Monday, February 25, 2008

Our Prodigal Selves


From Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring - Readings for Great Lent

"From beginning to end the lenten services of the Church call us to return to God our Father.

The theme of the parable of the prodigal son runs through the entire season (1). We have wasted what our good God has given us. We have ruined our lives and our world. We have polluted the air, the water and the earth. The birds and the fish, the plants and the animals, grieve because of our wickedness. We have corrupted our bodies and minds. We have abandoned communion with God and the joy of His dwelling. We have gone off on our own, following our own ideas, enacting our own plans. And the result is that we are away from our true home, lost in a far country, living among swine. Through our reckless wasting of the gifts given by God we have stripped ourselves of our original glory, wisdom, beauty and strength: we have lost our divine legacy as children of God. And the whole cosmos suffers with us in our affliction.

What great blessings have I forsaken, wretch that I am?
From what kingdom have I miserably fallen ?
I have squandered the riches which were given to me.
I have transgressed the commandments.
Woe to me when I shall be condemned to eternal fire!
Cry out to Christ, O my soul, before the end draws near:
"Receive me as the prodigal, O God, and have mercy on me."
(2)

I hid my face in shame, a wretched man.
I have squandered the riches my Father gave to me.
I went to live with senseless beasts.
I sought their food and hungered, for I had not enough to eat.
I will arise, I will return to my compassionate Father.
He will accept my tears. I fall before Him crying:
"In Your tender love for all people receive me as one of Your servants and save me."
(3)

People feel unhappy and they don't know why. They feel that something is wrong, but they can't put their finger on what it is. They feel uneasy in the world, confused and frustrated, alienated and estranged, and they can't explain it. They have everything and yet they want more. And when they get it, they are still left empty and dissatisfied. They want happiness and peace, and nothing seems to bring it. They want fulfillment, and it never seems to come. Everything is fine, and yet everything is wrong. In America this is
almost a national disease. It is covered over by frantic activity and endless running around. It is buried in activities and events. It is drowned out by television programs and games. But when the movement stops and the dial is turned off and everything is quiet... then the dread sets in, and the meaninglessness of it all, and the boredom, and the fear.

Why is this so? Because, the Church tells us, we are really not at home. We are in exile. We are alienated and estranged from our true country. We are not with God our Father in the land of the living. We are spiritually sick. And some of us are already dead.

Our hearts are made for God, St. Augustine has said, and we will be forever restless until we rest in Him. Our lives are made for God, and we will be unfulfilled and dissatisfied and frustrated until we go to Him. All of God's creatures, as Francis Thompson said in his poem "The Hound of Heaven," are His "loyal betrayers." They do not satisfy His children and cannot bring them peace. He alone can do that, because He alone is our home. And we are His.

The lenten season is the time for our conscious return to our true home. It is the time set aside for us to come to ourselves and to get up and go to the divine reality to which we truly belong.

I have wasted in evil living the wealth which the Father gave me,
and I am now brought to emptiness,
filled with shame and enslaved to fruitless thoughts.
Therefore I cry to You, O Lover of man,
"Take mercy on me and save me!"
(4)

I am wasted with hunger, deprived of every blessing, an exile from Your presence.
O Christ, supreme in loving kindness,
have mercy on me now as I return, and save me as I sing Your praises, O Lover of man.
(5)

Our purpose, O people, is to know the power of God's goodness,
for when the prodigal abandoned his sin
he hastened to the refuge of his Father.
That Good One embraced him and welcomed him.
He killed the fatted calf and celebrated with heavenly joy.
Let us learn from this example to offer thanks to the Father
who loves all people,
and to the Victim, the Lord Jesus Christ,
the glorious Savior of our souls
(6)."

Notes:
1. The third week before Lent begins is liturgically dedicated to this parable. The theme continues through the entire season. See Luke 15,11-32.
2. Sunday of the Prodigal Son Vespers.
3. Ibid.
4. Sunday of the Prodigal Son Matins.
5. Ibid.
6. Sunday of the Prodigal Son Vespers. The expression "save our souls" recurs often in the prayers and hymns. This does not mean that some "spiritual part" of a person is valuable, and the body, or the material generally, is not. The word "soul" stands for the whole person and for life itself.

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