February 2019 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
Our morning prayer antiphon is inspiration to listen deeply to the word of God in Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32—The Parable of the Lost Son (see end of this post for full text.)
Let us listen to the voice of God; let us enter into his rest
Although we may feel we know this story well, it is a different experience altogether, revealing layers of meaning, to read and reflect on the parable of the prodigal son in the spirit of Lectio Divina. In our oblate meetings, we read the Scripture out loud, followed by a time of silence to contemplate, consider and reflect on what we have heard. We are invited to share a word or phrase that speaks to us after a time of silence.
It always amazes me the different words or phrases that resonate with our oblates. For example: embraced him and kissed him, you are here with me always, coming to his senses, he was lost and has been found, he got up and went back, give me my share, you never gave me even a young goat to feed on with my friends, he heard the sound of music and dancing, has come to life again, longed to eat his fill, this brother of yours….
We share some of our insights considering our assigned reading on conversion. In Latin conversion means con—with; verter/versus—turning around. In spiritual terms, conversion means turning away from one’s former way of life and being open to growth and transformation. There is “a change of direction and new beginning; reconciliation with God, with others; or just making peace with the conditions of one’s life.” (Beil)
We can place ourselves in the role of the three characters in this parable—the father, the son who left and the son who stayed home—to learn something that we have never realized about a familiar story or some wisdom that needs revisiting about God, ourselves and others.
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
The Son Who Leaves The younger son leaves home but comes to his senses and returns. This is the significance of the on-going process of conversion—it isn’t once-and-done, but rather, it is a lifelong process of self-awareness. “Coming to his senses”, the prodigal son has to come “to himself,” as some translations suggest. He begins to see more clearly how he had been thinking and acting; he has compassion for himself, a conversion that comes from within. It is with humility that he repents from his previous actions—the blinders are lifted, and he is able to claim his own mistakes.
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
The Father welcomes his lost son home and encourages his older son to do the same. The Father forgives, just as God forgives us when we sin. God always in waiting, runs towards us. The Father wants peace between his two sons, for the older son to have compassion for his younger brother who has returned.
‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’
The Son Who Stays is blinded by anger at the injustice of his brother’s welcoming and cannot show compassion. He prefers to nurse his anger—why should I have to share with my brother? The older brother felt he had to earn the blessings of his father, not realizing that those blessings are available to him just for the asking. It is not what we do but what we do NOT do that alienates us from God. The older son followed the commandment to honor his father and mother, the letter of the law, but nothing is said about love.
He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
Each of us has aspects of these characters within us. We are all the prodigal son—we are all called to become more self-aware and be willing to change our ways. The younger son in this parable has the awareness to make changes within himself, but the older brother is complaining, like the Pharisees. He cannot see his brother with compassion, but instead mourns and complains about his own situation. We are the older son as well—we have so much judgment of self and others, envy, complaining, jealousy, fear that another will receive more than we will, that someone will get something we think they don’t deserve, and even, regret. We are in a tug of war between fear and compassion, the human and divine aspects of ourselves.
The story is open-ended—what happens next? How do the younger and older brothers reconcile? How did the prodigal son treat his brother? Did he rub it in his nose that his father welcomed him back? Or did he give his brother compassion and the space to deal with his own emotions? How does the older brother respond after time—does his heart soften? Is he able to forgive his brother and himself?
We can write our own ending with our daily lived experiences. We have the choice to return to our senses and to God, to convert, and to live with compassion instead of judgment.
The questions remain: Do you have ears to hear this? Will you accept the mercy that is offered to you? Will you give mercy to each other? Will you come to your senses? Will you return to the Father? Who deserves justice? Who gives justice?
In our own culture, have we turned away from the Father for pleasure, greed, and self-centeredness, but God is always in waiting. There can be no justice without reconciliation; our asking for forgiveness is a sign of self-awareness and repentance. Our conversion is never over, we have continual opportunities to show humility, to begin again as St. Benedict suggests. God’s justice is mercy.
Even though some of us may have one pivotal conversion experience, it is our lifelong calling to be converted. Lectio Divina is a practice that can bring lightbulb moments and aha experiences, mini conversions, on our spiritual journey. We must remain open to God through listening and spiritual practice, the “striving for ongoing spiritual progress, following the will of God, deepening one’s prayer life.”(Beil) It is through the Benedictine promise of obedience, deep listening to God, that is integral to the ongoing conversion process.
February 2019 Lectio Divina: From who we are to who we might become
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32—The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them…
Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
Rule of St. Benedict
New American Bible
Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, pages 9-12