Has this ever happened in your family? There has been a falling out. Something was said, someone was neglected, someone was slighted, misunderstood, misquoted and a rift developed in the family. On big family occasions, Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays or wedding anniversaries someone is always missing. The family is incomplete. No one knows how to set things right. Then the time comes when people re-connect, hurts are healed, bygones become bygones and things are good. Peace reigns in the valley.
This scenario could be seen as a variation of today’s gospel and the return of the wayward son and the father’s attempt at bringing peace to the family. Family in those days was not in the limited family we know today, family meant the whole clan, the cousins by the dozens.
I read somewhere that the reason they killed the fatted calf instead of a goat or sheep was because the entire community was invited to share the joy of the father. There would be enough food to feed more than a hundred people. The banquet is intended to reconcile the young man with the entire community, the whole clan.
I hope you noticed our addition to our prayer of the faithful; for those member of our parish family who are not sharing this Eucharist with us that they may find their way home to the family of the church.These good people are members of our parish family, members of the family of the church who, for whatever reason, are estranged from the church. They may have been hurt by the church, embarrassed by the scandals in the church, they may feel misunderstood by the church, or convinced the church has nothing to offer them, it is not speaking to their needs. They seem to have turned their backs on their Christian, Catholic upbringing. They are not with us because they may be in irregular marriages or unconventional relationships, the list could go on and on and none of us can judge their decisions. As one young person told me, “right now the church is an inconvenience in my life.” Another young man told me he is against ‘organized religion’ even though his whole life seems taken up with organized sports. Other good people have been turned off by what they see as the hypocrisy of fellow Catholics who haunt the churches but stand in judgment on everyone else. They do not live the faith they profess.
Too often we can see the church as an organizational chart; we’ve got the Pope, the Cardinals, the Vatican officials (read: bureaucrats), the Archbishops and Bishops and on down the line to us. Here we are as a parish family but part of the larger family of the church. What is true in every parish is true of us; we are blessed by the presence of everyone here, we are diminished by the absence of those not here. Going back to the image of the family we can be sadden by the sight of the empty chair at a Christmas dinner.
Every parish has its prodigal sons and daughters, the wanderer, the seeker, the independent thinker, the cynic, the hurting and the angry. They are estranged from the family of faith but they are still family, they are still ours.
In God’s time may they ‘come to their senses and begin their journey home where they know they will be welcomed and not judged. We know that the family of the church is divine in its origin but it is very human in its living. We are all mistake making beings but we are family and as we continue to celebrate this Mass having heard the story of the wandering son who came home to his family we continue to pray for those members of our own families who are not sharing this Eucharist with us that in God’s time and grace they will be with us again.