Dutch theologian and Scripture scholar Henri Nouwen first encountered Rembrandt van Rijn's "The Return of the Prodigal Son" on a poster on the door of an office at the L'Arche community in France. That encounter prompted Nouwen to go to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in order to see the original.
We're in the middle of Lent, our unique catholic (i.e., universal) retreat time. For 40 days, the entire church, from the greatest to the least, is called to take a look at how our life reflects what we believe about God. Beware: This retreat is not a time of rest. Today's readings call us to focus on the fact that now is the only time we have to live the call of this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Recently, I heard friends in Ecuador talking about miracles they had experienced. Those events included the Virgin Mary protecting a town from the rage of an active volcano, a downpour following a novena in a little farming village just about to lose everything to drought, and the inexplicable cure of the single mother of two little children for whom a community prayed while the doctors told them to give up hope.
"Where is merciful God, where is He?' someone behind me was asking."
Elie Wiesel heard these words as he and other Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz watched the SS hang two men and a boy. The grown men died quickly, but "the child, too light, was still breathing." The boy lingered, "writhing before our eyes," for more than a half hour.
Indian convert to Christianity Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929), who began life as a Sikh, traveled internationally to preach the good news before he disappeared (and presumably died) while on one of his many journeys to Tibet. Everywhere he went, he encouraged those he met to discern God's call and work tirelessly to serve all God's people.
Listening to today's first reading is to know that a prophet's call is almost always the last element inserted into our biblical collection of the prophet's oracles. Only after a lifetime of delivering God's word does the prophet (or the prophet's disciples) receive some insight into what he or she was actually called to do.
In the opening lines of today's Gospel, Luke explains his writing project: He intends to present an "orderly account" of what he has discovered from his research about Jesus. We then skip a few chapters and hear Jesus proclaim his understanding of what he has been called to do.
We know legend has it that after Pentecost, Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived out her days with John the Evangelist. We also know that when a Gospel story has lots of detail, scholars suggest that it has its source in personal witnesses. Those two facts invite us to imagine John, the theologian, telling Mary, the practical mother, how he wanted to narrate the story of the wedding at Cana.
If your experience has been similar to mine, you may recall that when you were incorporated into the life of Christ and the life of the church through the sacraments of initiation, you were called a "soldier for Christ." As such, we were expected to be staunch defenders of the faith.
Eight centuries before the Magi from the east came bearing gifts to present to Jesus, Micah asked, "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow before God most high? Shall I come with holocausts, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my crime?" (Micah 6:6-7). The prophet gave voice to the desperation of his people, who were overwhelmed by their own sinfulness and shame.