The Father Empties His Coffers

A Poet Takes Hold of the Prodigal Son



s the rest of this society ramps right up for its version of Christmas, in the church calendar we’re just about to move into the new church year, which begins on November 30 with the four week season of Advent.  Just before arriving there, however, we ended the current year with a bit of a variation on the usual theme.  Working with a series of poems by Kilian McDonnell, with music by an ensemble led by Gord Johnson, our focus for the final Sunday of the church year was the parable of  the Prodigal Son, and by all counts this was a good way to begin the transition to Advent.

We were really fortunate to have received permission to use the cycle of five poems called The Father Empties His Coffers as the focus for this liturgy.  I first came across these poems this past June when I spent a week at St John’s University in Collegeville, and met the poet Kilian McDonnell, an octogenarian Benedictine monk who’d only started writing poetry in his late 70’s.  I thought at the time that at some point I’d love to weave the poetry cycle around music and a reading of the parable, and have that stand at the heart of our proclamation of the word for the night.  Well, I got back in touch with Fr Kilian, and he was quite willing to give us permission to do this, and also to print off a copy of the whole poem cycle for everyone in the congregation.  Here is a brief bit from the third poem in the cycle, “Rolling the Stone from the Grave:”

Leaning on my hoe, I watch the speck
become a blob, the blob become
a man, the man become my son.
I run, trampling cabbages,
     down the mountain road,
     weeping, shouting idiocies,
    laughing, arms gathering in.
I roll the stone from the grave.  Losing
is loving with a leaky heart; finding
is the excess of the blood’s expanding universe.
Buy Helbon wine.  The cost be damned.


Kilian McDonnell’s collections of poetry, Swift, Lord, You are Not, and Yahweh’s Other Shoe (from which the Prodigal poems are drawn) are available from Liturgical Press.

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