Sunday, March 15, 2009

Novena of Grace - Day Eight

There were so many people in church for Day Eight. It was overflowing. Does this mean that people attend the Novena just on the weekends (which bookend the nine days)?

Loved the blessing. Loved the songs. Someone complimented me on my hair as we were leaving church. Ironic, since my hair worries (see Day Six) is what drew me this year to the Novena in the first place.

The sermon was on the prodigal son. It was told well, and considered well - probably told with an eye towards those in the church who have not been around recently, as a subtle way of welcoming them back.

You know the story - where the younger son takes his inheritance and squanders it, then gets stuck feeding swine, figures that this is not the life, and so returns to his father's house and asks forgiveness. His father celebrates the return; the oldest son complains because he has been toiling away for years and the father had never celebrated him; and the father replies, saying this is the time to celebrate your brother because he was dead but now is alive.

Hearing the story again reminded me of another sermon I heard a few years back using the same parable, but not told - or used - as well, from a priest who clearly was in torment over the sexual abuse scandal. He himself had known some of priests who have turned out to be pedophiles. He spoke of how he had not realized, how he wondered about whether he should have realized. His agony was honest, and I felt bad for him. Then he spoke about the story of the Prodigal Son. If the pedophiles were like the wayward son, and he was like the father, then should he not welcome the abusers with open arms back into the fold? I shook my head no. It was mixing apples with oranges. The parable is about God as the father, not priests. Besides, these abusers were still with the swine, stuck in their stories, their obsession, their justifications. None of them had walked towards home. And yes (as pointed out yesterday), the father does go to meet his wayward son as soon as he sees him in the distance. But the son had to walk towards home first. And then, if the parable can be used to talk about abuser priests and nonabuser priests.... isn't the only affront against the older son one of wounded pride? It is not as though the younger son first killed the older son, or fondled his genitals. Oh, and if the parable is used to talk about abusers as the wayward son and the hierarchy as the father - the parable would need to read that the father ran off with the son into irresponsibility, leaving the older son holding the bag. Which just emphasizes the point that the father in the parable represents God, not some fallible human being....

I'm not saying I know what God would do here. I do think, though, that it doesn't work to extend the metaphor that way.

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