The Loving Father's Examen
A Whimsical Reflection on the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father
By Teresa McCaffery
Ignatius tells us to review events as often as twice a day, more if a lot is happening. We think we know what is going on and why things happen but sometimes events cause confusion or distress. It is easy to think we know who is at fault but sometimes a chat with God will turn up a surprising insight. Here’s a version of a familiar story as seen by someone doing his examen.
A father settles down to review the day.
“Lord, what a day it’s been. It started as it always does, mourning the loss of my son. Beautiful, intelligent, loving, I enjoyed his company more than anything else in life. And then he left! He just grabbed his inheritance and left! I still don’t know why he did that, and I don’t know where he is, or how he is, or if he will ever come back.
I was thinking these thoughts, as I do every day when I saw a figure approaching through a gap in the hills on the horizon. He was too far away to identify but there was something familiar about the way he walked, the way he carried his head. I rushed out to check and yes! It was Joseph!
I tore back to the house to organise a celebration; my heart fit to burst with joy; when Isaac came in. He is my eldest son, strong, steadfast, loyal and hard-working he has built up with me the inheritance that will be his one day. His presence was my greatest comfort in sorrow, so why is he sad now that Joseph is back?”
“Maybe ‘one day’ is the phrase to look at. You know what the plans are, you have the vision of how your estate will look in the future, these things give you joy and satisfaction but does your son share them?”
“Interesting! Perhaps I should have spent more time discussing the plans with him. I should think again about Joseph too. I wonder if he became weary of the constant talk of work and what needs to be done? Maybe he wanted to try something new, some project that would make better use of his talents. I need to think about this…
Suppose we set aside time each week to enjoy each other’s company, appreciate each other’s gifts, admire what we have achieved and dream about an even better future?
“That way you will all be happier, and get better things done.
You see, Abraham, people think they know what I am like and I have a terrible job putting them right. They think I am a hard taskmaster and a harsh judge and act accordingly. Poor Abram thought he should offer up his son as a sacrifice to me. What a thought! How could I possibly want such a thing? I appreciated his sense of commitment and said so, but that does not mean we should routinely make such offerings!
All sorts of things happen as the earth and its inhabitants evolve; plains flood, volcanoes erupt, wars are fought and won, or lost. People get hurt and killed in the process and that makes me sad, I certainly do not do it on purpose as some sort of punishment! Things got so bad, with people assuming they should punish others harshly just as they thought I punished them, that I had to come to the earth myself to explain. But how hard it was.
At first it was fun. I loved growing up in Nazareth. I loved the way Mary and Joseph, and their neighbours lived in the spirit of my love. I loved the way they taught me the history of my loving relationship with their people. I learned how people think, I tried to work out where their misconceptions came from, I had to understand what had gone wrong and how to harness what had been done right.
I decided that healing and forgiveness would have to be an important feature of what I did, but I had to correct the ideas too. I enjoyed building up a repertoire of stories with a hint of humour and a slight kick in the tail. These parables would provide images, easily remembered, but with many layers of meaning. People making the most of them would re-imagine the world in which they were given, to understand essential details of the context. It all went wrong in the end but that is not a real problem. The seed has been sown, my people have seen my face and the slow process of degeneration is replaced by the slow process of evolution.”
“That’s all very well Lord, but surely we should not have treated you like that!”
“Like I said at the time, you did not know what you were doing. Even the most dreadful harm can come about by accident if people don’t think ahead. Did the scientists who worked on the atom bomb really understand where that would end? Quite apart from the damage done, we must remember all the good that has not been done because the resources needed were expended on nuclear warheads. This tendency of yours to forget ultimate goals while exploring some new idea can turn even good things to bad ends.
I’ve been working on that problem with anyone who would listen and found a keen pupil in a lad called Inigo. He’s got a logical mind; his thinking is particularly orderly and clear. He took to this task with heart and soul and found a good, systematic way of training people to keep an eye on the goal while exploring the world with complete freedom. This really good advice and help is now part of the structure of the Church and remains valid and useful for centuries provided we remember to put it in context.”
“The Church! What’s that? I don’t know any ‘church’”
“Sorry! I forgot that happened afterwards. I knew people would forget, or distort the message if I went away again so I bound the first disciples into a community within which I could continue to be present. I could continue to inspire their thoughts and they would remember the activity of my life on earth in word and sacrament. That’s one of the things that could be happening at your weekly meetings.”
“OK so we set aside time each week to enjoy each other’s company, appreciate each other’s gifts, admire what we have achieved, dream about an even better future and reveal your continuing loving, healing, forgiving presence here on earth?”
“Something like that, and by the way, about that parable… Some people reading it might wonder why there is no mention of women in the story. Don’t they matter? Of course they do, the results of their efforts are visible everywhere. Imagine all the hugging and kissing, the running about telling everyone, the cooking and the laying of tables, the collection of best and finest clothing… If I’d included all that people might not ‘get’ the point of the story. Women always seem to think in terms of what needs to be done, and that suits me fine, all I need to do with them is ask nicely, and it happens!
“Come to think about it, I’m a bit hazy about where we started. We seem to have covered a lot of ground”.
“I’m just a parent who hates it when his children are unhappy and fight”. That’s all you really need to know about me. Learn that, and act accordingly!