My topic today will be the Prayer of Imagination.
Many of the saints have used the Prayer of Imagination to bring themselves closer to God. And no one did it better than St. Ignatius of Loyola. Saint Ignatius said: “When it comes time to pray you should trust your imagination and trust your dreams and trust your human experiences. Why? Because they will convey God’s will to you. Ever since the Word was made flesh God has said to the human race, “I will use your dreams and your imagination as messengers. They will deliver my messages to you.”
Now I would like to show you how I have used the Prayer of Imagination with reference to today’s Gospel. My goal is to walk with each character in the Parable of the Forgiving Father. I will walk with each character and listen to each person’s story and ask myself: Have I ever had that experience?
Let’s begin with the younger son and let’s walk with him for a while. He felt empty and worthless because he was living at home and didn’t have any equity. He simply did not have any property that he could call his own. So he said to his father, “Give me my share of the property.” His father doled out his share and he took off. His share of the property was a nice chunk of change. But instead of investing it wisely he wasted it in pleasure seeking.
He finally came to his senses when he was feeding a herd of swine in a foreign land. He received his wake-up call while watching the pigs feasting at the trough one day. He decided to go back home and ask his father to forgive him.
Now it’s time for me to enter into the story. At this point I need to ask myself, “How could his story be my story? Did I ever misuse the property given to me?” Of course I want to say No. But a missionary priest delivered a wake-up call and I had to say Yes. He asked us if we have clothing in our closets that we never use. Without even looking I knew that I did.
Yes, I was misusing property because I was hoarding clothing that other people need. I quickly took an inventory of my closet and gave my surplus clothing to Catholic Charities.
Making a move like that helped me to get back to having a right relationship with God and the People of God.
Let’s turn to the older son and let’s walk with him for a while. He was working hard in the fields from sunrise until sunset. When he came home he saw that his father was throwing a party for his delinquent brother. He was filled with resentment and hit the ceiling when he saw his father. “It’s just not fair.” He said. “How can you throw a party for that lazy kid and never have a party for me? I’m the one who does all the work around here.”
His father replied, “Son. You are with me always and my constant loving presence is my gift to you.” Now it’s time for me to enter into the story. I need to ask myself, “Could his story be my story? Did I ever feel resentment about my place in my family?” The answer is Yes. I was the oldest in my family and during the summer months I had to work hard on the farm. In the morning I had to work in the garden with my mother. In the afternoons I had to work in the fields with my father. When I came back to the house I saw my younger brothers and sisters watching cartoons and Ozzie and Harriet on TV. I resented the fact that they had so much play time and such an easy life.
Only later did I realize how foolish my resentment was. Being with my mother and father and conversing with them and taking on their value system was a greater treasure and much more valuable than watching TV all day. In later years my younger brothers and sisters got their chance to work with our parents in the garden and in the fields; but at the time I resented them for having such an easy life.
Only one character remains: the father of the boys in the story.
Let’s walk with him for a while and let’s remember that every parable has a person who represents God. In this case it is the father who represents God. When the younger son left home, what did the father do? He went to the gate every day to look for his son, hoping that he would return. How do we know that? Because Jesus says that the father caught sight of the son while he was still far off. He would not have seen the boy if he had not been at the gate watching for him. Then he ran out and hugged his son and kissed him.
The father represents God and this parable reveals to us that God loves us and surrounds us with unconditional love no matter what sins we have committed. Then there’s the matter of the father’s love for his older son. Notice what the father does: He leaves the party and goes outside to look for the older son. He is reaching out to the older son just as he had been reaching out to the younger son. Not only does the father reach out to him, he forgives his resentment and invites him into the Banquet of Love.
Now it’s time to put myself into the story. Of course I can’t be the father because the father represents God. But I can learn from this parable that God is always looking for me, even if I behave like the younger son or the older son.
And God is always showing me a parent’s love - hugging me and surrounding me with a love that is unconditional. And God is always forgiving me for what I have done wrong. And that brings to conclusion my version of the Prayer of Imagination.
Like I said in the beginning, God uses our imaginations to deliver divine messages. Today, with the help of the Gospel parable and the Prayer of Imagination we can insert ourselves into the Gospel story. We can look at things from the point of view of the prodigal son and hear that our sins are forgiven. We can look at things from the point of view of the older son and see that sometimes we carry resentment within us. We can look at things from the point of view of the father and hear that God the Father is saying to us:
I forgive you and I will always surround you with my unconditional love.
Let’s take a moment to treasure God’s messages for us today.