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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Are Children, Not Hired Hands
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013
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Today’s Gospel tells the familiar story of the Prodigal Son. One reason this story works so well to convey the message of the Gospel is because at different times in our lives, we can identify with one or another of the characters. Family dynamics are inescapable for most of us. Our families of origin shape our most basic ways of relating to other. Often the way we see our workplaces, our world, our religious institutions, and even our God is rooted in our experience of family.

Some of us can identify with the rebellious younger son who loses himself in pleasure and adventure. We also may know what it’s like to come to our senses and realize that somewhere we’ve taken a wrong turn.

When we realize that the road we have been following, the life we have been leading, may not be the one that is best for us, we must have the humility to admit that we have strayed, that we have been mistaken, that God knows better than we the life that will lead us to him. We must resolve to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

Nothing is more difficult than admitting that we have failed, that we have sinned. We feel haunted by the past, we rehearse the role that we feel lies ahead, we practice confessing our weaknesses.

Many of the burdens we carry from our past have to do with not being able to forgive ourselves. Until we can do that, we can’t believe that God—or anyone else—is able to forgive us. We cannot stay in the desert forever, wandering in despair. No matter how much we rehearse our role, no matter how willing we are to do penance and suffer and taken on the heavy burden of our guilt, in the end the greatest humility is accepting the role the Lord has written for us.

Others identify with the older son, the dutiful one who stayed at home and played by the rules and never put a foot over the boundaries of life. We can’t understand why God the Father would reward sinners and chastise those who are righteous and law-abiding. We don’t see that being intolerant and merciless toward others can also be sin.

There are also the rare ones among us who can identify with the lavishly forgiving father in the Gospel. All they ask is that their children come home. This kind of unconditional love is difficult but not impossible.

We must accept our roles as sons and daughters of God. We refuse his great gift of love when we insist that we’re only hired hands. This is the mistake the elder son makes. In the story, he says he’s slaved for his father all his life. What he doesn’t realize is that like his brother, he, too, is a son.

We are all children of the Father, we have all sinned, but we are all welcome in our Father’s house. We must live as a forgiving and as a forgiven people. This sounds easy, but in fact it can be quite difficult. This may be why so many of Jesus’s parables talk about forgiveness. The very prayer he taught us has forgiveness at its heart. And the same Gospel writer who tells the story of the Prodigal Son shows Jesus on the cross forgiving the very people who crucified him.

Take time this week to reflect on your own experiences of family—good and bad—and how a parable like the Prodigal Son taps into those experiences.


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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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