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Vol 41 No 1

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James Quillinan

Neil Darragh

Helen McCabe
THE FAMILY IN AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY: Christianity's contribution to understanding the family and its role

Francine and Byron Pirola
MARRIAGE IN THE LIFE OF THE PARISH: He sent them out two by two ... Luke 10:1

Brian Lewis

Marie Farrell RSM

Desmond O'Donnell OMI




A Lenten meditation


COUNSELLOR: May I ask you why you came to see me?
CLIENT: Truthfully I don’t think that I need to, but my eldest son thinks that I am manifesting some strange behaviour. I’m here to make him happy.
COUNSELLOR: Could you tell me about this?
CLIENT: You read the story in the local paper about my son going off and coming back years later.
COUNSELLOR: Do you think the story as told is accurate?
CLIENT: Yes it is, but most people lost sight of me and my feelings in the story. They speak only of ‘a prodigal son’. They concentrate on guilt, blame and forgiveness. Yes, I suppose my young boy was foolish, but people missed my feelings and they misunderstand the deeper experience of what happened to me. Maybe that’s why my elder son sent me to you.
COUNSELLOR: Please, tell me your own understanding of what occurred and how you felt about it.
CLIENT: Our family, like any good Jewish family, is very close. At least we were.
COUNSELLOR: And your boy did not feel this closeness?
CLIENT: You see, my son—he’s my youngest—was always rather impulsive; he does not always act his age. One day he demanded his share of our family property in cash and……….(long pause)
CLIENT: I gave it to him. I said yes, but with a very heavy heart. He could see how I felt, but he persisted. Of course it took a while to sell that part of the family estate and I kept asking him not to leave home. Yes, I gave it to him, and of course the family thought that I was confused. They were even angry.
COUNSELLOR: How did you feel when the boy did this? Angry too, I suppose?
CLIENT: No, not angry, but very sad and worried.
COUNSELLOR: You were sad at the loss of the land?
CLIENT: Maybe, but I was much more deeply saddened that my boy was leaving home. I was very concerned about him, very. He was leaving a comfortable and loving home, with servants, good food and overall security. Anything could happen to him.
COUNSELLOR: Tell me about your sadness.
CLIENT: Well, there is not much to tell; I was very worried like any parent would be.
COUNSELLOR: Are you sure that you were not angry?
CLIENT: No, no. How could I be angry at my son whom I loved, just because he was acting foolishly to harm himself? Being angry would be focusing on myself.
COUNSELLOR: That is a little unusual in the situation. You were not angry with the boy who was splitting the family estate?
CLIENT: No, I was not angry. You read my story. There is no mention of anger in it, although some religious people in the village say that I was angry and maybe suppressed it.
COUNSELLOR: Did you have any other feeling in the situation? Did you feel, shall we say, offended?
CLIENT: No, as I told you, my thoughts were solely on the boy I loved, and not on myself. I was not offended. That would have been thinking about myself. You read my story. There is no mention of my son offending me. I was just sad, disappointed if you like, and anxious about his safety and wellbeing. We Jews are better in the country Yahweh gave us, rather than out in the diaspora.
COUNSELLOR: So you were not angry or offended; just sad and worried about your boy’s welfare?
CLIENT: That’s right. Have you not read the story?
COUNSELLOR: Why do you think your family is worried about you?
CLIENT: They think that somehow I lost my head in letting my son take his share of the farm before my death, and allowed him to avoid the responsibility of caring for his mother and I while we are alive.
COUNSELLOR: But go back to your feelings if you would. How are things now?
CLIENT: Well, you read the story. My son came back recently and I welcomed him home. I feel very happy.
CLIENT: Again my elder son thinks that I should not have welcomed him back, and that I am more confused than ever. He believes I should have sent him away, and now he thinks that I need counselling even more than before. You see, my wayward son spent all the money living promiscuously and returned only because he was hungry, penniless and working in a pig sty. Imagine a Jew and my son, working in a pig sty !
COUNSELLOR: And how do you feel about his brother’s reaction?
CLIENT: Well, again I am sad that he cannot share my feelings of joy.
COUNSELLOR: Maybe he felt that you should be annoyed at his brother’s rejection of your authority. Did the flaunting of your authority not annoy you? Was disobedience not an issue for you?
CLIENT: No, no. You see by leaving home, my son was hurting himself more than hurting me, and I was concerned about that most of all. Not about my authority. Besides, he came back starving, looking emaciated and smelly.
COUNSELLOR: And how did that make you feel about him?
CLIENT: He didn’t even have shoes, and his clothes were just rags. So you can just imagine how I felt for him. Like any father, I didn’t feel about him; I felt for him.
COUNSELLOR: And why do you think your family is so worried about you?
CLIENT: Well, I was so happy that I even ran to meet him, and I would not let him—as tradition demands—kiss my feet. Yes, I was so happy that I embraced him warmly. I could feel my old heart beating against my ribs with joy. I am sure he felt it too. Some of the villagers laughed at my stumbling attempts to run towards my reckless son and welcome him.
COUNSELLOR: So you were really happy at his return?
CLIENT: Of course. I can’t understand why my elder son was so angry. He thought that I did not love him as much as my son who went away.
COUNSELLOR: How did he show his anger?
CLIENT: Well, maybe you too will think I am confused when I tell you that I gave him the best robe in the house, that I called all the neighbours in and had a party with music and dancing to welcome my boy back. To the annoyance of my other son, I even had the calf we had been fattening for Rosh Hashonah our New Year celebration killed for the party. But I was so happy, so very happy. Some religious people said I should have given the boy a penance or at least made him promise never to do it again. But I could not. He himself wanted to do penance by becoming a servant. Imagine my beloved son becoming a servant in his own home. I never wanted that. But I was so happy to see him again. That’s the only feeling I had.
COUNSELLOR: Are you sure?
CLIENT: Oh! I was a little sad when my elder son listed off his brother’s sins in public and refused to meet his brother. I always suspected that he felt the need to earn my love by obeying my orders and working hard. Deep down that must have made him feel like a servant. Maybe that’s his problem. It made me sad too. I told him again that all I have is his.
COUNSELLOR: Unforgiveness usually hurts the person who harbours it. How about you?
CLIENT: What do you mean?
COUNSELLOR: When did you forgive the boy?
CLIENT: I never forgave him.
COUNSELLOR: Excuse me! Did you say that you never forgave him?
CLIENT: That’s right. I didn’t need to because I never condemned him.
CLIENT: I think that, like a lot of people in the village and since then, you did not read the story. Where are anger, condemnation, penance or forgiveness mentioned? ………(long pause)……There was just deep sadness at the leaving and overwhelming joy at the return.
COUNSELLOR: I am beginning to understand.
CLIENT: When is my next appointment?
COUNSELLOR: I don’t think you need one. I think I need to read the story again.

Desmond O’Donnell is an Oblate priest and a registered psychologist in Dublin. He worked for twenty-eight years in Australia.