Opening Question: How many of you have gone on a long vacation? Where did you go? What did you see?
First Reading: Joshua 5:9-11
James and his family had their bags packed. The house was locked. And the shuttle to the airport was at the front door. He couldn't believe he was on his way to see his grandmother who lived so far away. He was so excited, he hadn't eaten all day.
By the time his family got to the airport, James was starving. His stomach was making those deep noises that announced to everyone, "Feed me!"
"Sounds to me we need to eat dinner before we get on the plane, eh, James?" his father teased.
Actually, his parents planned to eat before they got on the plane. After they checked in their baggage, they took James to a fancy restaurant with a view to the planes taking off and landing. James ordered a big hamburger, french fries, and a shake. He ate the meal so fast, he almost inhaled it. Satisfied, he sat and watched a large airplane take off. "This is going to be a special vacation" James thought to himself. "I can hardly wait to get on the plane!"
Like James, the Israelites could hardly wait to move to their new land. But, like James, they celebrated a special meal before they traveled on. Like James, they could only take with them what they carried. But, unlike James, they were going to a new home. We'll talk about home in our next story.
Bridging Question: Have you ever visited a neighborhood where you used to live? How had it changed? How was it the same?
Gospel: Luke 15:11-32
All the tax collectors and sinners there crowded around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and scribes grumbled, "This man hangs around with sinners. He regularly dines with them." So, Jesus told them a parable.
"There was a man with two sons," Jesus began. "The younger of the two said to his father, 'Give me the money you've saved for me.' Not much later, the younger son gathered everything together and traveled to a distant country. There, he wasted his money as fast as he could. After he spent all his money, there was a great famine where he lived. He became very poor. So, he went into the countryside and got hired by one of the local citizens to tend pigs in the fields. The hungry boy yearned to eat the pig slop. But no one offered him any. Then he came to his senses. 'How many of my father's workers have more than enough to eat,' he thought. 'But I grow weaker each day because I'm hungry! I'll get up, go home to my father, and say to him, 'I've sinned against God. And I've embarrassed you. I don't deserve to be called your son. Just hire me as one of your workers.' So, he got up and went home to his father.
While he was still in the distance, his father saw in and was filled with love for his son. He ran up to his son, gave him a big hug, and kissed him.
The son tried to say, "Father, I've sinned against God. And I've embarrassed you. I don't deserve to be called your son.'
But, the father turned to his servant. "Quick!" the father commanded. "Go get the best robe we have. Clothe him with it. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Prepare the calf we have raised for special occasions. We're going to have a party tonight! For my son was dead, but now he's really alive. He lost his way, but now he's found it again!'
The older of the two sons was working in the fields that day. When he returned at the end of the day, he walked near the house. Then, he heard music and dancing. 'Hey!' he called to one of the servants. 'What's going on?'
"Your brother has come home,' the servant replied. 'Your father slaughtered the specially-raised calf, because he accepted your brother back into the family, safe and sound.' The brother became very angry and refused to enter the house.
Turning to his father, the older brother said, 'Listen, Father! For many years, I've slaved for you and have never once disobeyed you. But, you've never given me even a small bit of meat to share with my friends. Yet, after YOUR son wasted his money on wild living and then came back, you throw him a coming-home party!'
'My son,' the father replied, 'you're always with me. Everything I have is yours. But, we must celebrate YOUR brother was dead. Now he lives. He was lost. Now he's found.'
Jodi's father arrived home on a day she would always remember. "We've going to move!" her father announced. "I got a new job." Instead of being overjoyed, Jodi ran to her room crying. She would miss her friends, her cousins, and her grandma. She would miss her home. More than just a house, home was her place in the world. Her friends. Her neighborhood. Her school. Her sports teams. Her church. All that would be gone when she lived one thousand miles away.
The move wasn't easy on Jodi or her family. But, they did the best they could. Jodi cried a lot those days. When they arrived in their new house, everything was new. The house, the neighborhood, the school were all freshly built. Jodi's parents made a lot of phone calls to find new sports and church programs for her. Slowly, Jodi made her friends and new connections. But, she still missed where she used to live. That was home for her.
Her parents were excited that fall, but the winter brought more than the usual down turn. Her parents whispered more and more. Her father came home more tired than usual. He didn't want to play her Jodi as much. Jodi sensed things were not going as well for her father as she had thought.
Just before spring, Jodi's parents took her out to dinner. During the dinner, her parents told her the "bad news." "Jodi," her father started, "we came here so I could work at a better job and make more money. But the new company I went to work for is losing money. I'm afraid they're going to close down. I contacted the company I used to work for. They want me to come back."
"Honey," her mom continued for her father, "we're moving back."
Jodi's parents stopped and waited for Jodi's reaction. They took her the restaurant so she won't start crying. They were shocked when Jodi replied with a smile, "When do we move?"
At first Jodi was happy. But, soon she was a little nervous. Would her family and friends, her school and sports teams welcome her back? She so wanted to go back home. She was so willing to return, she would even start at the bottom. She just wanted to get back.
The day she returned was the happiest in her life. Since her parents only rented their old house, she moved right back into her old bedroom. Her old friends came over with gifts and stories to tell. The coach on her softball team actually visited her. "Practice starts next week," the coach said. "We even got your old number from last year." Jodi was really shocked when her teacher came over with cookies. "I'm teaching your new class," the teacher said. "I look forward to seeing you on Monday." What a homecoming! Everyone was happy to see Jodi and her family.
That night, as Jodi lay in bed, the thoughts of the day continued to flood her mind. But one thought whispered over and over. "I'm glad to be home! I'm glad to be home!"
The young man in the story must have felt like Jodi. He left, but he didn't know if he would be welcomed back. When he was, he must have been overjoyed. His father hugged him and threw him a party! Like Jodi, he must have felt he was back where he belonged.
The story of the Prodigal Son is more than one about returning home. It's also about the father who always loved him. God's like that father. He always loves us, no matter what we do. And, he will welcome us when we return home to him. Let's pray to always return so he can love us and care for us like the loving Father he is.
Closing Question: How do you feel when you pray to God? How do you feel to return home to God in the sacrament of reconciliation?