The Separated Children

When our Lord told the story about a father who had two sons, he didn’t mean to imply that these were the father’s only children. Rather he condensed the story to address the needs of his immediate audience. In truth, the father had quite a large expanding family, and sadly many of his children over the years had also drifted away from home. You see, things had not always been idyllically peaceful at home.

It was always the father’s desire, however, that they all come home, for he knew that it was only at home that they could find true happiness, united as one in the family.

As in the case of his two eldest sons, his initial tactic for beckoning his separated children was to wait patiently, lovingly, and prayerfully for them to come to their senses and return. And his second son did just that. His eldest son, however, had made no effort whatsoever to retrieve any of his siblings, as we also know.

In time, the father decided to take action. He wrote letters to his separated children, insisting they come home, for away from home they would never find true happiness. A few responded, but most didn’t.

He eventually convinced his two eldest sons and the few who had returned to go out and bring the others home. This worked for some, but again, not for most. Unfortunately, the elder sons, and those who had already returned, sometimes were too harsh in how they commanded their separated siblings to come home, warning them that unless they did it would be impossible for them to find happiness. As before, a few responded, but most didn’t.

In time, the separated children had families of their own and formed homes of their own far away from their father and their siblings’ families, who with him believed that their separated siblings and their families were lost to happiness. In time, some of the siblings’ children and grand-children no longer knew about their grandfather and their need to return home. Yet, there was always an inexplicable restlessness.

Then a powerful arch enemy invaded the region, causing turmoil, devastation, poverty, and hunger. This forced the father and his remaining children and families living with him to band together with his separated children and their families as a united defense against their common enemy. In time, their combined strength pushed back the enemy, allowing them all to live, at least temporarily, at peace.

In the process, the father discovered something he had not expected. His separated sons and daughters, and their expanding families, were inexplicably happy. They didn’t enjoy all the blessings of being at home with him, yet they were happy, some even happier than some who had remained home with him.

This sent him to his knees. And he remembered, that he had been called to speak the truth to his children with love. He had indeed spoken the truth, but he had not always done so with love.

So, now that he and his separated children were at least on speaking terms, he began to talk less about their need to come home. Instead, he chose to focus whatever time he had with them on celebrating the happiness that they shared together. In doing so, he discovered something else: that whatever happiness his children and their families had, even apart from him, was mysteriously from him, for they were flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood. Full happiness subsisted in his home, but whatever happiness they were experiencing apart from home originated from their continuing connections with home. And he was exceedingly glad.

Over time, as he set aside his demand that they return home and instead loved them, they surprisingly, one by one, began to return.

But, as in the portion of the story Jesus told, the elder brothers were not all happy with their father’s change of thinking, for they had given up so much either to remain or return. Some thought he had gone crazy; others thought he had compromised, rejecting what had always been true.

And the father said to them, “Sons, daughters, grand children. You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It is fitting to make merry and be glad, for these your siblings and their families were lost but now they have been found. Yes, they are not fully home, yet, but I have come to understand their separation in a different, more positive way, and whatever happiness they have, though it may not be full or complete, yet comes from the same source as ours and ultimately will draw them home. We must entrust their full return to God, but in the mean time, we must stand beside them in the faith, hope, and love that we share, always pointing them to the fullness that we have received with joy.”

15 thoughts on “The Separated Children

  1. Unbelievable! Who do you think you are?
    “When our Lord told the story about a father who had two sons, he didn’t mean to imply that these were the father’s only children.”
    So you have the authority to tell others what Our Lord didn’t mean to imply, do you? You’ll probably be surprised to be accused of arrogance, but you deserve to be accused of it.

    1. Not sure how to respond to this except to say that i assumed that anyone who reads this with a charitable heart can recognize that I wasn’t literally claiming to be correcting our Lord, but doing what preachers have always done, expand on a text to bring out further meaning. Sorry if I offended.

    2. Wow Bruce… you so totally missed the point of this posting. Take a deep breath and realize that Marcus was providing a metaphor for conversion. Reread the posting without the blindness of self-righteous literalism and instead through a lens that acknowledges how much of humanity has been lost to the love of the Father/Grandfather simply because they chose to leave His home. For example, during the Protestant Reformation many of the Father’s children left God’s home and “protested” the one holy, catholic and apostolic church – some lost faith in God completely, others started their own Christian denominations and kept some of the same tenants and rejected others. Those protestants still HUNGERED for what the Father offered, but they didn’t want to receive it in their former “home”. Somehow, by the grace of God, they have been able to find happiness even without the fullness of what the Father could offer in their original home. In recent months in our society “an evil force” has attacked God’s laws (Judeo-Christian morality) and the future of our entire land (all Christianity) is in jeopardy. The struggle against evil has given us “common ground” to fight for and has united many Catholics and Protestants in the struggle. That unified struggle has opened the eyes of many who were lost and is now bringing them (the children and grandchildren who were lost in the protest) back home… and the Father is welcoming all his children back with Love.

      1. Fine reflection! Thanks! I will explain more next week, but one slight difference from what you’ve said is that I believe the major crisis that changed everything were the World Wars and secularism, etc., of the 20th century, which led the Holy Spirit to lead Blessed John XXIII to call the Council, etc.

      2. There is an element of the story which cannot be fully appreciated by 21st Century Catholics in the United States. Our Churches are full and we need more priests. At the same time, America has always been a Protestant nation, with Catholics in the minority. We have grown accustomed to the status-quo of the interdenominational sharing of what it means to be Christian. Also, we live in a time when we must band together to stand up for our shared values in the Public Square.

        BUT the reality is that the Catholic Church was attacked during the ‘Reformation’ and there was warring for over 100 years. Blood was shed on both sides… but it was a war that the Church did not start. When a peace of sorts was finally established it was the Royalty that decided the Faith of all of their subjects. People were not free to be Catholic or Protestant of their own will.

        I have lived and worked for two years in the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi in Nigeria. It was the Irish priests that first brought the Faith to the Igbo Tribe in 1885. In a few generations the Faith had spread to 95% of the population. However, since the 90s Pentecostals from the US have come and have attracted the people to their ‘Spirit on Fire’ Revivals . People were attracted by all the promises for health and wealth. Now the Catholic population has dropped below 80%. The same scenario has happened in Central and South America. We have to be concerned about people who had been receiving the Precious Body and Blood of our LORD who now reject it and are trying to help others leave the Catholic Church.

        I think that there is a fine line to walk when we speak with our Separated brothers and sisters. We must always be loving and kind. However, we must never elevate the Protestant, Evangelical or Pentecostal churches to a position that makes their worship or their spirituality equal to that which, as Pope Benedict explained, subsists in the Catholic Church. Why would anybody want to be Catholic if it didn’t have something more and better to offer than any Non-Catholic Church? Less we forget, there was a great exodus of people out of the Catholic Church and into the Non-Catholic Churches in the 70s and 80s… when the way we practiced our Faith became more like the Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals,
        BUT THEN AGAIN, I would never argue any of these points with my Non Catholic family or friends… just my fellow Catholics

  2. +JMJ
    There is nothing wrong, Marcus, with your desire to draw out of one of Jesus’ parables, other analogies that relate to an aspect of the Church or our faith. I object to comments that decry your motive or declare your arrogance. I think that you had a desire to express something of value to others. However, there maybe some problems with parts of the story that you are attempting to tell. Firstly, the Father in the parable is unmistakeably God Almighty and therefore, He could not be said to been ‘mistaken’ or that he didn’t know something about the nature of His children. It is true that our Separated Brethren are Christians, because of their Baptism, when God claims them as His children. However, the seed of rebellion that brought about the Reformation, and which has led to the creation of 30,000 plus denominations (all claiming to be right) is of the same source as the rebellion of Adam and Eve in Paradise. Satan’s temptation to not believe God, and instead to be a god ourselves, is the basis of all rebellion. The Reformation was a revolt against the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Just as with the founders of the new evangelical or pentecostal churches that come about today, the Reformers thought that they could build a better church. What they failed to remember was that Jesus Christ declared in Matthew 16 that He, and no other, will build the Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. One cannot truly be happy without the Holy Catholic Church because Jesus said in John 6, unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we do not have life in us. Jesus is our happiness… but we cannot have that of our own doing. The happiness that the Separated Brethren have is of their own doing… out of ignorance and “Ignorance is bliss”. I am a convert to Catholicism and I can say this with all humility, Non Catholics are simply ignorant of the Truth and once they know the Truth they will desire to become Catholic and be truly happy. They will ‘Journey Home’.

    1. Dear ZuzanaM

      First, let me thank you for your kind comments and your reflections. I plan next week to give a detailed explanation of the parable, by I’ll pre-empt it with a few comments on your comment:

      +JMJ There is nothing wrong, Marcus, with your desire to draw out of one of Jesus’ parables, for other analogies that relate to an aspect of the Church or our faith. I object to comments that decry your motive or declare your arrogance. I think that you had a desire to express something of value to others.

      Thank you for this. This was my intent. In fact, as I will express below, my intent was to express the results of many years’ reflections on how I’ve seen and experienced the Hierarchy’s approach to non-Catholic Christians.

      However, there maybe some problems with parts of the story that you are attempting to tell. Firstly, the Father in the parable is unmistakably God Almighty and therefore, He could not be said to been ‘mistaken’ or that he didn’t know something about the nature of His children.

      Yes, certainly, in our Lord’s parable the Father does represent God, but in my loose expanded reflection, I expanded the father to essentially represent our Lord’s representatives, the “papas” or popes of the Church throughout the last 2000 years.

      It is true that our Separated Brethren are Christians, because of their Baptism, when God claims them as His children. However, the seed of rebellion that brought about the Reformation, and which has led to the creation of 30,000 plus denominations (all claiming to be right) is of the same source as the rebellion of Adam and Eve in Paradise. Satan’s temptation to not believe God, and instead to be a god ourselves, is the basis of all rebellion. The Reformation was a revolt against the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Just as with the founders of the new evangelical or pentecostal churches that come about today, the Reformers thought that they could build a better church. What they failed to remember was that Jesus Christ declared in Matthew 16 that He, and no other, will build the Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

      Yes, what you say here was and is technically true, yet, you will not find this language or attitude towards our separated brethren in any of the documents of Vatican II or in any of the papal or hierarchical documents since, which is precisely behind what and why I wrote this parable. I believe that the Church has gone through the same transformation in attitude that I utilized to characterize the change in the father in my parable, which I will explain in more detail next week.

      One cannot truly be happy without the Holy Catholic Church because Jesus said in John 6, unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we do not have life in us. Jesus is our happiness… but we cannot have that of our own doing. The happiness that the Separated Brethren have is of their own doing… out of ignorance and ” Ignorance is bliss”.

      Again, I agree that the fullness of happiness can only come from within the Church where this fullness subsists, in union with the Eucharist, which is why, in the parable, the father never ceasing calling his children to point to the fullness and to come home. However, again the Church has recognized that many elements of the Church exist outside the Church and, from experience, has discovered that many many many non-Catholic Christians do experience authentic joy and happiness in Christ. Again, this is what I tried to point out in the parable, and will further expound on next week.

      I am a convert to Catholicism and I can say this with all humility, Non Catholics are simply ignorant of the Truth and once they know the Truth they will desire to become Catholic and be truly happy. They will ‘Journey Home’.

      As a fellow convert, I can say “Welcome home,” and yes, I agree that the biggest reason the multitude of separated brethren show no interest in becoming Catholic is ignorance (lack of data). However, having worked (with my staff) for the last 20 years with literally thousands of non-Catholic Christians showing some interest in the Church, it has become apparent that not all who come to know the truth necessarily come home to the Church. It just isn’t as clear cut as this; there are many, many factors, and one of these is that there are many, many faithful, baptized, sacrificially obedient non-Catholic Christians, who desire to do nothing but the will of God, and pray for this daily, but have not yet become convinced in their conscience that God is calling them to become Catholic. We could easily stand back as judge and declare that they are being willfully proud and disobedient to the obvious call, and declare them outside of grace, or, as I believe the Church leadership, as represented by the father in my parable, has come to realize from personal friendships with non-Catholic Christians, that these brothers and sisters in Christ need our love and friendship much more than our judgement.

      Dr. Billy Graham, who is hardly ignorant of the Church, was a close friend of many Catholic leaders, including Bishop Fulton Sheen and Blessed Pope John Paul II, and there is no evidence from any of their reported correspondences or conversations that they ever did anything but encourage him, and no evidence that they ever told him to quit doing what he was doing and enter the Church. This doesn’t imply indifferentism, but rather that they recognized the clear evidence of the grace and love and blessings of God in Dr. Graham, and chose to celebrate the elements of the truth they shared, and to let Dr. Graham’s acceptance and entrance into the fullness of the Church up to God.

      Again, I’ll expand on this next week.

      1. God bless you, Marcus, for you have truly responded to His call upon you to do a special service for the Church. I have watched many episodes of the Journey Home on EWTN. I appreciate your responses to my comments and will look forward to reading your post in its expanded version.

        In closing, I think that none of us convert to Catholicism of our own merit… It is first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it will remain a mystery as to why such obviously deeply committed servant Christians as C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham never converted.
        Joy and peace,
        Suzana

        1. I can’t speak for Marcus, but I’m guessing he’d agree with you that conversion is a matter of Grace. God uses different avenues for grace and sometimes us, if/when we cooperate, but it is always grace first and foremost.

          For this reason, conversion will always have a mysterious element to it. Why does one person convert and another doesn’t? Are their wills involved? Their knowledge? Partly, probably. But there is also always a mysterious element of God’s providential movement of grace, the big picture of which we can never fully see.

          We who have experienced the grace of knowing the fullness of the Catholic faith must have humility regarding those who have not. Why? Precisely because we know we are undeserving of such grace.

          I think you are right, it will remain a mystery why apparently holy and wise invidividuals as Lewis and Graham and others never converted. However, what is the right response to such a mystery? We might say it is too bad they didn’t discover the fullness of the church, and that is true, but this should take second place to giving gratitude and glory to God for the good He did in fact do in and through their lives. We are incapable of judging their hearts, assuming that because they never came “home” they must have thus rejected God. No, this is the mystery Marcus is exploring. We must praise God and affirm other Christians when we see the Holy Spirit working. We must encourage them to continue discerning, praying, doing good works – taking the next right step of growth that God puts in front of them.

        2. IMHO C.S.Lewis suffered from a cherished association with antidisestablishmentarianism (disinclined to subordinate his privileged place in a national regnal supremacy of autochtonous church similar to Eastern Orthodoxy to a greater primacy: unity). His understanding of the Real Presence was deeply flawed perhaps even gnostic (as per POV of his English Catholic friend, JRR Tolkein). His Aslan character is not a true Christ figure, he’s more an amalgam of literary archetypes, an eikon of masculine virtues, a pagan power hero, similar to the Islamic hagiography fashioned around the historically-flawed personhood of Mohammed. Many Protestant leaders fail to see where they take the wrong turn in the road away from the Father – they think they carry him in their memory and identity with them as a book, the Bible (and end up with many divergent schools of legalistic interpretation of
          “tradition” of patchy historical recollection just like those associated with Koranic scholars dispersed their understanding of “tradition” of patchy historical record) as the pre-Temple era Israelites wandered with the ark and Tablets in a temporary-tentlike sanctuary.

          French Calvinist Andre Gide
          [ http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=fr&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.museeprotestant.org%2FPages%2FNotices.php%3Fscatid%3D148%26noticeid%3D811%26lev%3D1%26Lget%3DFR ] penned a version of the prodigal son: his relationship on his return with his younger brother, whose experience of home life is bereft of free will – in his fictional retelling the story concludes with the prodigal agreeing to show his younger brother what the outside world is like – reflecting a deeply dualistic (puritanical unbringing) conception of God as a mental straightjacket worn to keep the Adversary at bay, with inclinations towards pleasure and joy demoted to lower cravings that must be resisted. Such an anthropological prison would be tortuous if true (which it is not) thus it is small wonder Gide rejected it – and explored the faith of his prominent Catholic friends – but instead embraced its opposite: hedonistic maleness (husband, adulterous father and lifelong pederast).

          The mother figure is key (he married only after his controlling mother had died, to his cousin who took care of his domestic arrangements but never enjoyed his conjugal embrace, no true ‘sacramental’ marriage, maintainence contract for privileged comforts of established upper-middle class life, a similar predelicition to CS Lewis, see above).

          While its true that the domestic homefront whether separated Brethren or non-Christian, represents an eikon of the sacrality of motherhood and its role in attaining our full human potential, caution is now needed since “family” is to held to cover all bases including homosexual marriage. The glass reflecting a natural human ‘eikon’ of human perfection, the incarnate Bridegroom and his beloved Bride, has been shattered, the secular shards no longer illuminate receptivity in rhythm with mother nature’s cosmos and her regular seasons as does the lunar logic of the pastoral Israelites (and Muslims) now the Adversary can persuade man to manipulate the sunlight – and like Icarus to perhaps fly too close to the heat of the sun – throwing all caution to the wind and presume homoerotic martial manliness is the measure of all greatness. Feminine receptivity of graced giftedness has been subjected to an iconoclasm far more severe than imposing a hijab or selfabusive poisoning by chemical contraceptives – fecundity is to be handled as a business transaction with women reduced to chattel, as human trash cans (the fruit of their wombs casually aborted by swallowing a pill).

          Catholics must do their part to promote Mary’s FIAT as a key step in our Salvation history – her pure free will co-operated with the Father’s gift, mutually exchanged in communion for the whole world. The Church is modelled on one Mother of one Son, but today when the majority of our kids are being raised in multiple-parenting arrangements with no prior conjugal commitment, we can no longer presume folks “know” what Mother means, what Father means, what happy family means. The Adversary has succeeded in his iconoclastic attack on human anthropology, yet JPII’s remedy, his magnum opus the Theology of the Body, still remains unappreciated within the very members of the mystical body of Mother Church and practically unheard of most everywhere else…

          … looking forward to your next installment!

          1. Clare, thank you for your reply. You certainly do not fear where angels fear to tread. I am a Walter Mitty in your shoes. I agree with your straight forward, tell it like it is, eclesiology. In my mind, through deep prayer and an honest desire to present myself as a living sacrifice at Mass, I am totally convinced that we cannot honestly ‘characterize’ all non-Catholic Christians as our Separated Brethren. We profess the Catholic Church to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. That says much about our history, our incomparable size and presence, our unity and call to be ‘set apart’. It seems to me, as Jesus said “If they aren’t against us, they’re for us.” and the inverse “If they are against us, they’re not with us.”, it should be considered when calling anyone our Brethren. I love Pope John Paul II and he is, in part, why I converted to Catholicism, However, he lived most of his life in Poland (100% Catholic) and deep in the heart of the Church. Living in predominantly non-Catholic America offers a very different experience of those who are fundamentally against us.

            I have thought more about the idea of ‘parablizing’ the Separated Children. I believe that a more apt analogy would be the parable of the young rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to sell everything and ‘Follow me”, the young man departed. It saddened Jesus and perplexed the disciples. It can be said that Holy Mother Church was saddened and perplexed by the onslaught of ‘Protestant Reformers’ (as many as 62) who decided to not give up all they valued and deny themselves, in order to follow the Church. The Church offered them the opportunity to meet in assembly and draft one document of Protest. In no time tempers flew and they disassembled (an apt forerunner of things to come in the explosion of 30,000 denominations in the US).

            The scenario is also found in John 6, when the many ‘disciples’ who were with Jesus in Galilee deserted the Master, because His words were too hard to hear. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life within you.” What Protestant, Evangelical or Pentecostal Church has such a belief in The Real Presence? AND the obvious question is, “Is it possible that they have the Life of Christ within them?” In their Baptism they are made children of God, but without the Holy Eucharist are they made One in the Body of Christ?

            Finally, I think that we have to look to Mother Mary. Here is God’s chosen one, the Fair Ewe from whom would come the Spotless Lamb of God. Yet, Mary was not denied free will. She was like all of us who are free to do what is best for us. At the same time she was not like us. She was a teenage girl living in a small Hebrew village in the hills of Judea in the First Century. She knew full well the consequences of an unmarried Jewish woman to be found ‘with child’. The law demanded that she be stoned to death. Nevertheless, Our Lady, gave her Fiat; she trusted God and believed in His Word.

            We speak about the Separated Brethren as being born into the particular denomination and therefore, not personally responsible for their rejection of the Catholic Church… because it isn’t what they expect the church should be. BUT then I think of the First Century Hebrews, all born into their Judaism, most of who rejected what Jesus taught, for He did not live up to their expectations of what the Messiah should be. I maintain that, since the scriptures speak of the Gentile Christians be grafted onto the Tree of Jesse (Judaism), it would be more appropriate to say that the Jews are our Separated Brethren. As a convert to Catholicism I have been blessed to receive the Fullness of the Faith for over ten years. Prior to that, I experienced all that the Non-Catholic churches had to offer… for almost fifty years. I can, without reservation say that I find much more in common with Orthodox Judaism than I do with Non-Catholics. Yes, I know that Jews do not ‘love Jesus’ as our “Separated Brethren” say that they do. However, God Almighty, is so Holy Other to our Orthodox Jewish brethren, that they will not even say HIS name. They try to live with God as the compulsion of their very being. They live in the world, but are not of the world. They honor tradition and hold the Family as sacrosanct.

            It is very difficult for the American Catholic to identify with the Early Christian, or the way that our European Catholic ancestors experienced and practiced
            their faith prior to the triumph of Humanism, the Enlightenment and Modernism. The United States was founded on all three belief systems… and is a ‘democracy’. How, then can we understand the Church founded by the King of Kings, who sits on a throne at the right hand of Father Almighty, who together as One Being with the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified… unless we are One in the Body of Jesus Christ. As a Catholic I rejoice to be a part of this great Mystery.

  3. “And the separated children all died and went to hell because they didn’t have the sacraments.” Lord have mercy on us, sinners!

  4. Sadly, many remained obstinate to their final moment in their refusal to enter or remain within their father’s one family, and could not be saved.