The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

How many times have I turned from God? It is impossible to give an account. This morning I sit in my pew at St. Rita, raccoons scramble through the crawl spaces in haste to complete their predawn routines. I prepare my heart and mind for meditation and prayer. It takes considerably longer, a thousand thoughts, doubts, and fears swirl in a maelstrom. My heart and mind are caught by the things of this world. This is how the soul turns from God, it clutches the temporal, grasps for what passes away. But under this turmoil a gentle voice rises, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:21) These Gospel words come unsought and unbidden. 

From Christ comes the priceless pearl, the constant offer of peace, a peace different from the elusive security of this world. Jesus’ offer comes to us in times of trial and despair. The world will proclaim our problems irreconcilable and tell us that certain issues are eternal. This world assumes that decline and impermanence must bring with them sorrow and desolation. This world declares that our economic fortunes are the auguries  of well-being and stock market crashes the harbingers of ruin. It is far too easy for us to turn to the negative voices of this world. For many years now our minds have been taught to feed on controversy, division, and aggression…the anti-Gospel. So the good news may not be easy to stomach as anything unfamiliar becomes somewhat counter-intuitive to our easily conditioned minds. If to a hammer everything looks like a nail then we might say that for a despairing mind everything seems in collapse. But similarly if the mind is brought to hope, then every historical moment awakens a perennial possibility. The chance that we may, in this moment and as a people, encounter God. 

This is the turning or conversion. Jewish tradition calls this teshuvah, “repentance or return to God.” Remember the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had walked away from Jerusalem in despair at the death of Jesus and wandered on a road that led far from the place of God. It is the risen Christ himself who calls them back. He reorients their direction back to Jerusalem, back to God, back to him. In short he calls them to a conversion. Many times in life we stumble on the wrong path especially when we allow fear to govern our minds. So Jesus questions us all, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” (Lk 24:38) He is in our midst, always. He has breathed the word of peace upon us. Therefore why should we doubt and why should hope stumble. As John Cassian once said, “When the soul is solidly rooted in this peacefulness…when the unshaking thrust of the heart is toward the one supreme Good, then the words of the Apostle will be fulfilled. Pray without ceasing, he said (1 Thes 5:17) in every place lift up your hands, with no anger and no rivalry (1 Tm 2:8).

Now is the time to repeat the psalmist’s words:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
And abides in the shade of the Almighty 
Says to the Lord: “My refuge, my stronghold, 
my God in whom I trust.” 
~Psalm 91:1-2

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