There once was a preacher who would bring the Word of God from town to town. He was called the “Train Preacher,” because he would travel by train to evangelize. And at each stop along the way he would preach until the train was ready to move on. He then climbed aboard and was on his way to the next stop. On one of his trips, as he sat in the back, he noticed a young man who had a well worn suitcase beneath his seat. Often this young man would get out of his seat and pace about the train car clearly agitated. When he once again settled into his seat the preacher approached the young man, hoping to be of some help, and asked if it’d be OK if he took the seat next to him. The young man said that would be OK. The preacher asked where he was going, making the usual small talk to break the ice. The young man said he had been away for a long time and was on his way home. The preacher told him that he had noticed that he seemed stressed, and would he like to talk about it. Well, the flood gates opened. The young man unburdened himself by telling the preacher that he wasn’t sure if he would even be welcomed home. The priest said I’m sure your parents must be anxious to see you. I don’t think so said the young man. “And why is that?” asked the preacher. Because my dad and I never saw eye to eye on much of anything. We always battled. One day I had had it and packed this bag and headed toward the front door. My dad said; “If you walk out that door, don’t ever come back!” I said; “Don’t worry….I won’t! And stormed out the door. I kept going until I was out of the state. I took minor jobs just to get by. I was not living any where near a good as I was at home. Then one night after having been drinking at a bar with some guys I got to know, one of them got it into his head that it would be a good idea to rob the local gas station. Well, as bad as the idea was, the consequences were worse. We all ended up in prison. I just got out today and am on my way home right now. I am scared though, because I don’t know if I’ll be welcome. The preached interjected: “I’m sure all is forgiven, after all you are their son.” He said, “I can’t be sure of that, seeing how I left, and that I ended up in jail and all. A few weeks before I was released from prison I wrote a letter to my folks. I told them everything that had happened since I left. I was sorry for leaving and that I would understand, after all I did, if they did not want me back.” In the letter I asked them, if they wanted me back to please tie something white around a limb of the old tree at the train depot. If I saw it I would then know that I was forgiven and that they wanted me back. If I saw no white item tied on the tree then I would just move on and never bother them again. “Preacher, sir,” the young man asked, now with tears streaming down his cheeks: “I’m asking you to look for me because we are just about to arrive at the depot, and I’m so scared to look. I really want to go home.” The preacher agreed to look for him. As the train made the last turn the young man’s head was down expecting the deserved rejection. Why would they not, considering all that had transpired? The preacher peered out the window staining his neck to see. When the depot came into the clear the preacher said to the young man; “I think you may want to see this.” The young man rushed to the window. He did not see one white article, but, rather, every limb of the old tree was adorned with every white article of cloth that his parents must have owned. No greater affirmation of a welcome could there be than what was before their eyes; with emphasis! The young man grabbed his tattered bag and rushed off the train. The last thing the preacher saw was the young man running up a hill behind the depot to a house on a hill. And on that road quickly moving toward him was an elderly woman and man. The young man got his wish….he was home. – (Father John Gatzak, Executive Director of the Office of Radio & Television)
And what of us? Are many of us not prodigal sons and daughters ourselves? Are we running toward home or from it? Have we distanced ourselves from God or drawn closer? Often we have turned from God and Church because we may foster some guilt due to the vices in our lives. We question, as the young man, how could God ever forgive me? It is this type of thinking that keeps us from Him and happiness. For we think as men and women not as God. What may seem impossible is not so for God. Our wills, too, often are not aligned with His. Another possibility for separation is that many have become confused and misguided by the propaganda of the worldly. First principles of life, enforced through reason and faith, are gifted us by the First Cause of all that is. These principles have been distorted by relativism. Up is down, down is up; right is wrong, wrong is right, good is evil and evil good. God is fallible and man is infallible. All these are seeds of doubt planted in men and women’s minds tainting the heart and weakening the will. We the creatures, through truth, are endowed with the ability to know the Creator as the son knows his father.
But there are times when many seek God with a passion. Mostly not out of love but fear. Fear when they find that they are no longer in control as they once were. An injured or frightened dog will run toward home because instinct tells him that there he will find comfort and safety. After 911 churches were packed… standing room only. The confidence of a nation was shattered. Not since Pearl Harbor was there such a national realized threat. We were all one and not divided because we were all in a most unusual position at the same time. For once, we realized that we are all in the same boat. We had been attacked on our own soil and our confidence in security was shaken to its core. Then, as it is with the human race since the exodus of the Old Testament, once the threat was over church attendance reduced to the sparse numbers prior to this event as though nothing had ever happened.
There are two reasons why we desire to come home. If the call is out of fear then it is shallow and non-committal. But when out of concern for a lost love then it takes root. And nothing will stop us from getting there nor will anything again drive us from it. Life teaches hard lessons. It is the fool who finds himself repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
Remember the example of the young man. We, whether we will to admit it or not, are on our way home. Our level of desire to return is so determined by the trials or lack thereof in our lives. We, too, often require a sign that we will again be accepted home. The young man was informed so by the white cloth garments hanging from the tree limb. Mankind is so informed by a sign fashioned from a tree on a hill some two thousand years ago. But God hung not a white cloth on a limb but Himself. Through the sacrifice of His divine Son, God welcomes us all to join Him in His house. But to do so we must embrace our cross in like manner with courage and surrender. God’s promise of eternal life with Him was so affirmed on that hill. For the man who hung next to Him acknowledged the Christ as God. And by that acknowledgement was forgiven all his lifelong transgressions against God and man, and, thereby, reconciled. We, as he, are thereby represented, and are too welcomed home.