Some years ago the American Scripture Scholar, Barnabas Ahearne, was in Ireland to give an unusual retreat, unusual in the sense that all the participants were members of the Irish hierarchy. He made a modern day presentation of the parable of the Prodigal Son by setting it in the context of a bishop’s relationship with one of his wayward priests.
And it went as follows:
“Supposing, bishops,” he said, “one of your priests creates one hell of a scandal in the diocese; he absconds with diocesan funds and takes himself off to Paris where he lives it up with wine, women . . . the lot! Then when he’s down in his luck, like the prodigal he comes to his senses and says: ‘I will arise and go back to Ireland to my father’ … and you, bishop, are the only father he’s got. What do you do when he comes back to you and tells you that he has sinned against Heaven and against you? You run down the steps to meet him, throw your arms around him and then you rent the local hotel and invite all the priests of the diocese to a welcome home dinner!”
“And then”, says he, noting the amused re-action of their lordships, “you cap it all by making him your vicar general!”