Sunday, September 15, 2013

Positive about Others - Loving the Prodigal

In the summer of 1987, my family packed into our 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon and headed out for our annual vacation to Ocean City. However, my father made a slight detour and stopped in Annapolis. You see, he was an attorney and he needed to meet briefly with a client in the jail there before we could begin the weekend. We parked, and dad went inside while we waited in the car.

When he returned after about twenty minutes, I rather flippantly asked, “Did you thank the guy for delaying our vacation?”

Dad just looked at me and said flatly, “I said nothing of the sort. I am his lawyer. He was scared and has a right to be represented.”

That was all dad said about the event, and we went off to enjoy a week at the beach. But, I never looked at criminals in the same way again. They have rights, just like me. That was the lesson dad taught me that day.

This week, we continue our “Be Positive!” series by focusing our positive faith on others. Are we positive about others, or are we too often jaded and negative in our perspectives when dealing with one another? Are we open to our encounters, or are our minds already made up?

For several years, I was on the staff of the Archdiocese’s High School Leadership Institute. We helped young Catholics develop their leadership skills as servants in the Church. One year, as the expectant youths entered the retreat house, one guy stood out. He was tall, but what made him memorable was the fact that he had four or five 10-inch spikes of hair on his head. I wondered what sort of rebellious problems awaited us.

However, after a day or two, he asked if I would listen to his speech that he was preparing and critique the delivery. I sat there listening, and he told a story of how he felt that he might be called to the Priesthood, and how he was wrestling with that in his life at the time. God taught me a lesson, again!

Being positive about others means not judging a book by its cover. We know nothing about others if we have never truly listened to them. Every one of our brothers and sisters has a story. So do we.

Being positive about others means giving others the benefit of the doubt. Only God can judge a person’s heart and soul. We must not fall into the trap of playing God and dismissing or condemning someone else. Even when we see poor choices and negative actions, our Christian faith calls us to recognize the redeemed individual in one another. We must – if we can hope to see it in ourselves.

Today, we hear the famous story of the “Prodigal Son” – or the “Forgiving Father” – or, perhaps for our purposes today, the “Unforgiving Brother.” At the end of this fantastic parable, the older brother is portrayed as not being able to see the redeemed little brother who had returned. He had written him off, and his father’s forgiveness and excitement over his return is seen rather as weakness than the love of a father. The older brother resents his little bro – and his father as well.

When we have a negative view of others – when we prejudge them; when we write them off – eventually, this begins to affect our relationship with the Father. How can we be grateful for God’s compassion, mercy and love when we discount its effect in others?

After that pre-vacation detour, not only did I view that prisoner differently (I never knew his name or what he did), but I forever saw my dad differently; and I admire him to this day for that lesson. No longer did I see that teen’s spiked hair after that speech; rather, I saw a person loved and called by God. 

Gathered around the Eucharist, we can recognize in one another, the Body of Christ – and that we are all members of it, together. Jesus awaits another encounter with us – in those we meet today and each day. Are we ready to see Him?

Paul, in our Second Reading, recognizes that he has no room to judge anyone else – seeing how he himself was the recipient of the compassionate grace of God. We, too, must take that humble attitude when looking around us. Only in this way can we truly appreciate God’s great mercy and love.

Being positive about others is not our “gift” to them; it is God’s gift, and it is for us all.

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