A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
Seventy years ago today an event occurred that was to be called “a date that will live in infamy,” the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The day of departure of the younger son would have felt to the father much like a day of infamy, particularly if he later heard news of the debauchery of his son. Many a parent has been left bereft by a child who “goes bad” by entering into a life of drugs, immorality, or crime, or even simple abandonment. The emptiness of loss can be all-consuming for such a parent; in some ways this loss is worse than death itself, for the rejection by the child is devastating and never-ending. Even the most hard hearted parent longs for the day when the child will return and a relationship re-established. How much more so that must be for the Heavenly Father when we wander off into our desert of selfishness and insensitivity.
Today is also the Feast of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan. The story is told that at the election of the bishop of Milan in 374, Ambrose, who was a public official, went to the church where the election was to take place to prevent an uproar likely to take place between the Catholic party and the Arians who had controlled the Church in the city during the episcopate of the previous bishop. It had been a rainy overcast day, and while he was speaking, the clouds broke, and legend says, a ray of sunlight fell on Ambrose, at which point the crowd, Catholics and Arians, began chanting for Ambrose to be elected. Ambrose had been raised in a Christian family but was neither trained in theology nor even baptized. He fled the church and hid at a friend’s house until he was convinced that this was indeed God’s calling. Within a week he was baptized, ordained Deacon and consecrated Bishop. He studied theology and became one of the Latin Doctors of the Church before his death in 397. He left a legacy of support for the poor, Church Hymnody, and influence upon St. Augustine of Hippo.
In a wonderful way, Ambrose’s life and selection as bishop of Milan portray a homecoming of one who ran away and on returning was able to proclaim the greatness of the Father in his own life.
Many of us have experienced the headiness of leaving home to find ourselves, only to find that the self we were looking for was wrapped up in the family and community we left behind. I never totally rejected my upbringing, but I did wander into the desert for a time, rejecting many of the conventions with which I had been raised. I would have to guess that my mother felt at times as if I had abandoned her; but she never gave me up as dead to her heart. Heart and home were always available to me, even when I rejected them, as did the younger son. We just have to remember that our leaving is not the end of the story.