There was once a man who had two sons. He did everything he could for them, helped them both as they needed it, and did his best to raise them both to be good men. Twenty years after his first wife passed away, he remarried. The man’s oldest son was happy for his father’s newfound joy. He called his new stepmother “mom” and brought her flowers every Mother’s Day. As he had done for years, the oldest son drove an hour each way every Sunday afternoon to visit, staying for hours to watch football games, have dinner, and to just be with his father and new stepmother. The oldest son would drop everything in his life at a moment’s notice whenever his father or stepmother needed the smallest thing.
The man’s youngest son lived a different life. He resented the fact that his father remarried, and while polite to his stepmother he never truly welcomed her into his heart, or his life. As he had done for years, the youngest son — who only lived five minutes from his father and stepmother — drove by twice a day on his way to and from the gym, yet he never stopped in. He called his father once or twice a month, and most of the time talked about himself and what he was doing in his life. While he honored his aging father’s requests for help now and then, it was obvious when you looked in his eyes that he helped his dad out of obligation, not out of love.
This story sounds like one of Jesus’ parables, and is very reminiscent of the Parable of the Two Sons. But this is no parable; this is a true story of two very real brothers. Yet like the parables, there is a lesson to be learned here, especially when we read from Isaiah 29 where the Lord says: “this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, and fear of me has become mere precept of human teaching.”
How many times do we honor our parents with our lips alone, doing what they ask only because it’s the right thing to do, not because we have joy in our hearts to help them? How often do we roll our eyes in frustration when our parents’ requests interfere with the flow of our own lives? When our parents need us most, do we decide if we’re going to help them and how much we’re going to help them based upon how much it interrupts our lives and our plans? It’s not easy to be honest with ourselves and answer those questions. For most people, we’re somewhat of a mix of both brothers. We all want to be the older son, but more often than we like to admit, we wind up like the younger.
In our own selfishness, we prioritize our time and our plans. What we want to do becomes so much more important in our minds than what our parents need from us. Or we choose what is easy for us instead of what is the right and righteous thing to do.
Maybe we choose playing golf over an afternoon sitting with them in the doctor’s office, because today might be the last nice day to get 18 holes in before winter gets here. Maybe we choose happy hour with the guys from work instead of helping with grocery shopping because there’s a corporate ladder that we want to climb. Or maybe we choose to drive two hours to the game instead of driving them to Mass because we got really good tickets and we wouldn’t want them to go to waste.
Whatever our excuses, they are just that: excuses. And too often our relationship with our parents here on earth mirror the relationship we have with our Heavenly Father and our Blessed Mother. How many times in Mass do we honor God the Father with our lips alone, while our minds and hearts are elsewhere? How often do we go through the motions of being a good Catholic out of obligation to our Heavenly Father rather than out of love for Him? Do we love the Mother of Christ so much that we can call her our “Blessed Mother” or do we just call her “Mary”? How many times a day do we drive past the Blessed Sacrament here in our own Adoration Chapel, and never even bother to turn down the radio, let alone stop in and spend five minutes with our Lord?
God wants us all to be like the oldest son. He wants us all to open our hearts, to serve both Him and our earthly parents out of love, not out of obligation. Loving and serving our parents so selflessly isn’t always easy. Being a good son isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to do things that we really don’t want to do. Just ask Jesus. But we all know the son our God-formed heart yearns to be. May we each find the strength and courage to live it.