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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Prodigal and the Papacy: There's No Place Like Home

Yesterday's Gospel of the 4th Sunday of Lent...the Prodigal still rattling around in my head. Oddly, it bumps up against the Papal Elections in what will prove to be a history-making week (or two?) as a new Successor to Peter is selected.  The Papacy and our reliance on it is a Sacred Tradition as Catholics.  A 2000 year-old tradition, to say the least. It is warmer to us than baseball, hotdogs apple pie, or Chevrolet, if you are old enough to understand that old GM commercial.  Our Catholic Cultural traditions usually sit around our collective conscience like brown on paneling until something reminds us that it is there. Like the sudden, chilled-stillness in the air before a summer rainstorm, the unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI struck a discordant hollow of despair...for a moment. Not until we recognize that something is about to change, do we truly appreciate the elegance, stability and necessity of our sacred traditions; these beliefs, attitudes, rites, and practices that form our quintessential Catholic identity.

I think it was like this for the Prodigal. Oh, sure. He could dream. He dreamt himself right out of the estate, so to speak. He was a "go for launch" kind of kid, I presume; one with high hopes, and champagne dreams. He said "Capernaum  is the place I oughta be, so he loaded up the ox and he moved to Galilee. The Sea that is, swimmin pools, movie stars".  (sorry, I am a product of 1970s sitcoms.) At some point though, something snapped. Was it the pig pods? The stench of the swine? Was it the let down of distorted expectations? The poverty? Or was it homesickness: that achey feeling of longing for the familiar, stable, reliable, necessary and yes, sacred homey-ness. The feeling you get after a warm bath, a good meal and your mom hugs you all up in a blanket while you eat popcorn and watch movies. THAT. And yet, this somehow doesn't get at it completely.

I believe that there is a warm, sacred homey-ness that we hope for and that will be our eternal union with God in heaven. And I believe we rely heavily upon our traditions to remind us of this. Scripture is the story, but tradition is the voice and dynamic energy that echoes it forward. And I believe we rely on this more than we let on. In fact, those outside of the church rely on this. To use the popular euphemism--All roads lead to Rome--would be an understatement when you look at the activity in the media and on the social net related to the conclave.  The world is watching Rome. Why? because it is our Family Room. She is the seat of our unbroken tradition for 2 millenia. The place where the world converges to watch a process that guided and governed by the Holy Spirit.

If it weren't so, no one would care.

Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Luke, Ch. 15

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