March 27: A Son’s Confidence (Lent 4C)

“Coming to his senses, the son thought, ‘How many of my Father’s workers have more than enough food to eat. Dying from hunger, I shall go to my father'” Luke 15:1-3.

The story of the “prodigal son,” which appears only in Luke’s gospel, is among the most treasured stories in the New Testament.

Last week, we heard about a barren fig tree and the role of the gardener who, after a brief exchange with the owner of the orchard, and with great patience, proper cultivation, and time, this fig tree might just come around give off its delicious fruit. It’s an example of second chances.

In the parable of the prodigal son, we are in the middle of a family feud. We witness the wastefully extravagant son, the resentful brother, and the unwavering image of a loving and merciful father offering “second chances” to his sons.

With time and great mercy, these ingredients bring us back and restore us to life. Like the lost son, we must have confidence in a loving father’s critical insight in the story.

Here’s a piece of advice, it comes by way of the Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim who passed away in November.

This evening is the 94th Academy Award, where the Oscar goes to the best in American and global filmmaking. One of the nominees for Best Picture is Stephen Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” the acclaimed remake of the Robert Wise/Jerome Robbins 1961 classic musical.

Let’s focus on the character Riff, the antagonist, played by Michael Faist, in this version of Romeo and Juliet, set in Spanish Harlem, hence, the title West Side Story. It’s in a period of reckless urban renewal and so destructive of the urban community in New York City. Michael Faist brings the tragic Riff to a contemporary audience in this new film.

As you may know, the actual recording of the singing with orchestra takes several phases, and with meticulously edited the soundtrack is something like an elaborate layer cake. Each element must match the perfection of a Steven Spielberg production with Steven Sondheim’s updated lyrics and, of course, Leonard Bernstein’s music. Maybe the best-known popular songs in the Bernstein body of work.

The other day, I heard an interview with Michael Faist describing how he prepared for the film, his need to lose weight, and his learning the dancing parts. The title “Jet Song” in opening dance sequence in the city streets with his fellow Jets is the prologue to the film. Faist doesn’t consider himself a dancer, but I believe he is the best overall actor, dancer, and singer in the cast. He did not get a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

In the radio interview, Faist mentions one small episode in the making of the movie. During the studio recording session in Los Angeles, both “Stevens”- Steven Spielberg and Steven Sondheim – were in the Control Booth. If an actor has jitters or anxiety about his performance, the presence of these most critical artistic minds of any generation might send you to anti-anxiety pills. Consider also the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Gustavo Dudamel, conducting the orchestra?

One day in question, the recording session was going badly, and everyone felt it — take after take, retake after retake. At long last, the day’s work was over. The cast and orchestra would return the next day, maybe in better voices.

By chance, Mike Faist exits at the elevator, hits the button, the doors open, and Steven Sondheim joins him for the ride down. Here is the young 30-year-old actor with the 91-year old Broadway legend in sight of one another. In the briefest words, both spoke of that day’s particular challenge. Sondheim looked at the actor and gave one word of advice: “Confidence!”

From Sondheim’s observation, the company lacked the confidence to make the music come alive and, thus strengthen the story.

Are there moments when we lack confidence? I’m talking about the confidence we need to reach out in forgiveness and reconciliation.

The story of the lost son turns this strength of his — by coming to his senses and relying on his loving Father. The son says: “I shall rise and go to my father.” His change of heart demonstrates his strength of confidence.

The Father remarks: “This my son was dead and has come back to life again; was lost and has been found.” This, too, is confidence, not the sound of “I told you so,” instead reverence for his lost son, now come back to life! Here is an occasion for a festival: “Let us celebrate with a feast because my son was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and found.”

Father Jean d’Elbee, the French spiritual writer of the last century, commented:

“Oh, this desire, this need of the Father of mercies to retrieve his lost child and give him life! This is the heart of God. Remember, each time you pick yourself up after a fall, the feast of the prodigal son is renewed. (And) you should dance as the son did at the request and for the joy of his Father. We do not dance enough in the spiritual life.” (Magnificat, March 2022, p. 407.)

So will you dance and sing when you have realized the mercy of God?

And, at these times, do lyrics from West Side Story make sense about our future promise — because we have a loving Father?

“Somethings Coming” By Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein

“There’s somethin’ due any day; I will know right away, soon as it shows. Who knows? It’s only just out of reach, down the block, on a beach, under a tree.

I got a feelin’ there’s a miracle due. Gonna come true, comin’ to me. Around the corner, or whistlin’ down the river.

Come on, deliver to me.

Who knows? It’s only just out of reach, down the block, on a beach, maybe tonight, maybe tonite!”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

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