Like God, we must be patient and wait for loved ones to come to their senses
Last Sunday’s Gospel about the Fig Tree, the Last Chance, seems to be undermined by this Gospel of the Prodigal Son. However, we can say that the Fig Tree teaches us about negative “consequences” causing prolonged suffering, while the Prodigal Son reminds us that God is still ready to welcome us back after we have suffered the consequences.
How can we instil the hope of welcome in those we love?
It’s a paradox (a seeming contradiction), but it’s by applying consequences to those we love, when they do bad actions: it actually confirms our love for them.
In 2001, on BBC radio, I remember a programme on the discipline of children. From a substantial study, they categorised parental discipline into three groups:
1) those who let the children do anything – no rules;
2) those who had rules about time and behaviour – but did not enforce the rules; &
3) those who had rules about time and behaviour – AND they enforced the rules.
It was found that the happiest children in the group belonged to parents who enforced the rules: perhaps because it expressed: “we love you so much we are willing to be hated by you.”
The second most happy children belonged to the parents who had no rules. The most unhappy children belonged to the parents who could not be bothered enforcing the rules meaning: “you are not worth the trouble.”
When we tolerate bad behaviour in others, we often confirm to them that their behaviour is OK. Which can lead them onto a bad place of rejection by others.
This can happen when we become dependent on those people, and fear to lose them by correcting them. This helps explains why some people remain in abusive relationships longer than they should. But when we do that, we end up in slavery, like the Israelites in Egypt.
How are we today? Have we allowed ourselves to become dependent on others who abuse us in some way? Do we feel like we have no other option, like the Prodigal Son feeding the pigs?
Today we are reminded of a better way: to reach out to the Father who offers love, by way of forgiveness but also correction through consequences.
It’s better for our lives, when we align ourselves with people who will not tolerate selfish and harmful behaviour. This is why our Church community is so helpful to us; reminding us of a better way of living (concern for others and ourselves), instead of falling for the more selfish secular lifestyle.
The analogy in the First Reading, where the Israelites experienced a change in their diet, becomes for us an invitation to change our way of thinking.
Finally, we not only need to guard against being one of the sons – selfish or self-righteous – but we are also called to become like the faithful old father waiting for his son to return.
Let us pray especially for the parents who have been rejected by a child who rejects the “rules” the parents and Church Community live by. It’s very painful for them…
Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, let us wait with them and encourage them through Community life, while they wait for their child to “come to their senses”.
Do not lose hope! It is more difficult these days for young people to grow up, than in the past.
As God is patient with us, let us be patient with each other. And the hardest part of being patient with each other, is that we keep focusing on negative things about the other person, or about ourselves.
Part of our “change of diet,” requires us to appreciate the suffering the other person may have endured, which led to the negative behaviour and painful consequences. Sometimes it means acknowledging our mistakes, and writing to the other, to express sorrow. Then, we wait.
When our minds and hearts can stop focusing on the negative things around us, we will be able to move into a better space where we see the beauty around us: we begin to appreciate, more, the good people and things around us. Which lead us to experience more joy and gratitude.
God is patient, so must we be, as we wait for those we love.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI