It’s a story that we have heard so many times, but it’s one that never gets old: the Prodigal Son. It’s the story of a dad’s love. A dad who worked hard, like we all do today, to provide food, sustenance, security and love to his family.
Sometimes I ask parents, why did you have children? Sometimes they laugh like I am asking a stupid question, others gravely say, “for love”. Others look awkward and don’t know how to answer, feeling it is self-evident.
The right answer is love.
Today, how could one selfishly want to have children? What could be pleasant about it? When your child is ill, which parent of you will not be in grave worry? When your child wakes in the night screaming and crying, which of you if there was an option to remain in sleep would not take it? Yet, you get up and attend to the child, in spite of the labour, in spite of the fatigue, in spite of what you would rather be doing. This is love.
As your child grows, you will be thinking abou the influences on that child: who speaks to him or her, who puts thoughts in his or her head. You want to protect that child’s innocence. Of course, there’s those terrible twos and there’s times of rebellion. There is that terrible day when you child learns that mono-syllabic refusal and rejection, the word “NO”. Yes, there is laughter in it in the joys of family, but there is also sadness. The sadness of discord.
There comes a time in our lives where our young ones reject us. They are enticed by people who are more fun. People who “get them”. They think that there is pleasure outside of our homes to be had, and they forget the love that their parents showed for them, or they think for some reason that they can still love their families in their rebellions. I’m sure this is partially true.
When it comes time for a child to be married, you hear wedding speeches about accepting and welcoming the new members of the family into a larger family. There are sentimental speeches about how the family has grown. There is this concept, this thought or belief, that marriage has increased the family unit, not diminished it. Until recent times, families used to even join one another in the same house or quarters. There was an understanding that all needed one another. That all were one. That what bound the unit together, was love.
Let us take these thoughts back to our Prodigal Son story.
Look at this dad.
This dad was clearly a man of wealth. If he was not, his son would not have his eyes on the inheritance, he would hve had his eyes on how to make it further than his dad, for how to survive with greater security than his dad. Instead, the son has nothing of his own. He is dependent on his dad.
Sometimes in our arrogance, we forget taht we are dependent. We forget that it’s by no might of our own that we continue to breathe. We forget that it was by no skill of our own that have food in our bellies and clothes on our backs. We forget even that there are people not living in such wealth. We worship the self. We worship our lusts. We worship the things we desire, like this young man did in the story.
What did this father have for his son? Yes, he had riches for his son. But that was hardly relevant. What the father had for his son, was love. Pure love. The love of parents that makes no selfish sense. But like we spoke about, that child that learns to say no, that child that learns to rebel, that child that sees things outside that look stronger – that child can rebel, and strongly. That child can forget that he is dependent. That child can forget that he is a son, and he can say hurtful things. He can say, “I wish you were dead.”
Every time I think on this story, that is the line that rings in my head. The child asking for his inheritance from his father who spoiled him, was asking the father to accept that he was going to live like he was dead. The child was saying, give me my money, and let me act like you do not exist. This was money that was supposed to be given when the father was dead, that is why these words are so very dramatic, and so very hurtful.
This is the conundrum we find ourselves in: the hurtful, the ever-so-hurtful problem of free will. It’s marvelous when we agree, but so devastating when we do not. The father has love for his child, and he will not demand that his son love him back. The father loves him so much that he cannot bear or accept for himself to tell this son, “I made you! I clothed you! I fed you! I am the reason you are who you are! I am the one who was up those nights when you were sick and coughing! It was me who was in pain everytime I saw you in pain – how is it that you can put to me such pain?” He does not do this. He knows that a love forced is a love fake. He tells his precious son, if so be your will, I will honour it. How deep the father’s love.
Look at this son.
The son does not see it this way. Just like us. The son only sees his existence as meaningless and as forced. He sees his presence in the house as something he had no say in to begin with. Why couldn’t he have been born into another family – a family that does things differently than his own? Why was he deprived of fun? Why was he restricted by so many rules? That was his perspective of life, and it is from there that his rebellion came. See, the ego and lusts blind us to reality. The desires of our flesh distort realities. Think of something as petty as fast food. Would we not all like to eat those rich delicious Carl’s Jr burgers, or go to an open buffet and swallow down steaks? Do we not wish we could have our flesh’s desire? At some point all of us probably did, if we did not understand or appreciate enough the beauty of health. To indulge in these foods is something that destroys the body despite the temporal enjoyment. Over time, there is not even enjoyment in overindulging, there is suffering, pain and disease. If we are in the state of the person lusting for junk food, we are in the state of the son who didn’t understand his father. The person who values health, will not look at junk in the same way.
This is what sin is. How fine and lovely it looks to indulge in anything we see others doing. Those rich meals we spoke of our evident in other things – our sexual desires, our lack of inhibitions, our desire to have things easily without any effort. What we do not realise is the diseases of our spirits that our indulgence in these things bring.
Our prodigal son learned that the hard way when instead of joy and happiness, he found misery and slavery. He took the things of his fathers house – things that were not even his own (just like our bodies are not our own), and sold them to these fun friends. These “other families”. These other people who “get it”. But for all their “getting it”. he didn’t have a friend when he was eating pig’s food. They, like him, were opportunists. They were never thinking of him, they were thinking of themselves. Self-love, self-love, self-love. This is the opposite of self-denial. This is the opposite of love.
So our young opportunist realises that there is little opportunity for him in the stye. He decides he has more opportunity to sell himself as a slave. A slave to his dad.
Can you imagine a parent, who when his chilld comes home to say sorry – even if for the wrong reason, even with the wrong words – would subject his child to slavery? Can you imagine if a parent says, thanks for saying sorry, but now you have forfeited your sonship to me, but you can work for me as housekeeper or gardener? This is against nature. This is against reality – because no matter what fake costume your child wears, he is your child! It is impossible to feign otherwise.
No, the loving parent is like this father – standing everyday, watching and watching for his child to come home. I’m sure that during the wait he has been sending messengers to inquire of his son’s health, pleading with some to tell him that if he goes home his parents we’ll not be upset. I’m sure he laments when he finds out that his son is unhappy or unwell. If any good things happens that he hears about, surely the parents rejoice.
But the family is incomplete until the love is shared by all and all return to the table. We have to be one. The family unity was incomplete while the son was away. The family was not at peace when the son was gone, nor was it at peace when the older brother was jealous of his brother’s fanfare. Love is restored when all is forgiven, when all can look beyond the self, beyond the will, beyond the personal hurts, beyond the mistakes of one another that have brought one another grief, and say, I forgive you. I need you. I love you. Because this is family. This is unity.
We are all God’s sons. Every one of us, and every human being in the world. Every one of us has and will have our rebellious phases, but every one of us is still a son, and still loved. The meaning of repentance is change of heart. Lent is the call of repentance. The call for us is to, like this boy of whom it is said, “he came to himself” – to “come to ourselves“, to have this paradigm shift. To come to our senses of who we are and who our dad is, and what life was like with him. To realise that we have been indulging in harming ourselves, and to question if we really have found happiness yet, or if we are going to need to keep indulging hoping that we do eventually. This is the call to repentance, with the assurance that your heavenly father accepts you. Please, come to yourself, take advantage of the reconciliation that we find in this Eucharistic sacrifice and in the sacrament of repentance and confession. This is our “coming to our senses”.
Please, start to see the whole world as your family. Start to care that the whole world come to its senses, and that our family of believers is incomplete when the whole world is outside of the house of our family. That we can marry and join in families but that we all live in one house. We all live in our mother, the Church. Let us not be like the older son who would rather scorn the brother who is outside and get upset if the son is celebrated, but rather seek the unity of our family – that everyone come home and that we throw a great big party at our reunion.
Finally, reflect on your lives and what things have a hold on you – what things that you are unable to forgive, what “fast food” items have a control on you, what sins you have so far been unwilling to let go of…and let go. Seek good health, so that you do no die before returning home, so that you do not only avoid unnecessary suffering, but more positively, enjoy the fullness of health and joy with you father and your family.
Our Lord asked, which of you when his son asks for bread would give him a stone? Why then do you think that I would?
Ask your heavenly Father for the spiritual bread of life, and experience his love. Indeed, how deep the father’s love for us.