As I prepared for this article reading a Gospel passage, I had to reflect upon my life and ask myself, "Did I experience any broken dreams?"
In that reflection, I realized how blessed I have been; that I've never had a dream that was not fulfilled or that was broken.
Maybe it's because my dreams have been so simple that they were easily attainable.
But there is no question I have been blessed.
In the Gospel passage, "The Prodigal Son," we find that the younger brother had his money in hand and was ready to go. But it took him a few days to get underway.
The Gospel reports that the estate was divided; at least, the younger brother was given his share.
Some days later, he began his journey to a distant land.What do you suppose he did during those few days? I think I know what he did. At least, I can make an educated guess.
No doubt, there were a few practical things to handle. He needed to do a little packing.
Probably, he needed to turn a few assets into cash. It's hard to travel with livestock, but it is impossible to travel with real estate. Such things as these needed attention before starting his journey.
But my guess is that most of these days were spent dreaming. He was pondering all of the fun, freedom and fulfillment that would be his.
We know, of course, that not all dreams come true. Some of them fail and leave the dreamer deluded and disillusioned with life. The human mind is very creative.
But it also has a knack for dreaming up things that simply will not work. They are mere illusions, with no relationship to reality.
I read recently about an unusual auction that was held in 1926 in Washington D.C.
Thousands of old patent models of odd inventions were put up for sale.
They had accumulated in the U.S. patent office since 1800. One by one, these strange gadgets went under the auctioneer's hammer.
Some were clumsy. Most were amusing. For example, someone had invented an automatic bed bug buster.
There was also an illuminated cat, calculated to scare away mice at night.
One woman offered a device that enabled a mother to churn the butter and rock the baby in one operation.
Another device consisted of a long tube with a mouthpiece. It was supposed to enable a person to warm his feet with his own breath while sleeping.
To most people, these inventions were just good for a laugh. But one man said he could not bring himself to laugh. He knew he was looking at broken dreams.
People had invested their time and energy in these gadgets and then gamely waited for their fortunes.
The man wrote a story about that, which he called "The Shattered Dreams of a Century."
The same story could be written in many areas of life.
There are financial illusions -- "get rich quick" schemes that almost never work. There are political illusions. "Vote for me, and I will usher in an era of peace and prosperity."
There are religious illusions. "Just join our group. Send your donations to Rev. Smiley Face, and you will never see another poor day. You will never be lonely. You will always be happy."
All of these have one thing in common. They are based on the idea that happiness is the goal of life; that pleasure is the highest good.
Philosophers have a word for it. The word is hedonism. The theme is "have fun." Above all else, have fun.
The problem is that it doesn't work. People who make a mission of happiness are seldom happy.
More often than not, the hedonists of history also have been the pessimists. Read once again the Book of Ecclesiastes.
The author of that ancient volume was determined to be happy.
He worked at it. He said, "I kept my heart from no pleasure. I considered all that my hands had done. And behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind."
Thrills don't last. And it's fairly easy to figure out why.
We human beings are complex creatures with more than one set of desires.
If it is true that we have a desire to run away to a distant land and do nothing but play, it is also true that we have a desire to be respected, to be useful and constructive.
That is why the prodigal's dream could not come true. He could not get away from the rest of himself.
He could get away from the father's house, but he could not get away from himself.
He was chasing an illusion that could never come true.
There was an ancient king who appointed a servant to stand before him every morning and say to him, "Philip, remember that thou art mortal."
He needed that reminder, lest he forget his kinship with the earth.
But it seems to me that we all need another voice to whisper in our ear, "Remember that thou art immortal." We need that voice lest we forget our kinship with eternity.
The younger son could not remain in a pig sty. Something in him would not allow it. He remembered home.
He remembered his father, and he heard the whisper of his true heredity. And he got up and went home.
God has made us for himself, and our souls will find no peace until they rest in him.
Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, D. Min., is pastor at St. Mary Church in Greenwich and the founding director of the St. Maximilian Kolbe House of Studies for boys in Bridgeport. You can reach him at 203-869-9393.