“Home with God” by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut
As we celebrated this past week, the very beautiful feast of Jesus' Ascension into heaven, I found myself reflecting upon the parable of the Prodigal Son. Now, as you sit here today, perhaps you're asking what could the parable of the Prodigal Son have to do with the Ascension of the Lord?
Remember in that very poignant story that we've heard many times over, and there is that pivotal point when that younger son goes to his father and he says, "Father, I want my share of the inheritance." I want my share of the inheritance. Henri Nouwen, the classical spiritual author, wrote a book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and it's actually a reflection on Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son. And in that reflection, he points to that moment when the younger son makes that request of his father. And what he says, what's really going on in that exchange, is this, that what the son is really saying without saying it is this: "Father, I can't wait for you to die." Father, I can't wait for you to die.
When we look at that in that context, it makes that request of the son even more offensive than it is at first glance. It really is a heartless rejection of the home in which that boy was born and nurtured and a true rupture and break with the traditions that upheld his request as being blatantly wrong. It was unheard of, then and even now, to make such a demand of one's father. That young man struggled with understanding the meaning of home, not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual one.
When Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven, Jesus simply went home. Jesus went home.
If we look at how Jesus taught and how he acted, he never lost touch with home. He knew inwardly where he came from and where he was going, and that allowed him to do the work that he had to do in between. You and I, in a deeply profound spiritual way, struggle with understanding our home. We struggle with staying home with God where we know we belong. It's almost as if we say to God, thank you, but no, thank you for the gift of life and for the promise of eternal life. But I'm gonna take that and go and do as I wish because I've got this. I can handle this. I know how to find happiness. I know where I need to go. It's not here, but I got it.
And so, without being a bad person, so to speak, we often find ourselves drifting away. Moving away from our center, from our focus, from where we know we really need and ought to be. We can find ourselves easily self-absorbed, even in things that may be legitimate at the time. We find ourselves misguided, confused. The enticements of the world wanna convince us of illusions about ourselves, illusions that promise some measure of contentment or happiness, and try one after the other; we fail to realize that none of that will ever satisfy this longing, this ache, this pining of our soul to find home. And so, in this seemingly endless search, we continue to look, and we continue to be disappointed.
Faith and good, healthy religion exist to keep us focused. To point to home, to remove some of the misguided notions, to break apart the illusions, to clear up the cobwebs of our minds and souls, to remove us from our self-absorption, and focus us outward and elsewhere to tell us who we are. Where we're going and who we ultimately are meant to be. We struggle with not only who we are but where we belong, who has claim over the essence of my soul.
In a very tender exchange between Jesus and his father, he says, "Of those who first believed, they belonged to you, and you gave them to me. What a tender exchange of trust and entrustment. He says those same words to us: "We belong. We belong to God.”