Reflection for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
All of this talk of forgiveness and healing lately. The recent canonization of Mother Teresa taking place within the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, along with the theme of forgiveness in this weekend’s readings has me thinking of reunions, homecomings and reconciliation…the very things I think we should expect from a church characterized by Pope Francis as a field hospital for those suffering from battle…not a museum for those who have achieved full communion with God right here on earth while many struggle at times to practice it. As an 18-year-old High School graduate I remember feeling nervous and uncertain as I prepared my move to Antigonish where I did not know a single other person, and when I arrived I felt homesick for something…anything familiar to me. Attending mass gave me such a comforting, refreshing taste of home, that I attended daily. Walking into the University chapel with its wonderfully familiar church smell, CBW IIs and Glory and Praise hymnals, along with all the liturgical symbols made me feel as though I just arrived home, and it was here I made friends of faith with whom I have stayed connected over twenty-five years and counting. When spring rolled around that first year and the time came for me to return to New Brunswick for the summer, I felt exhilarated knowing I would soon reunite with friends, family and my community. Attending mass with my mother at St. Jude’s was an experience of homecoming and it felt good. The faith community where I was raised and catechized was a place I felt I belonged, and over the years I have begun to think of attending weekend mass (wherever that may be) as a respite from my troubles and all the people, places and situations that interfere in my relationship with our God. I am strengthened by the assembled Body of Christ to return to the “real world” and try to stay attuned God’s love, grace and mercy.
The challenges, though! There is a line in the 1985 film The Color Purple, where a preacher in a southern country church shouts at his congregation “All of us have been prodigal children at one time or another!” This sounds true enough to me, for I have certainly staggered through a few of my own prodigal episodes, each one looking very different. Each time I returned humbled, limping, and seeking treatment in the field hospital: love and forgiveness from others and from God. The good news of course is that God will always grant it when I seek forgiveness contritely, but as a human with a sneaky ego I must wrestle with my imperfection and my blind spots. Fr. Richard Rohr suggests that 2/3 of Jesus’ teachings are directly or indirectly about forgiveness, which makes it “an entire attitude about forgiving reality for what it is, forgiving the tragic flaw, forgiving an imperfect world.” The idea of loosening my attachment to perfection is liberating, not because I am free to do as I please but because it gives me permission to wear my weaknesses as part of my armour. For me, the journey of faith is no longer about beating myself up for my shortcomings…or even worse than that, passing judgement on others based on how I think they fall short. These days my faith journey is more about trying to stay connected to the homecoming…and if I am able to stay connected to this message, perhaps I will not stray too far from home.