My Dear Friends:
Since Holy Week is now a week away and we start to hasten towards Easter, I wanted to offer you excerpts and reflection on my homily last week on The Prodigal Son. This is such a timeless parable that continues to move us as it surely moved those who heard it from our Lord.
Sometimes we have to lose everything to understand the depth of the Father’s love and mercy. That is what happened to the Prodigal Son. As we go back to the beginning of this parable, we see him fall into the same trap of hubris we all fall into: we want what is coming to us and we want it now. He knows that his father is rich. He knows that he will have a bountiful inheritance. But his restless heart is not content living in the shadow of his father. He wants his inheritance well before his father dies. This is tantamount to telling your father to drop dead. Yet the father loves him so much that he gives to the boy half his wealth and allows him to travel far from the safety and the love of home. Herein we see God the Father’s gift of free will to each of us. Love cannot be forced. Love must be given and received freely, and, again, sometimes we must lose everything to comprehend how much we are loved. But this boy’s free will leads him to what the gospel calls a life of dissipation. He runs off and forgets that he had a home, that he had a father, that he had everything he needed and longed for in his father’s house.
It is when he is longing for the filth that lies in the pods of swine that he remembers that he is a son. He remembers that he has a father who has servants who are eating better than he is. But he lies to himself when he devises his plan to tell his father that he no longer deserves to be called his son, that he should be treated like a servant…just so he could be fed. Even in desperation, while he remembered that he had a father, he didn’t quite get what this entails. Once you are a child of God, He will not treat you with any less dignity than the dignity that you received at baptism: you received a royal dignity, a divine inheritance, for at the moment you became a child of God and nothing and no one can ever take that from you. Yet we deceive ourselves like this boy did, and the evil one tries to remind us over and over again that because of our sins we do not deserve the royal title of sons and daughters of God. But that is what we are. Sin cannot undo this. What drives the devil mad is that no matter how much he tries, he cannot overcome the mercy that God showers upon all of us.
So the prodigal son starts his weary journey home deluding himself into thinking that he will simply be a servant. Even when we are running back to the Father, we still want to impose our terms and our conditions. Hunger forces him into thinking he can deceive his father. He was not counting on his father running out to meet him to embrace him and shower him with kisses. Like this boy, we constantly underestimate the mercy of God. We feel like we don’t deserve it. That our sins are too big, our offenses too grave, and that we somehow cannot be forgiven. Notice that the father does not ask where he has been. He does not ask what happened to the inheritance. Yes, he allows the boy to speak the rehearsed charade he had concocted in his head that he no longer deserved to be called his son. But the father would not hear of it. He orders the best robe to be put on him. Quickly! It is as if God were running to us when we are in a confessional and orders our radiant baptismal gowns to be put on us so that we may remember our royal dignity. Jesus tells us there will be great celebration in heaven when just one sinner repents. So of course the father must celebrate his son’s return with great fanfare. He was lost and had been found. He was dead and is alive again.
And this point cannot be overlooked nor understated. Sin kills us. Sin causes us to walk like zombies through this world. We become numb to the pain of sin and continue falling into the same traps, running away to the same far-off lands of dissipation, foolishly thinking to ourselves that we can find greener pastures away from the Father’s house. So we walk around dead inside. Knowing that something is missing, knowing full well where we can find that “something” that our hearts long for, but stubbornly refuse to repent. It is not until we are safe in our father’s arms that we begin to understand the deep ocean of his mercy. We are saved. We have been found. We once again feel life within us when sin is stripped from us. All this, because we have a Father who runs to us when we repent and start the journey home.
But the father doesn’t just run out to find the prodigal son. He also runs out to his eldest son. How many times have we been like this elder son standing at the gates of our father’s house casting self-righteous judgment on those who we consider sinners? The elder son may have stayed in his father’s house but was probably farther from home than his younger brother because despite being there, he did not understand his father’s love and unrelenting mercy. And that’s where the story ends. The Father running to his elder son, explaining his mercy, and we are left to wonder how the elder son will react to his father’s actions. It is basically a challenge to all of us. How do we react when the Father runs to us? All-powerful, omnipotent, Creator of all…and He runs to us!
God bless you all,