Prodigal Son – Fourth Sunday of Lent

The Cross of Christ Unites. . . God’s Mercy and Love


 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself. . . 2 CORINTHIANS 5:16–18


 This man receives sinners and eats with them. LUKE 15: 2 

I met Frank the first time I visited a Catholic seminary. He stood out from the rest of the men training for the priesthood: He radiated an air of being sure of himself. Of all the guys that I met on that two-day visit, he was the only one who seemed really sure of what he was doing there. I mentioned this to Frank as I was getting ready to leave and it was then that he told me something that has stuck with me from that moment on. Frank was completing his seventh of the eight years of study required for those in training for the priesthood. Reflecting back on those years and the people that he had met over that period of time, he said, “I’ve met some of the greatest saints and greatest sinners here. I’ve also learned that most of the time it is hard to tell which are which.”  I thought to myself, Frank is going to make a great priest.

But a week after I met him, he left the seminary. There were rumors that a young woman who worked in the kitchen at the seminary refectory was pregnant with his child. Instead of being ordained a priest, he was married during what would have been his eighth year in the seminary.


Judge Not 

It is clear from even a casual reading of the gospels that Jesus was judged incessantly: by his family, his disciples, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Greeks, and the Romans. Some thought Jesus was crazy, some thought him a prophet, some thought him an agitator, some hoped he would be a political liberator or a king; only a select few recognized him as the Son of God. He himself said that people called him a drunkard and a glutton. We need look no further than the inability of the people who encountered Jesus in the flesh to see who he really was, to understand why we shouldn’t judge. . .ever.

You might think Frank misled me with his confidence and insight; nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now if he was a saint or a sinner. Neither do you. You may judge him, saying, “Well, he obviously committed a sin by getting the young woman pregnant.” But what if Frank wasn’t the man responsible for her pregnancy? What if he had simply decided to make a home for her and her child after the child’s father abandoned the young woman? What if he sacrificed his vocation for the sake of this child? Why, he could be a great saint, a modern St. Joseph!

That is why Frank’s comment has stuck with me for these many years: We just don’t know. We do not know the real truth about others, and sometimes we don’t even know the truth about ourselves.

A Friend of Sinners 

One of the most famous parables of Jesus is that of the Prodigal Son. The son demands his inheritance, then goes off and blows it all. He doesn’t come to his senses until he is working in a pigsty. Jesus tells this parable when he is in the process of being judged as someone who consorts with sinners. The “punch line” of the parable hits home for all of us prodigals: Those who are most likely to come to their senses are those who have experienced the emptiness of a life apart from God. The elder sons really don’t see any reason to party; they haven’t come to their senses yet. Who is the greatest sinner in the parable of the Prodigal Son? Could it be the older brother, who is angry that his ungrateful little brother had come home? Often we resent this; we identify more with the elder brother than with the younger. In fact, when I’ve spoken on this parable it has often angered someone: Someone in their family, like the Prodigal Son, has taken the family’s money, only to come back penniless and in search of more.

Ironically, some Scripture scholars think that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus is the son who takes the inheritance of the Father—his divine mercy and love—and squanders it on sinners! In the end, the Father is pleased. Once you’ve heard this way of looking at the parable, it’s hard to see it in any other way. Yes, God’s mercy is great; however, to experience it fully always involves a bit of a crucifixion on our part. Our natural  human way of looking at things is invariably fallible and has to die. For some of us, that means we’re not so bad that God can’t forgive us; for others, it means we’re not so good that we don’t need God’s mercy. Most of us are incapable of true objectivity; we have no way of knowing how good we really are or even how bad we are. The cross unites God’s love and mercy in us, liberating us to place our trust in him.

St. Paul said, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me,” (1 Corinthians 4:3–4). This is trust. It is why sinners flocked to the Lord when he walked the earth, and it is why we sinners flock to Mass, where the Lord feeds us with his Body and Blood. St. Paul says that anyone in Christ is a new creation. Being in Christ is the key. We hide in Christ. We dwell in Christ. He is our life, our hope, and our salvation. Divine Mercy provides the perfect anecdote to the poison of sin, “Jesus, I Trust in Thee!” Not in riches, not in the ways of the world, not in my judgments, but in Jesus. Only in God will our souls be at rest.

The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Daily Lent Meditation

Jesus said to Nicodemus:“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have

eternal life.”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.For

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed

in the name of the only Son of God.And this is the verdict,that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light,because their works were

evil.For everyone who does wicked things hates the lightand does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

(Image from the ceiling of the Gesu in Rome of souls repelled by the name of Jesus and the Light plunging downward to their damnation)


Reflection

Since I’m fresh back from Rome, I cannot read this Sunday’s Gospel without thinking of the ceiling of the Gesu in Rome. It is the triumph of the name of Jesus and it plays on the contrast between light and darkness…those who move toward the name are almost lost in the light, while those repelled by the name are in darkness and seem to be plunging downward and about to crash on those looking upward (one of the best 3-D images I’ve ever witnessed). And of course this image immediately impacts you the viewer…”am I drawn toward the name of Jesus or repelled by it”…now we all immediately might put ourselves in the “drawn towards” category, but don’t be so quick to judge, but rather ask yourself “am I willing to die to myself and glorify the name of Jesus?”

Do I prefer the light that Jesus brings to the darkness of my intellect or do I prefer my thoughts to Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel?

One of the best homilies I ever heard was on this Gospel and it also was one of the shortest homilies I ever heard. It was given by an old Jesuit in his 90’s who read the Gospel in a halting voice and then preached these words in a tearful voice:

“‘This is the judgment, the light came into the world but men preferred darkness.’ What a tragedy!”

His simple “What a tragedy” gave me pause to think about the gravity of this choice and years later having witnessed the mother church of the Jesuits I can’t help but think when he gave the homily that the image of the Gesu ceiling was in the back of his mind and those plunging souls falling to their own damnation because of their preference to darkness.

Last night I was reading a passage from a book on Monastic Practices, I believe written by a Cistercian and the passage was specifically about Vigils and keeping watch in the night. The monk talked about the deeds of darkness and how monks are called to watch and pray specifically for the Lord’s coming in the midst of the night for all of those who may be plunging at that moment into the deeper darkness. Who knows how many souls have been saved because in some monastery at that “hour of darkness” monks were “watching and praying” per the Lord’s command and light broke through and drew a soul toward the Name?


Michael Dubruiel, 2006

Friday Stations of the Cross

In 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced a new Bible-based interpretation of the Stations of the Cross. This devotional guide invites readers to prayerfully walk in solidarity with Jesus on his agonizing way of the cross—from his last torturous moments in the Garden of Gethsemane to his death and burial.

Now with full-color station images from previously unpublished paintings by Michael O’Brien, this booklet creates an ideal resource for individual or group devotional use, particularly during the Lenten season.

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RCIA Guide for Confession

For a brief, pointed and helpful guide,

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All of Michael Dubruiel’s books listed on Amazon.

The Power of the Cross free download and audio files.

The New Version of the Stations of the Cross link

Daily Lent Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Law and Love 

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in one sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. ROMANS 13:8–10


 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. MATTHEW 5:17–18

In Fort Myers, Florida, at the end of a beautiful street lined on either side with majestic royal palms is a small neon sign. It looks out of place; it is in front of home in a residential area. The simple sign is lit with green letters: GOD IS LOVE. The first time I saw this sign, I was visiting a classmate who lived next door to this home. “Is there a church here?” I asked. “No.” “Why is the sign there, then?”

He told me that the family who had lived in the house for the first half of the twentieth century had only one child, a boy. When World War II started, the boy was drafted into the military and soon was fighting in Europe. Back home in Fort Myers the man and his wife prayed constantly, asking God to protect their son and bring him back safely. Tragically, their son was killed in the war. Shortly after the young man’s body had been returned for burial, the father erected the sign in front of their home.

The next day as I was making my way back home, I passed the sign again: GOD IS LOVE. Why had that father erected the sign, when his prayer had not been answered as he had hoped? Had the man erected the sign in anger? Had he put it up to mock the love that God was supposed to have for us? I thought of other families I had known who had suffered similar losses, of parents who came home one day to find their child had been killed in an accident. Under such circumstances, I couldn’t imagine anyone erecting a sign with the proclamation GOD IS LOVE. The sign and its story haunted me, reflecting my own internal struggle.

A week later, a thought struck me: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That father was not mocking God at all. Rather, he understood in a way that most of us can’t imagine what God had sacrificed, giving an only son so that others might live. Fulfilling God’s Law Jesus said that he had come not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets. On the cross he said, “It is fulfilled” (John  19:30). Jesus said that there was no greater love than to lay one’s life down for a friend. That is exactly what the Son of God did, and what he asks of his followers as well.

St. Paul, who at a glance one might be tempted to think of as someone who was against the “law,” gives us the reason grace has supplanted the “law.” The love of God, which we experience in our lives as grace, flows into us. That love cannot be contained; it is so great that it spills out and must be spent on others. In love—God’s love—the law is fulfilled. The cross of Christ, which is the most eloquent expression of God’s love for us, is also the instrument by which we receive that love: We must die to ourselves so that Christ’s love might live within us. “Love one another,” Jesus commanded. It is a simple message but complex in practice. How should we express that love?

Love is so misused in our day that it almost has ceased to be a good word. Caritas, the Latin word for love, can also be translated as “charity.” In order to restore the true meaning of “love,” perhaps that is the way we should translate it. God showed charity to the world, through his Son. Jesus tells us to have charity to one another as he has had charity on us. The charity that we are to show to one another is not sentimental or self-serving. We do not expect those we love—whether ourselves, our parents, our spouses, or other people—to be allknowing and all-loving. First and foremost, we love other people by not making them “gods.” We honor those we love despite their human weaknesses and failings, always reserving a special place for God, who is the only perfect Being worthy of worship. The rest of us poor slobs deserve a fair amount of charity because we know only a little, and are limited in every conceivable way. So when we fail each other it is to be expected.


 Good Debt 

St. Paul says that the only thing we should owe anyone is love. In our “credit card economy,” such an idea is difficult to imagine, but perhaps that makes us better suited to grasp Paul’s message. We know all about owing others money, but how indebted are we when it comes to love? We should start by looking at how much we love God. The faith of the family that erected the GOD IS LOVE sign is remarkable. Most of us are quick to blame God for the horrible things that happen to us. Yet, if you really believe that God is up there just waiting to “get” you, how can you love such a supreme being? This is not the God Christ revealed to us, the God who suffers with us, who became one of us to rescue us from the powers of evil and destruction. In the Scriptures, death is portrayed as an angel; since death is the result of sin, one might presume a bad angel. The love of God, that is, God’s charity for us, is what rescues our loved ones from death and makes eternal life possible. God rescues us from sin and its destructive power. God can make good out of the evil others do and intend for us. This is why God is worthy of love and why God’s love enables us to love others in ways that would be impossible without God’s love. No matter what happens to us, we know that God is victorious. The psalmist says “O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7–8).

The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Daily Lent Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Unites. . . Us in the Work We Have to Do


Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. REVELATION 22:1–2


 Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. MATTHEW 21:43 

Dean wanted to be a Trappist monk. While we were in college, he spent many weekends at a Trappist monastery several hours from our school. These were opportunities for both Dean and the monks of the community to consider whether God was leading Dean. Now Trappists are the Marines of monastic life. Until recent times they didn’t even speak much. Those of us who knew Dean well found it rather odd that he would think that God was calling him to be a Trappist. Dean loved to talk. He loved to laugh and play jokes on people. He was the most outgoing person in our college class—in a matter of months he knew everyone in the small town where our college was located.

Fortunately the Trappists figured this out, too, and they told Dean that he didn’t have a vocation to be a Trappist monk. Unfortunately, he didn’t agree with their decision and became very depressed. He felt rejected, but all of us who cared for him were relieved that the monastery had discerned wisely.

Missed Vocations

Many people end up in the wrong job. It is one of the curses of original sin. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return from the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17–19). I believe that one of the ways this plays out is that we are tempted to take on a career or vocation that simply doesn’t match the gifts that God has given to us. As a result, many people find their work a burden, something that does not produce fruit in their lives but rather thorns and thistles.

Jesus compares his coming to that of a son of a wealthy landowner who is sent to obtain produce that has been harvested on the landowner’s property. The tenants kill the son, so the landowner gives the vineyard to another group of tenants, who are charged with producing fruit in due season. The problem is this: Without some help, under the curse of original sin we are no more likely to produce good fruit than those who came before us. But unlike those who came before Jesus, we are not left to our own devices. Jesus identifies himself as the Vine, us as the branches; our ability to produce good fruit is conditioned upon our being “in Christ.”

Christian artists throughout history have tied the image of Jesus as the Vine with the image of the Tree of Life, which is mentioned both in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the last book of the Bible, Revelation. These artists have perceived a connection between Jesus on the tree of the cross and the Eucharist, where Jesus gives us his Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine (the fruit of the vine)! In the Book of Revelation, the Tree of Life is surrounded on either side by the “river of life,” a reference to Baptism. It is through this river that we die to ourselves and live for Christ. What is this “self” that has to die in order to gain admittance to the Tree of Life? It is the “false” self, the ego that serves false gods.

What many people never stop to consider is that these false gods can mask themselves as virtuous. This way, it is possible for someone to think he is serving God, when in fact he is really serving some false ideal. How can you tell the difference? A true vocation produces good fruit.

About ten years ago, I had an opportunity to make a thirty-day retreat at the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in upstate New York. The grounds of this shrine were covered with statues of every conceivable saint. Since this was a silent retreat, I found myself thinking a lot about the lives of those saints, even talking to the stone figures at times. (They didn’t talk back, but obviously I wouldn’t make a good Trappist monk either!). As I continued to contemplate their lives, I was struck by the fact that each one was unique: no two saints are alike! Some were extroverts, some were introverts, some were aggressive, some were passive—but they all used the gifts that God had given them in a way that made them remarkable people.

It was clear to those who knew him that my friend Dean had not been not called to be silent monk, withdrawn from the world. Why did he want to be one? He told me once that he felt that in order to be holy; he had to be other than what he was— in his case, that meant being like a monk. Many, many people have been tempted to bury their talents in the name of religion. However, we all are the vineyards planted by God. Throughout our lives God sends servants to obtain from us the fruits of our lives. How we respond to them is a good test of whether we are planted in Christ or in our own false self. Dean’s depression was his own crucifixion. He felt that serving God meant going to a monastery. He was trying to do what he thought was good and right; ironically, it was when he wasn’t trying to be religious he was doing what was good and right. Dying to ourselves on the cross of Christ means dying to what others expect and being true to what God wants from us.

The Dream that God Gives to Us

In the book of Genesis, Joseph has a dream (see Genesis 37). The dream is Joseph’s vocation, what God wants Joseph to do. However, that dream was fulfilled by the way of the cross. Sold into slavery for twenty pieces of silver, Joseph was thrown into jail after being falsely accused of rape. There he interpreted dreams for Pharaoh’s cup holder and baker. Years went by before the cup holder remembered Joseph and brought him to Pharaoh’s attention. After Joseph was put in charge of Egypt, his brothers appeared and prostrated themselves in front of him—fulfilling Joseph’s original dream. The cross unites our gifts and our mission, the purpose God intends for us to fulfill. It also frees us from our preconceived ideas about how God’s will should be done, freeing us to use our gifts for  the good of all, so that God’s kingdom may come and his “will be done!”

The Power of the Cross  by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Feast of the Annunciation – March 25

Michael Dubruiel conceived and put together the small hardbound book, Praying the Rosary. 

cropped-annunciationheader1.jpg

The Gospels show that the gaze of Mary varied depending upon the circumstances of life. So it will be with us. Each time we pick up the holy beads to recite the Rosary, our gaze at the mystery of Christ will differ depending on where we find ourselves at that moment.

Thereafter Mary’s gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) [Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 10].


As we pray the Rosary, then, we join with Mary in contemplating Christ. With her, we remember Christ, we proclaim Him, we learn from Him, and, most importantly, as we raise our voices in prayer and our hearts in contemplation of the holy mysteries, this “compendium of the Gospel” itself, we are conformed to Him.

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