The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 23, 2001 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

A lesson about love's sloppy economy

We are all involved in a great web of exchange joined together in Christ

March 25, Fourth Sunday of Lent

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. Which of the five tasks of the dying/living do you find most difficult?

2. What are the strings in your life?

3. What is the Lord asking you to give during this season of Lent?

We do not know the reading patterns of the prodigal son or even if he was literate. But if he did read, here is a book that might well be worth his time: Mary Pipher's Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders (New York: Riverhead Books, 1999).

Here are a few lessons that might impact on his life (and ours as well): "Hospice workers have found five common tasks for the dying. They must say, 'I forgive you,' 'Please forgive me,' 'Thank you,' 'I love you,' and 'Good-bye.'" (238)

We don't know the age of the prodigal son's father but we do know that several of these common tasks for the dying and for the living were completed. Forgiveness was asked for and given. The celebration feast expressed a father's love. We sense the gratitude that must have arisen in the heart of the forgiven son.

St. Paul knew these lessons well. Reconciliation means asking for and receiving forgiveness. As an ambassador of Christ, he proclaimed the mystery of God's love in Jesus. And St. Paul's life was filled with his "thank you" to God for making him a new creation in Christ.

A second lesson from Another Country: "We all learn when we are very young to make our own personal declarations of independence. In our culture, adult means 'self-sufficient.' Autonomy is our highest virtue. We want relationships with no strings instead of understanding, as one lady told me, 'Honey, life ain't nothing but strings.'" (51)

The prodigal son sought autonomy and independence. His elder brother, in his own way, wanted to keep detached strings detached. St. Paul too had to gradually realize that we are all involved in a great web of exchange joined together in Christ. Why does it take us so long to understand that life is nothing but relationships and connections with God, with one another and, indeed, with ourselves?

What is needed is to make declarations of interdependence. We need one another. By cutting ourselves off from the community we become in danger of getting lost and deprive the community of the gifts that God has given us. Our American individualism and autonomy is setting us adrift in dangerous high seas.

A third lesson: "You don't give back to the same people who give to you. Not at all. You give to different people and they in turn give to someone entirely different. Not you. That's the sloppy economy of gift and love." (Lorrie Moore, 305)

The story of the prodigal son is about love and giving. It is also about the strange economy of God's marvelous grace - indeed, a rather "sloppy" economy. We are here in the land of mercy, not justice. We are dealing with messy relationships between a dutiful and a renegade son. What a large computer God must have to figure all of this out.

But in the end it's about receiving and passing on God's love and mercy in Jesus. We are ambassadors, agents of reconciliation. It is not a neat economy. The books here never balance. This way of life drives CPAs nuts. Love and mercy cannot be quantified, only received and shared with whomever comes across our path.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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