SATURDAY 29TH NOVEMBER 2014, 8AM
HOLY SPIRIT PARISH, GUNGAHLIN
GUEST SPEAKER: ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
“ARE YOU SHADOW WALKING?“
Thank you so much for inviting me to your breakfast this morning. I am delighted that there is a growth in the Archdiocese of men coming together to support each other in the faith, and to deepen their love of marriage and family life.
I would like to make one point, but I’d like to make it in four different ways. The title of my talk is, “Are you shadow walking?” If you don’t understand the first time, then stay tuned! I’ll say the same thing in four different ways!
First, a while back I was walking one morning from my car to a school. I was walking along a footpath in an easterly direction. It was a brilliant spring morning. The Canberra sun was shining brightly. It was so bright, in fact, that I needed to place my hand over my eyes so that I could walk confidently. With my eyes downcast I noticed that the shadow was behind me and I was directly into the light.
After I had finished at the school, I returned to my car in a westerly direction. I was now walking in my shadow. The brilliant sun was on my back.
I thought about this later on. In our walk with Christ, do we walk in His light or do we walk in our own shadows, placing our back to the Lord’s love and merciful kindness?
The second point I want to make is now looking at this experience through the great gift of the Word of God. Never let us underestimate the Scriptures. They are the food for the Christian life.
When I think of this experience above, I ask myself, “Is there anything in the Scriptures that reminds me of this walking, either in the light or in the shadows?”
I realised there was. In fact it is a story involving three men. It is the story of Luke, Chapter 15, sometimes called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Biblically, however, it is better known as ‘The Loving Father’ who had two sons.
I need not read the Scripture out to you, you know this most famous of all parables very well. Suffice to say, the younger son was walking in the direction of his loving and merciful father in repentance and conversion. Whatever his mixed motives might be, he was walking in an easterly direction! He was walking to his merciful father, who he knew only had love in his heart. He had done some terrible things to his father. We know what he did. But he had come to his senses, as the Scripture says, and he was returning to his father and was preparing a speech of repentance as he was walking to him. No shadow walking here!
We know that the father “From afar off” saw his younger son. He ran towards him. He embraced him with forgiveness and prepared a banquet to celebrate his homecoming.
Then there’s the story of the elder son. When he heard all this commotion in the fields, he was told that the younger son had returned. He was full of self-righteousness. He refused to go into the banquet and to rejoice with the father in the return of his younger brother.
The father went after him with concern and pure love in his heart. The father really gets a serve from his elder son! The judgemental elder son spoke in a very patronising way. He seemed to assume his father was a naive old man who had a lack of conscience on matters of principle. But, indeed, it was the elder brother who had the problem! The elder brother had placed himself in a kind of prison of his own making. He had condemned his younger brother and also distanced himself from this father. The father tried to draw him back. We do not really know what happened. The story ends there. The elder brother is walking in his shadow!
Here is a biblical story that is similar to my walking towards the school on that bright Canberra morning. The younger brother is walking towards the light, the elder brother in his shadow.
How do we respond to the challenges of life? Are we walking in the shadows or walking in the light of God’s merciful forgiveness?
I’d like to say now the same thing a third time.
In my reflection on Luke 15, I think of pastoral experiences in my life where I’ve noticed “The younger son” coming home in conversion to the Lord.
I remember the World Youth Days I’ve attended. It is incredible when young people, especially young men, are placed in the light of God’s mercy, how they come running towards the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. It is always a great surprise to Bishops and Priests just how popular the Sacrament of Reconciliation becomes once the grace of God’s forgiving mercy is experienced by these wonderful young people.
On the other hand, we know of the experience of the elder son all too often in our lives.
I remember a priest telling me once that he overheard somebody saying in the road bicycle group that he was part of, that he had “Broken the eleventh commandment!” What could that mean? It meant that he got caught! This man explained that in a romantic alliance with somebody other than his wife, his wife noticed pictures of the two of them on his computer after a weekend the couple had made in secret!
This man, however, was not repentant at all. In fact he was almost boasting about his promiscuous behaviour to his bicycle group. What great havoc and distress his actions must have caused his wife and family! Yet he seemed to be far away from regretting this. No apology was heard.
Finally and fourthly, for the last time.
I’d like us all to think about the most important part of The Prodigal Son parable. That is, the loving all merciful Father. It is an image of God himself. Our loving and merciful Heavenly Father has sent his Son Jesus into the world to redeem and save us. I always remember a lady saying to me of the troubles she had in her adult life because of her father’s absence in her childhood. There was no violence or mistreatment, just absence. He was so busy with his career he had very little time for her and her siblings. As she grew up she found herself doing all sorts of things to prove to her father that she was worthy of his love and embrace. This caused problems obviously. She became exhausted and frustrated in her life.
This continued until she went to a retreat. She heard the Retreat Master say the following that were words of great healing to her. The Retreat Master said: “The Father doesn’t love you because of what you’ve done, the Father loves you, because when He sees you, He sees His Son.”
What beautiful saving words the retreat master not only gave her, but all of us.
Our loving Heavenly Father’s movement of grace towards us is not dependent on us showing Him how great we are ! It is about allowing Him to see his Son in us. There’s no other way to call it, but just sheer and utter grace. This grace movement of God towards us then begins our movement in faith back to God. We respond to God in practical ways especially to the poor and marginalised. It is not to win God’s love, but to respond to God’s love. There’s the big difference!
So thank you all for inviting me here this morning. I hope all of us, as we approach Christmas now in this Advent season, walk in the light of Christ and not in our shadow.
Let us now say a little prayer asking God to enable us to see ourselves through His eyes, rather than our own. His eyes are always more merciful and freeing than our own. Maybe you’d like to tell some of these stories to your family and loved ones over the next few weeks.