Mission in the Cloud. Wow! What a night. Our band of missionaries grew last night, in both registrations, but importantly, in each other. Sensing that, we left almost 20 minutes for interactive Q&A and even that wasn’t enough. Great questions and rich responses from our missionary panel. The Holy Spirit really seemed to be with us. The topic was Reconciliation, letting our Father love us.
“The Prodigal Son Returns, the Father Loves, and the Older Son Misses the Party”
Rembrandt von Rijn, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, State Hermitage Museum, Russia
We started the evening with another last masterpiece, this one from the great Dutch Baroque artist Rembrandt van Rijn. Though Rembrandt wasn’t chased by the same violent demons that Caravaggio suffered from, he had his ups and downs. As a young artist in Amsterdam, he enjoyed early success and promptly spent the fortune, and then some, on “wine, women, and song.” After his wife of many years died, he tied up with his housekeeper, unmarried, scandalizing his local church and resulting in expulsion. Just months before he died bankrupt, he painted this private, un-commissioned work. It has echoed through the ages, not just as a window into Rembrandt’s own soul as he faced death, but to our own.
The younger son returns here, still wearing the fine clothes he took from his father years ago, now threadbare and ruined. His sandals are worn out. He’s hoping at best for a job feeding the pigs, comes crawling back on his knees. He believes he is unforgivable. So focused on how “bad” he is, he can’t believe there is any good left in him. As missionaries, we meet a lot of people in the world who believe this, and can’t bring themselves back to the Father. But the younger son here, starving, almost has no choice. He returns.
And then he’s given a very big surprise. Not only does the father take him in, he welcomes him with open arms of mercy and love. Our eye is drawn by the lighting to with those two very different looking hands of the father. The father’s right hand, slender, gentle, loving. The hand of mercy. His right hand, larger, stronger, rougher. The hand of justice. In the warm embrace we see here, it’s clear that the hand of mercy wins out. And even more than welcoming the son back, the “Father of Mercy” here does something remarkable. He restores the son’s position in the household. He restores his Dignity. The dignity the son was convinced was long lost.
Then our eye drifts to the mysterious figure standing alone, almost outside the scene, on the right. The older son. We meet quite a few of these “older sons” out in the streets and byways of life. Sometimes he’s even us. He stands apart from the scene. Judgmental. Diffident. Jealous. He refuses to join the party. He’s separate, apart. Alone. Still dressed in the fine garb of the next in line to run the estate, he’s been loyal and “followed the rules.” In the words of some of the folks we meet out there, he “doesn’t have any sins.” But of course, he does. He has a very big one, actually. He can’t humble himself to get down on his knees before his father. He can’t let his father love him. And as a result, he can’t love.
He can’t give what he doesn’t have.
“A SECRET Pathway to God”
Fr. Sliney (@frmichaelsliney) offered us his secret pathway to God. Everyone was taking careful notes….
S stands for Sacred Scripture. St. Jerome said: "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." We can’t find God if we don’t start with understanding He’s the Divine, our creator, our source of life, of love, of hope. To encounter Him, we need to get on our knees and meditate for a moment on who we’re talking to. “You are God. I am not.”
E stands for Eucharist. The Eucharist is our secret weapon in the spiritual life. The Eucharist is Christ present, here, now. When we are with Him, close to Him, when we consume Him, He becomes part of us. He is literally in us. With us. His presence within us is what makes us missionaries. It’s His thirst for souls that drives us from within. His love that we give. And when we have Him with us, it gives us confidence. Joy. Make more time for Him in your day. Go to Mass whenever you can. Drop by your church and spend some time with Him in adoration, if even just for a few short minutes en route to your next meeting.
C stands for Cross. Too many folks today are trying to run from their crosses, praying to the Lord to remove them, or even resenting their cross, or maybe even resenting Him for allowing us to carry it. But our crosses, our sufferings big and small, are actually opportunities to grow closer to Him, to lean on Him, to be forced to accept our own vulnerability. To get down on our knees before Him. In the popular culture, we’re advised to “Count your blessings, not your crosses.” Father’s advice was the direct opposite, “Count your crosses as your greatest blessings.”
R stands for Reconciliation. God the Father is the father of mercies. The great sacrament of reconciliation is one of the great keys to the spiritual life. At one level, it helps us clear away the “big sins” that we feel are unforgiveable, that cause us to run from God lest we face our inevitable punishment. Breaking through that, as the Prodigal Son does, opens the pathway to love. At a deeper level, frequent reconciliation sharpens our consciences, makes us more aware of God’s presence, and protects us from drifting well before something really bad happens. It keeps us from sliding down the slippery slope. “It’s an antibiotic to sin.”
E stands for Evangelize. Mission in the broader sense—bringing others back to Him—not only has the potential to transform the soul we bring home. The very process transforms us. It’s one of the big ways we get a chance to work side by side with the Holy Spirit, it becomes a shared experience with Him. And that shared experience deepens our own relationship, strengthens our faith. At the end of an evening of mission in SoHo, there are many joyful souls now walking the streets who feel lighter, unburdened. There are other joyful souls, too, sharing a late evening meal at Louie’s café around the corner from Old St. Pat’s—the missionaries, who experienced Christ in the process. We don’t need to go to So Ho to experience this. We do so every time we bring some recalcitrant neighbor or friend or relative home.
T stands for ‘Theotokos’. Theotokos is Greek for “Mother of God." Father recommended to all of us to work on our relationship with Jesus’s mother. Mary is our route to Him. She’s His mother. And she’s also our Mother. If we draw her close, she’ll protect us. She’ll draw us to Him. And He’s never turned her down.
Fr. Eric led us in the Our Father. Too many of us breeze through this prayer, almost without thinking. Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote a whole book on it. It’s the one prayer granted to us directly by Jesus. And it starts with a simple, at the time revolutionary, assertion: God is not some far off, distant, dangerous, anonymous force up in the clouds who could strike us down in anger at the first misstep, whose name we’re not even allowed to articulate. He is our loving father, OUR FATHER. In heaven, yes, And with us. Waiting for us to come home. Loving us. Start there.
CHALLENGE: “Receive Reconciliation and Bring Someone with You”
One of our missionaries, Andrea, presented our challenge for the night. Go home to Him. Get on your knees. Just give Him a chance to love you. And be a missionary. Bring a friend you love. Bring someone home.
March 31, 2021