Entrance Antiphon: Sir 36:18 — “Give peace, O Lord, to those who wait for You, that Your prophets be found true. Hear the prayers of Your servant, and of Your people Israel.”
First Reading: Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 — “The Lord relented in the punishment He had threatened to inflict on His people.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19 — “I will rise and go to my father.”
Second Reading: 1 Tm 1:12-17 — “Christ came to save sinners.”
Alleluia: 2 Cor 5:19 — Alleluia, alleluia. “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Lk 15:1-32 — “There will be great joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
Communion Antiphon: Ps 36(35):8 — “How precious is Your mercy, O God! The children of men seek shelter in the shadow of Your wings.”
Where were you when the world stopped turning? That question was asked in Alan Jackson’s song remembering this day. What I can’t believe is ... “Has it really been 21 years already?” Like many of you a little older than I, you can answer the question as easily as the one that will be asked on November 22nd … Where were you or what were you doing when John F. Kennedy was assassinated? or the one that is asked on January 28th … Where were you or what were you doing when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?
Twenty-one years ago, I was living in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland … working in the Blood Bank of a medium-sized Catholic hospital … when we got a call from the American Red Cross to sequester 75% of our blood supply and prepare it for transport … we were told to call the Operating Rooms and tell them to immediately cancel all elective surgeries. We learned about the unfolding tragedy via the television in the Emergency Room and later another that was temporarily put in the waiting room of the lab. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, those blood products were never needed. I can remember in those first few days after, the silence outside ... there were no planes flying overhead. I can remember the story of a neighbor in my building going to NYC to try to help. I remember him saying how he could only get so far in his car and walked the rest of the way ... helping to carry what he thought were rain ponchos which were in reality body bags ... and having to remove his shoes and put them in a plastic bag because they were covered with debris which could have well included human remains.
During that time, I was also about to begin discernment for a religious organization … Our Lady’s Missionaries of the Eucharist … which would become discernment for the vocation to the priesthood … a process that would ultimately bring me to Clayton and Franklinville. Today, on 09/11, we are called to prayer … gathered in Church … an awesome way to remember all those whose lives were directly affected by the events of this day in 2001. People went to Church and prayed those days following 9/11. Why should it be any different 21 years later on September 11, 2022? And yet because of COVID and the way society is today, it is different ... if you want my honest opinion, scary different.
And as an FYI … I know exactly where I was on November 22, 1963. I was at my grandmother’s house in upstate Pennsylvania. I was in utero while my Mom looked out of the upstairs bedroom window as she heard the news on the radio. On January 28, 1986, class had just ended for the day for our winter term or J-term class at Albright College and all of us were headed to the cafeteria for lunch. I was a college senior and I can vividly remember the televisions in the Campus Center playing over and over the terrible images of that day.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is often depicted as human-like with emotions and feelings much like our own: jealousy, anger, rage and love. The God of Abraham and Sarah is different from any other deity in the ancient world because this God possesses the human emotion of love. Today, we ultimately know that God is love. This is a God that hates being separated from His chosen people. In the First Reading, both anger and jealousy are erupting in God as the Israelites build themselves a false idol. Like a mother who tries to calm down an enraged father (so as to protect the children), Moses gently suggests that God might have forgotten the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses goes so far as to remind God of the promise that a great nation would evolve from Abraham would be null and void if God were to act against an oath that God swore.
God is portrayed as human-like in that Moses has to talk God into taking the “high road” and being willing to forgive. When humans do this ... when we forgive others ... we take the high road indeed ... and for many of us ... this is a road less-traveled. The characteristics of God that we encounter in Exodus would be a new concept in ancient times when compared to most of the pagan gods that were worshipped in Egypt and the Middle East ... Forgiving wasn’t something the gods were willing to do. This God of the covenant that Israel encounters in the desert ... still filled with justified rage ... freely forgives ... even before Israel asked God to do so! Separation is not what Israel’s God will accept. Peoples of other nations would consider this strange desert God of Israel as rather stupid perhaps, or naive to say the least. Gods don’t “love” and at best ... their relationship with humans is ... “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” The pagan gods were gods of mutual manipulation. But this is not true of Israel’s God.
In today’s familiar Gospel, God is represented by the forgiving father. However, Saint Luke takes this notion of a loving ... forgiving ... covenant God even further. Back then, those who heard this story would have been scandalized! Jesus’ parables are told to make people squirm at any preconceived notions of God ... and He breaks many taboos in the Prodigal Son story. This would have shocked His audience and even driven some away who rejected Him as “too far out.” The Father (God) in our famous story is even more “naive” than the God of the Exodus tale. The crowds around Jesus would have considered the actions of the younger brother as unforgivable ... most especially by the one that he has offended ... his father. Jewish children were taught to honor the elders, especially their fathers, in this patriarchal society. The action of this younger son was outright shameless. How could an obviously well- to-do father allow this action by his younger son? What is wrong with this man? And to make it even worse ... the boy’s stint with the pigs would have made him unclean and unacceptable in Jewish society. When people first hear this story ... both then ... and now, they probably think that the father had failed to raise his son properly.
The hearers of the story within first-century Judaism would have become even more astonished at the Father’s action as Jesus continues to tell the story. It would be absolutely unacceptable and uncouth for a Jewish elder to run ... as the father does ... when he sees his son approach from a distance. The father puts all standards of society aside. Why didn’t the father give this son a good whack or at least a stern talking to? And to ice the cake, so to speak ...the action that would have been considered utterly insane is when the son is given a ring. In that particular time and culture, with that ring the young man can now purchase items in his father’s name ... similar to a credit card today ... and this is given to a boy who has already squandered his father’s wealth and taken advantage of his father’s generosity. I guess the father of the story never heard of “tough love.” What we see is that Jesus portrays His Father, our God as even more compassionate and loving and more eager to forgive than the Hebrew writers did. God cannot abide a separation from God’s own. God’s compassion is too great.
The father of the Prodigal Son story is the Father that Jesus wants us to know and have a relationship with throughout our lives. In a little while, we will celebrate the Eucharist ... we will have the Bread of Life that keeps us close to Jesus and to the Father along the road of life. May God bless you.