the occasional car on the road, swinging slowly.  I can inhabit this space and consciously relax into prayer.  Do you have a calm place to imagine in stressful moments? 

Breathe in.

Hold it.

Breathe out.

Jesus opened the man’s eyes to something new in his life.  Let us look with the eyes that God gave us.  Let us remember to breathe and Expect a Miracle.

By Susan (Newman) Hollis, previous staff member at Nazareth Farm

Prayer, Almsgiving, & Fasting

Each year I focus on the three practices of Lent, prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.  Needless to say, because I will be preaching on one or all throughout the season but also the challenge, they offer me to practice what I preach.  I have listed them here in the order of easiest to hardest, what enriches me, to what tests me.

Each morning my day begins with the liturgical hours and silence.  In Lent I focus on maybe my parish’s theme or a need I just encountered.  When, not if, I fail to start my day this way, it is evident to me, as if I had not had my morning coffee.  I cannot focus or am able to prioritize as to how my response in faith to whatever is before is not my first thought, and I am stymied in finding a faith-filled answer.  Throughout Lent I find that each day I need to be silent a little longer, listening more intently, and becoming more hopeful.

Almsgiving often takes the effort to make a decision.  What time do I have to offer to another, it is a busier time; what my need is rather than my want and how do I truly serve, rather than work.  Patience especially with myself is confronted, and when in doubt, my response needs to be simply put the other person first. Paying attention to another’s need rather than my tasks is the effort, but throughout Lent it seems more purposeful.

Fasting.  I am pleasantly plump, and have worked hard to get into this shape, round. I also have serious dietary issues; unfortunately, I have developed the pattern of eating what and when I can, as if in this first-world-nation I do not know when my next meal will be available.  I relish, often with relish, what I do eat. I often fail to make a good sacrifice, and that is exactly what I have asked people to do this year. Give up nothing! Instead, choose what sacrifice you are going to make. I struggle, until I put it into that exact context. I am old enough now that fasting is not required, which to me is making the sacrifice that much more rewarding.  Next to me at this moment I have a bag of Hershey Nuggets.  It is nice not to open them.

Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting or prayer, simplicity, community, and service.  I guess the Lenten practices have never been foreign to me. All call each of us to a greater understanding of our relationship with God and our relationship with one another.  Silence refreshes me, knowing the difference between want and need is a daily decision, putting the needs of others before my own is what community is about, as well as serving one another.  We make sacrifices in our lives and are asked to be aware how those sacrifices are about others, not “what do I get of it.”  

Although I have never been to the Farm for Holy week, I have experienced numerous holy weeks there, many even during Lent.  Be it Lent or late August I am reminded, the way I live my life is a response of faith. Prayer, almsgiving, fasting; prayer, simplicity, community and service each is an important aspect to the journey we take.

Written by Rev. John P. Donovan. JCL, “JD”.  A priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, volunteer since pre-1979, former staff, and an ex-officio board member.

Feeling Renewed at the Farm

“Renewal” is one of the aspects of Lent that always causes me to pause and reflect. When you look back over the past year since last Easter, are you pleased with everything you did or did not accomplish? I know I have too many things that did not happen as I had hoped, and there are many things that I did, that I wish had not. However, that is life, and our greatest challenge is to embrace it all while striving to always have the love of God as our guiding force. This Lent has a much deeper meaning for me this year, but I still face the same challenges of opening my heart and finding the light of the season to guide me.  One of the ways that I have found to be most effective to help me open my heart is spending time at Nazareth Farm.

One of these years, I will pray through Holy Week at the Farm, but otherwise I have enjoyed the Farm at most every other season of the year on more than one occasion. Each time I experience the Farm, it is different, and my faith experience grows because of that difference. With each season there are new plants and views which trigger different memories of past visits, joyous moments, or sad reflections.  Almost every year the staff members are different, and those interactions generate memories during conversation where thoughts and life experiences are shared with one another which then in turn causes other internal reflections guiding my faith renewal. During times when volunteers are around, those interactions are, of course, different and add another reflection opportunity to my Farm “renewal.” I like to think of my time at the Farm as my faith recharge, and it is certainly very much what Lent is, but can be during most any time of the year at the Farm.  

Not all of my visits are as much of a faith recharge as others, some are just quick stops, but the visuals while there always spark the faith memories I need at that point in my life. Sometimes a short walk to the grotto for some contemplative prayer helps to focus my thoughts and open my heart to Jesus for guidance. Other times, it is with a cup of coffee sitting on the porch swing while day is breaking. One of the most constant is during group prayer, whether the group is large or small, the faith sharing experience is always rejuvenating. Occasionally it is during a home repair project where you witness the strength of love in the form of another person putting all of their effort into building, fixing, or improving whatever the project requires. It can be during community night when you have the opportunity to interact with the local friends of Nazareth Farm, by listening to their life journeys and sharing yours with them.  Those are some examples of how one can experience “renewal” at Nazareth Farm, and there are many, many more, always changing, always there. I’ll let you in on a little secret -I have not yet had a faith “renewal” experience during a bucket shower!

If you have not yet been to the Farm, I encourage you to connect during an appropriate time for a retreat experience.  If you have not been in some time, reconnect during one of the adult, college, or family times during the year. The beauty of faith renewal at Nazareth Farm is constant for those who open their hearts to the cornerstones of Community, Simplicity, Prayer, and Service.  

By Rick Lewis, current Board of Directors Treasurer and past volunteer

How Can You Love This Lent?

In the two Sunday’s prior to the start of Lent, Jesus has been lecturing his disciples regarding the teachings of the Law. As we enter into this season of Lent there seems to be a clear connection between these Gospel readings and the shadow of the Cross that looms large on the horizon. God’s law is the law of LOVE. Love that sends Jesus to teach, to be an example, and ultimately to die with the weight of human failings on his shoulders. This love is not the love of fairy tales or movies. It’s not the love we see in magazines or newspapers. No, to paraphrase Dorothy Day, the love of God is beautiful, but it is also a difficult and dreadful thing.

The love of God requires more of us. More than just not killing another, but we must not even kill others’ spirit or joy. How easy is it to say one thing, one small side comment, one disapproving look to break somebody’s spirit and take away their joy? Love demands reconciliation. Jesus literally tells his disciples if you are angry with another, go and make peace with that person before you do anything else. He tells us in plain words to, “leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled… (Mt 5:24).” Before even thinking about doing anything else, even before offering anything up to GOD – go and make peace, go and love! This love is a challenge to give freely to others without thinking of one’s self. Jesus tells us to give the clothes off of our back to others, to give more than is even asked of us.

In reflecting on this love, the love that compels us to act for others, my mind skipped ahead a few chapters to the scene at the foot of the cross. Jesus, as he is dying for us, gives his mother Mary to John, one of the 12 apostles, and John to Mary. In this act of love, Jesus gives Mary and John to the world, to the generation of the day and to all future generations. In doing so, we too are given to our sisters and brothers across the world. If we believe that God is love, and that God dwells within each of us no matter our race, creed or customs, then love dwells within each and every human being. We live by God alone who is love. 

Here on the Farm, we strive to live that self-sacrificial love through the cornerstones– PRAYER, SIMPLICITY, SERVICE, and COMMUNITY, and believe me it’s not an easy thing to do. The love that God lavishes on us calls us to live a life of prayer, to allow God in our lives daily, to make our lives a constant prayer, seeking to do the will of God and letting our selfish desires fade away. The goal of prayer is to see the world through the eyes of the Gospel– which is with eyes of radical love. I may not want to always turn the compost or wash somebody else’s dishes, but when I take a moment to reflect, how could I NOT do those seemingly gross and mundane chores?! If I am intertwined with every other human being on this Earth, then it is a joy to serve in this little corner of the world to work to repair homes and to foster communities of compassionate accompaniment. 

God’s love necessitates simplicity. Simplicity not only to declutter our lives and allow us the ability to focus on things and people about whom we care, but also to allow us to recognize the injustices in the world. If we truly want to be called Christians and be known by our love, we would not simply give food to the hungry – we would instead  ask, “Why are people starving and hungry?” And then work, I mean really work, toward answers and solutions. Love calls us to deny ourselves, to think about what we are eating, buying, where we are sleeping, and where we go. To love is to be poor, to give of the excess we have so others may have enough. And in all of this we are called to live lives of service. We are called to see the face of Christ in our sisters and brothers, even those sisters and brothers who annoy us, irk us, and those who we think we cannot even bear to spend any time with, and to LOVE them. 

Fortunately, we have the greatest teacher and example ever, Jesus. Jesus had nothing, he roamed around loving, really loving everyone who came to him. He resisted the temptations in this Sunday’s Gospel reading of money, power, prestige, and creature comforts. I might have been tempted and even given in to the temptation of worldly power as a way to right the societal wrongs that are rampant across the globe. Who among us would turn down riches if we knew that we could provide for our families and friends with ease?! But Jesus turned all these down; God’s love is greater than all the worldly desires. 

Yes, to love is a difficult arduous task, but it’s really the only thing that matters. How can the cornerstones of the Farm help you to grow in love?

January 6th – Christmas at the Farm

December 14th saw the staff of Nazareth Farm host its annual community Christmas Party at the Doddridge County Park! There was music, crafts, games, food, and good cheer aplenty. However, perhaps most notable was the appearance of Santa Claus, yes that’s correct, Ol’ Saint Nick, Mrs. Claus, and an elf made the long trek down from the North Pole to Doddridge County, West Virginia, to share in the joy and love of the season. Each child that came received a new book and a gift from Santa, not to mention the plethora of hats, gloves, scarves, and gently used books from which to choose. None of this, however, would have been possible without the help of 18, yes 18, Friends of the Farm who volunteered their time and talents at the Park that Saturday to ensure everyone felt welcomed, cared for, and loved during a season of the year, in which it is so very easy to get caught up in doing, that the people next to us, our neighbors, can be forgotten altogether. 

    At the party everyone has a role to play, some served food and cookies to the partygoers, others facilitated games and crafts for those wanting to exercise creative energy, still others engaged those in attendance and assisted them in picking out books, hats, gloves and other items to best suit them, and of course there was the North Pole contingent who spent quality time with each and every child, and those who captured the precious moments with Santa for the families to commemorate this particular Christmas season. 

    How incredibly absurd to have a party for over 150 strangers on a cold, rainy day in North Central West Virginia! Although, how incredibly absurd is it that we should find ourselves sharing an experience, our human existence with our God, our Savior and Creator?! Jesus forced God back into the story of humanity at Christmas even though we tried our darndest, and still do from time to time, to push God out. Yet, we encounter Christ everyday; some old book tells us that humans were created in the IMAGE and LIKENESS of God. God dwells within each of us, and that divine spark is always burning inside us. So how could we not host a party? How could we not connect people from across the country who couldn’t physically be present to Christ in the faces and stories of those at the party, so they purchased, books, toys, games, and clothing to share? How could we not cook food and bake cookies to share with those who came to the party to provide nourishment to Christ? How could we not take the time out of our full lives in the middle of December, to not spend it at a store, not glued to a screen, but rather with children and adults in wonderful West Virginia, with Christ among us? So, there we were, playing out modern day interpretations of the Magi who offered fruits of their treasure with the baby Christ; like the Shepherds who dropped what they were doing so they could see and visit with their Creator Incarnate and offer their time to their God made flesh. Frankly, that is what Jesus throughout the entirety of the new testament did. He spent time with the other, recognizing God in them, sharing of his time, which was limited, of his talent and his treasure — the love and compassion of God. How could we not make room in our hearts to live as Christ lived and love as Christ loved? 

    Thank you to all who came to the Party and all who volunteered for being beautiful reminder of the empathetic compassion of Christ. Dorothy Day reminds us that “there is always room for one more..”, and if each of us is Christ living and moving and having our being in the world today, how could there not be room? Merry Christmas, and may the peace and blessings of Jesus, God incarnate, be with you and your loved ones this season and always.

April 14 – Palm Sunday

Until I heard the song”Crucify Him” by Shane & Shane, all I thought of Palm Sunday services was that it was that super long, boring Mass with the Passion reading. Everyone’s favorite, right?

The verses in the song call out the irony that in under a week, the people in Jerusalem can go from shouting “Hosanna!” (which translates to “Save us, please!”) to “Crucify Him!”

“I sing, ‘Hosanna!’ when I want it all / Then I crucify the Son of God / ‘Cause He isn’t who I always thought / Not what I want, but what I needed / I sing, ‘How great and mighty is the King!” / Just as long as He considers me / High above every other thing / Even His glory”  

Ouch. How many times have I treated Jesus like someone who had to be what I wanted (like the “nice” God who always loves me and puts rainbows in the sky) while I disregarded the fact that He is also what I NEED (like a God whose teachings hold me to a higher, more difficult to follow, moral standard). How many times have I talked to others about God, or shown up at Church, putting up a front, while actually pretending that my own prayer life is often more of an uphill climb than an easy walk?

“Broken like a record / spinning round and round like a hurricane / I pour out water then I disappear / Reappearing when I fear enough / Or need a touch from You / I sing, ‘Hosanna!’ once again / Then I say, “Crucify Him!”  

How many times have I only turned to God when I WANTED to, and not when I NEEDED to? Have I ever felt like I should try to block God out of my life when I know that he wouldn’t be happy with how I treated someone, failed to do the right thing, or was just settling for apathy?

“It’s packaged differently than Pharisees / wrapped in sing-alongs and Christianese / Empty hallelujahs to the King / When my heart is loving idols / A man of sorrows acquainted with grief / He had no form; He had no majesty / How could he have the audacity / To ask me to give Him my tomorrow?”

What do I make a priority, or an “idol,” over my relationship with God? When have I thought that I could radically give God some aspect, or all, of my life, and then chosen to rely on my own understanding and desires?

The beautiful part about the Passion story is that in the end, despite God having every possible reason to abandon us and change his plans to redeem us, he doesn’t. The crucifixion is the summit of God showing us how much he loves us from the very beginning of human history.

I think of Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let US make man in OUR image,” using the plural to show that each Person of the Trinity has always existed – that from before the Fall and Original Sin, Jesus, our Redeemer, existed. I think of Ezekiel, who, after God’s presence left the Temple through the East gate because of people’s corruption, prophesied that the Lord would return from the East (like the road Jesus uses to enter Jerusalem), and take possession of the Temple and rebuild it (like how Jesus drove out money changers). In Zechariah 9:9, we see the prophecy that the Davidic king (whose line is continued down to Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus) would return to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Sections of Isaiah, and Psalm 22, speak about exactly how the Messiah would die, hundreds of years before the Romans invented crucifixion as a method of torture. “They have pierced my hands and my feet… They stare at me and gloat, they divide my garments among them, for my clothing they cast lots.” (Ps. 22)

The 300 insanely specific Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfills throughout his time on earth point directly to why He comes incarnate – to save us. To save YOU.  Even though over thousand and thousands of years, humanity has continually failed God. God’s people have turned to idols, turned a blind eye to miracles and signs, shut their ears to words of the prophets, and sinned over, and over again. And yet He STILL loves us enough to suffer more than we can imagine, and die on the cross for us.

As we wrap up this Lenten Reflection series, I encourage you to enter into Holy Week with that personal, intimate, love of God in mind. Today’s second reading says it best: “ that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Love, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:6-11).

April 7

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus has several run-ins with the Pharisees, who usually try to put Jesus between a rock and a hard place. Don’t pay taxes to Caesar, and you’re an outlaw. Tell your followers to pay taxes, and you’re just as corrupt as the tax collectors. Heal that crippled man today, and you’ll be breaking the law that forbids working on the Sabbath. Don’t heal him, and look like heartless person who can’t perform miracles anyway.

Each time, Jesus surprises everyone by choosing option C, none of the above. In this week’s passage from John 8, he does the same. The Pharisees present him with a woman who had been caught in adultery – a capital offense in this time and place. They place her in the middle of a circle of men, to highlight her humiliation, and use her to make a point – if Jesus lets her go, he is renouncing the Jewish laws. If he stones her, as the law requires, they could call him a merciless killer.

Jesus instead writes in the dirt – an action that some Scripture scholars believe references Jeremiah 17:13, “Those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.” It’s likely that the Jews would have recognized this Old Testament reference, and it’s meaning – to remind them that their actions were not in fact doing the will of God, but turning them way from the Lord. 

Imagine for a second that you are that woman stuck in the middle of that circle. Think of the embarrassment of being publicly called out, reminded of our sins, under the threat of a painful death. The only thing you would be asking for at that moment is exactly what Jesus offers her – mercy.

What about the Pharisees? I picture someone caught up in their own thoughts and desires – which we all have done at one point or another. Maybe some of them were so legalistic in their thinking that they forgot to also leave room for the part where God LOVES his people. Maybe some of them were so angry at Jesus, whom they believed to be a blasphemous heretic, that they were willing to do anything to stop him – including sacrificing the dignity of another person. Maybe they got caught up in the mentality of the group, only to be left standing there, stones in hand, wondering, “how did I get to this point?”

I haven’t thrown stones at anyone, but I can definitely think of times in my life where I have been in one of these situations – following what I thought was right, angry and accusing, or following along apathetically. I can also think of many times where it feels like I’ve been presented with two options – and neither feels like the right one. Jesus inspires us here to be creative, and choose “option C” – mercy. Jesus isn’t telling us that sins don’t matter, but he IS telling us that they can be forgiven. In today’s world, sometimes it feels like in order to live out the Gospel, we have to stuff it into a world-shaped box, conforming it to society’s expectations. However, when we follow that example of Christ, we let HIM set those expectations – which sometimes means blowing that box wide open.

With that in mind, St. Paul’s letter from the second reading leaves us with instructions on exactly HOW to accomplish that. He says, “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14). 

March 31

This week’s Gospel reading, the famous parable of the Prodigal Son, is one of my favorites to reflect on periodically because I’ve been able to picture myself as different people in the story at different times in my life.

The younger son in the story gets the most attention by many readers – we can all recognize how offensive it would be to ask a relative for your inheritance as if they were already dead. Most people can relate in some way to a time in their lives when they were headed down the wrong path, for a brief or long period of time. Most translations say that the younger son “collected all his belongings, and set off to a distant country” (Luke 15:13). The original Greek description of where the youngest son goes actually means “the big emptiness” – which I think is much more relatable to our daily lives than spending lots of money in a foreign land. Have you ever felt like you’ve ended up in “the big emptiness?” Maybe for you that means feeling stuck in some type of suffering, or even just like you’re exhausted, going through the motions in life, unable to see, or even think about, moving forward. Maybe that’s feeling lonely, anxious, or helpless. How did we get there? Is feeling this way at all tied to our own version of lacking in faith, or not spending time in prayer? I haven’t blown my bank account in a far away place, but when I think of it more in the terms of “the big emptiness…” – that strikes a chord.

The older brother’s complaints are something we can also relate to – the “it’s not fair” mentality comes naturally to us as humans, especially when we read that he offended his family by asking for it, then squandered away everything and became so destitute he “longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed.” My first instinct is to say “serves him right,” and stick out my tongue, like any older sibling who watches a younger one get themselves into trouble. He is right when he complains that it’s not fair that his “terrible, wasteful, embarrassing” brother gets a celebration. But it’s not about being fair – it’s about the love of the Father. When the older brother complains, he misses the point – reciprocal, sacrificial, unconditional love. He treats his relationship with his father like a transaction (I do good things, you pay me back with a big party), instead of a relationship. There are no limits to how much the Father loves us – and there is more than enough love to go around. The Father’s love is infinite – and so beyond our comprehension of measurements and fairness that it can never be measured. “Everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31), because His love is total, and freely given. By refusing to enter the celebration because of his anger, he isn’t taking anything away from his brother – he is only hurting himself.

I can think of lots of different emotions my own parents might have if I asked for an inheritance – awkward laughter, tears, angry yelling, etc. – none of them are willingly dividing the property up without question. When I think of encountering someone who has wronged or hurt me in some way, my initial reaction isn’t to greet them with joy and an embrace (Luke 15:20). And yet the father not only does that, but he also abandons all sense of proper expectations. In Middle Eastern culture at this point in history, an adult man would have always walked, purposefully, as a sign of status and being put together. Running? Out of the question, you’d be taken for a fool. And yet the Father of the Prodigal Son does exactly that – at the tiniest glimmer of hope that his son is returning, the only thing that matters is that he is home.

Lent is beautiful because we are reminded to shed the behaviors, distractions, mindsets, temptations, sins, doubts, and more that keep us from being close to the Father. We fast from the things that make us feel like we aren’t worthy of being close to God, like the Prodigal Son who didn’t think he was worthy of doing anything but being one of his father’s hired workers and eating with the pigs. We are called to sacrifice and serve, in ways that the older son struggled to do. And above all, love, and let ourselves be loved by the Father. Unconditionally.