The Rev. Monsignor Vincent Krische, senior associate, Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway:
“The Return of the Prodigal Son” is one of my favorite spiritual books. I have read it a number of times, and each reading helps me understand the journey “back home” in a clearer light.
I have recommended the book to many, preached on the book a number of times, and have received grateful thanks from those who have read it.
I start with the author, a Catholic priest from the Netherlands. Henri J.M. Nouwen studied as a Fellow at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka in the mid ’60s. He then taught at Notre Dame University, the Yale Divinity School and the Harvard Divinity School. After 20 years in academia, he felt the call of God to work with severely mentally and physically challenged youth in a L’Arche Community.
The thrust of the book is the parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke (15:11-32). His inspiration is the painting “The Prodigal Son” by the famous artist Rembrandt. He visited this painting in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was allowed by the museum curators to spend hours each day before the painting, meditating on each aspect of the awesome work. He assumes the heart of the artist as he reflects on the “heart” of the painting.
Nouwen calls the parable “a story of two brothers and their father,” with the brothers representing all of humanity. The book is written in such a way that the reader is able to identify him or herself with each one. I find it hard to even read a page without needing to stop and reflect on my own life.
We are familiar with the prodigal who wants everything right now but is unable to handle our inheritance in a responsible way. We may be less familiar with the Older Son.
He is very proud, self-righteous, angry and unwilling to forgive, and these qualities we can also find in ourselves. In the background, there are four figures: two men and two women who appear to be observers of the event of the welcome of the father and the confession of the prodigal. They look indifferent, bored and uninterested in this great event of reconciliation. These attributes can creep into our own lives as we choose to remain uninvolved in serious situations that need our attention.
The father, with his red cloak wrapped around the son, shows the unwavering commitment of true love. He is partially blind, blind to the sins of the son, but granting forgiveness because he sees the sincere sorrow of his son.
I hardly do justice to this, what I would call a spiritual classic, in these few words. I would encourage anyone interested in the spiritual turmoil that may be experienced in life to gain a better understanding of travelling the road back “home” to our Father in the reading of this beautiful book. The Father who awaits us with compassion and mercy and a warm, loving embrace.
— Send email to Vincent Krische at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Jay B. Henderson, pastor, Central United Methodist Church, 1501 Mass.:
My favorite book is not classified as a religious book, but it contains much theological and spiritual wisdom. I keep it close to me, refer to it often, and use it frequently as a sermon resource. The book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Life,” is actually a commencement speech given by writer and novelist Anna Quindlen a few years ago.
Amidst the hundreds of books I have read over the years, this small book’s message is one of the most simple and yet profound messages I have experienced. Anna uses the setting of a graduation to remind graduates who are embarking on their new journey, that life is truly wonderful and meant to be lived to the fullest.
In a clear, direct manner, Anna gives what is her best piece of advice: “Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. Get a life in which you are generous. It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, our minutes.”
The death of Anna’s mother when Anna was only 19 years old had a profound effect on her. Her words throughout the book reflect the effect: “I learned to live many years ago. Something really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had a choice, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, sometimes seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get.”
Anna closes the speech (book) describing one of her best teachers, a homeless man on the boardwalk at Coney Island. He reminds Anna and us that when we engage in each day, appreciating the gifts each day brings, we will never be disappointed.
When I get caught up in my sometimes manic pursuit of what I can achieve, earn and win in life, the wisdom from this short guide to a happy life reminds me to appreciate what I have already received in life: the gifts God has provided this day and every day. When I do that, I am never disappointed.
— Send email to Jay B. Henderson at email@example.com.