For those of you who know Fr. Joe Schmidt you know that he is a voracious reader. If you ever saw his house there are books everywhere. His fireplace hearth has books stacked almost to your shoulder. A while back he gave me a book called “Runner.” It is about a young girl who runs away from her foster home and the intrepid Chicago Private Investigator, Cassandra Raines has to find her before the Police do. Spoiler Alert: She finds her and everything turns out okay.
My family had our share of people leaving home. After High School my oldest sister, Tori, went back to see my grandfather in Washington, D.C. She loved it so much, she stayed to live with him, went to Secretarial School, fell in love and lived there with her husband and two kids.
My sister Sally also had a wandering spirit. After she finished High School she decided she wanted to be a “hippie” and moved to Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco. This did not bother my mom at all because, toward the end of WWII, she left her home in Sacramento, to go to Art School in San Francisco, and actually lived on Haight Street and worked in a flower shop on Ashbury.
My other sister, Tracy, ran away from her all girls Catholic Boarding School with her friends. I think it was a weekend, so they were back by Monday, but they were still in lots of trouble. Following the wonderful examples of my sisters (always a good group to blame) I “ran away” when I was very little. I got to the front door, looked around, my pride overcoming my fear, and I walked out the door and hid in the juniper bushes outside my parents’ bedroom window.
I suppose my family comes by it honestly. When my dad was a plebe at the Naval Academy, he didn’t want to be there. So he ran away. Not far enough, because another mid-shipman saw him out at dinner with a girl he had just met, and turned him in. He was dismissed from the Academy for Falsehood. He was a pretty good football player so they actually let him re-enlist at the Academy. Still trying to get kicked out, he ran away again; this time punching another mid-shipman on his way out the gate. “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman” is a very serious offense. We are told that my dad has the distinction of being one of the only people to get kicked out of the Academy twice.
If we look at all the characters in our readings this weekend, we find all sorts of stories about people who have left home or run away. Remember that Moses left Egypt because he was caught killing an Egyptian soldier. It took a vision at the Burning Bush to make him return to ask Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go. Today’s passage shows the people of the exodus turning away from God by worshipping a golden calf. Moses leaves them for 40 days and 40 nights and returns to find that they have left God.
It cost them another 40 years of wandering in the desert before they found a place they could call home. St. Paul is perhaps one of the greatest runners in the entire Bible. At first he persecutes the followers of Christ, and then he is struck blind on the way to Damascus. After his conversion, Paul spends three years away from Jerusalem. He just doesn’t want to go there, due to death threats and people unable to believe he had converted to be a follower of Jesus. Paul admits he acted out of ignorance and unbelief when it came to persecuting the Christians. But, he says in his letter today, because our Lord Jesus came into the world to save sinners he was merciful and patient with Paul who holds himself up as the worst sinner of all.
Some people run away from God and some toward God. But perhaps when we are lost, looking to the Lord is the only place where we can find ourselves. There is nothing like a good Examination of Conscience to help us realize the value of things and people in our lives. The Coin and the Sheep are great examples. The Shepherd and the woman aren’t angry or mad because they have lost something, as a matter of fact they seem like they are enjoying the hunt for something they have lost. In fact his passage says: “He calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.”… and then “She calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” And they each have an extravagant party, probably spending more than the coin was worth and eating the poor little sheep that was lost!
And then there is the son that runs away. This time it is a serious example of something that can split a family apart. We are not sure why he goes away, but he does and his father goes in to deep mourning… even calling his son dead. The older brother is so angry that he can’t see straight, but continues on with his work, being the “dutiful son.” Probably the most important sentence from all three readings today is from this passage: “Coming to his senses at last…” leading to the end of the story, when the Father says to the older brother… “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.”
My hope is that we can all find something in these stories to which we can relate. Being it a time when we have been lost, or perhaps even running away from something we did not like. There is no doubt if we are lost, we will be found. And if we have been running, especially from God, and those we love, we will eventually return home.
I suppose we come by it honestly. After all, when Jesus was 14 he left his parents and stayed in Jerusalem, just to listen to stories about God. He also took 40 days and 40 nights in the desert to try and figure out why God was calling him to do something he felt utterly unqualified to do.
And last but not least, He died on the cross for us. Who would even do that for us??? Only him.
People thought he had left this earth never to be seen again. But he returned at the Pentecost, and left again at the Ascension, and now we wait. For when he comes again we are surely going to prepare a great feast to celebrate his return: because we were dead and will come to life again. We were lost and now have been found.