BY DONNA MOGA
I’ve always been a homebody. At any given moment, I’m ready for another snow day or reason to hunker down and nest. Luckily, my parents were geniuses at offering their children “roots and wings,” somehow able to welcome us back home and also encourage us to fledge, travel and serve abroad…go wherever the Lord has called us.
This has always impressed me – their love has never been hampered by the insecurity I think I would have. The natural fear that must come to any parent as their children go forth to explore has not won out over their desire to see us grow, or their faith in God’s providence.
When I reflect on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that father is so familiar. Not because I can imagine rejecting my parents in favor of material wealth, but I because I’m struck by his tender willingness to accept his son as he is and allow him to go forth to learn life lessons for himself.
Recently, one of my classes got to talking about the afterlife. After a series of questions and dialogue on purgatory, the conversation turned to deathbed conversions. Naturally, this concept often offends a least a few of my students’ sense of justice. Like the older son in the parable, they take offense at what seems to be a loophole. “You mean they can be terrible their whole lives and get in?? That’s not fair!”
As a life-long rule follower, I can sympathize. Why live a life of accountability if an “easier” path is available? Why not act on the cost-benefit analysis which allows me to live a life of self-interest, knowing in the end God will “understand?” That path seems to be my win-win.
But wiser minds than mine have pointed out the low road isn’t actually easy. That’s the deceptive seduction of sin – Like the younger son, I fall for the semblance of comfort and forget that I have scars from previous paths I thought would be easy. When I imagine his time in that far-off city, I can’t help but wonder if his time of straying was really so pleasant. When did his conscience begin to speak up? Was it really only when his “friends” deserted, or his needs went unmet in the time of famine? Or was he having to push aside discomfort at superficial relationships, people willing to use him for his resources or encourage his sin with their own?
For the low road itself has immediate consequences, too – it’s colder or darker, with the hazards of tripping that downhill provides. Sometimes I have to deal with the consequences of my selfishness directly, in the hurt look on someone’s face, or our damaged trust. Other times it’s delayed, and I can enjoy temporarily the comfortable delusion that this wasn’t the wrong choice or my sin isn’t so harmful. Eventually though, the landscape forces me to acknowledge that this path has taken me in the wrong direction. In effect, I have to admit I’ve wasted time creating distance from my ultimate destination. That in itself is a loss.
The conversation with my students ultimately lands there. The more of my life that I can spend close to the One with whom I belong, the better. The life of fidelity is its own reward. I not only get to live with God in eternity, but have consciously gotten to know Him walking with me now? How come I’m so lucky?!
The grace of conversion comes in the humility to acknowledge I’ve led myself far afield. That this is not where I belong. Sin is alienating – it’s rent me from myself, from where and who I’m meant to be. It’s mildly embarrassing to admit that my pride is drawn to images of self-reliance and strong will; the ambition of the younger son. It’s silly, because I believe wholeheartedly in the understanding of the Body of Christ as intimately interdependent, social reliance on one other…and that my God is to be found most profoundly there. So it is right, but humbling, to confess I’m a homebody. It requires a death to self and a deference to the Other, who knew where I belonged before and better than I did. Praise God for that.
A few years ago, after a week at home visiting my parents in New York, I gave my mom a call to let her know I was safely on the road. I confessed that even as an adult, for some reason, I just didn’t want to go. My life of independence awaited, but somehow, I sheepishly admitted I was torn. And her wise response spoke volumes of the Father’s understanding, and why I felt as I did.
“Of course!” She replied. “That’s why they call heaven ‘going home.’ It’s supposed to be somewhere you want to be.”
DONNA MOGA has worked in university ministry and spent the last decade as a Theology teacher at a Catholic high school in Washington, DC. A native New Yorker and the youngest of five children, she is the happy aunt and godmother to many. She is a proud resident of Prince George’s County, MD.