Today’s Gospel story of the parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps one of the most well known stories in the Bible. Yet for as well known and loved as today’s parable is, have you ever stopped to realize just how relevant the story is for our own lives?
The so-called Prodigal Son wants to leave home, to go his own way, and find independence, find his way and establish himself in the world. If you recall being either being a teenager or raising teenagers you know this feeling all to well. This desire to leave home and to be on one’s own is certainly necessary and good, it’s part of growing up, but unfortunately it is often motivated by naive assumptions and short-term thinking. Where the Prodigal Son goes wrong is, not that he wants some independence, but it’s when he uses his newfound independence to reject the values which his parents spent so much effort trying to help him acquire.
While it seemed at first like a smart move to take his inheritance and move on with his own life, the Prodigal Son forgets that just because he has the freedom doesn’t mean he no longer has responsibilities. He still has a responsibility to work the land his father gave him and support his father. Sure he goes off and lives the college life our world often brags about, he has a wild time and makes a ton of friends, but when the money is gone the good times end, and pseudo friends disappear and ultimately he finds himself in a worse situation than when he was living under his father’s room. You see when he was at home with his father, no matter how little freedom he thought he had, he ways had a meal to eat and a roof over his head and all the other basic necessities of life. So when all seems lost he finally has a moment of clarity and he takes that difficult step of turning back home. And his homecoming was more than he could ever have imagined.
If we are honest, each and everyone of us in this Church has moments in life where we make mistakes and become the Prodigal Son. We call these sins and I dare say if we look at the sins in our life, we see that we usually commit them because we try to convince ourselves that something we know is wrong, isn’t actually wrong this one time. That its not really that big of a deal and its going to make us happy if we do it. We often fall into sin because we have a bad notion of freedom or independence or because our vision is short-sighted and we only thing the passing pleasure. But they only leave us dissatisfied and if we have enough courage to admit it, we soon realize that we are no longer happy.
Ultimately we can’t be at war with God and at peace with ourselves and when we are not at peace with ourselves, we are overwhelmed with what we perceive is the darkness of others. As a result we have a difficult time seeing beauty, truth and goodness in the world. It is only when we can muster up the courage to say to God, “Father, I’m sorry,” that we truly become happy with ourselves and with our world.
As a priest I hear allot of confessions, and it’s one of the most powerful moments in my life. It’s that moment of transformation when someone whose been away from the Church for a long time, 20, 50, I’ve heard 70 years experiences. They come in and usually with some tears they start to confess their sins. Just their humility to come is transformative, but there comes a moment where everything in their life is transformed. It’s not just that they got some sins off their chest, but they take a whole new outlook on life. For you see God’s forgiveness is filled with hope, not only for themselves but for others, for the world. I think we recognize this in our own life. Isn’t it true that as we go deeper and darker into sin that our view of the world gets darker and darker as well? And once we’ve found reconciliation doesn’t the world seem a little brighter?
Look, any parent knows that it is part of the human condition that we need to make our own mistakes. Frequently this is the only way we can learn. The task of the parent is not to keep their children from failing it’s to give the child such a good foundation in life and Christian values so that any mistake the child might make enables them to learn without it becoming such a damaging mistake that they ruin their lives in the process. All parents know that their children will make mistakes, they just hope they can be there to help pick up the pieces when things fall apart.
The Forgiving Father runs out to meet his son. He doesn’t wait for the Prodigal to finish his little speech about how unworthy he is or why he should only be considered a slave. The Father is overwhelmed with joy that his son has returned home and he’s ready to help his son pick up the pieces. The son also feels the joy of being forgiven and restored to a loving relationship with the Father. It doesn’t make the money re-appear or bring the inheritance back, but there is something about coming home to be with his father that the son now feels ready to start over. What about us. When we get lost don’t we want to be able to run home? It just seems that home is where everything makes sense.
Friends that is the ultimate lesson of today’s parable. God wants to bring us home.
As much as we long for some sense of home, God is even more intent on making a home for us and bringing us to it. There are so many people in our world who are looking for a place to land, a place where they can find rest and peace, a place where they can call home. They have been strangers in a strange place. There are also so many people who have lost their faith through confusion or doubt or because of a life of sin. They too are looking for home. That’s where St. Paul’s command in today’s second reading hits home. He tells that we must be ambassadors of Christ. He tells us to remind people that they always have a home in the Church and the Father is always waiting to welcome them back.
I think I’ve shared this story but it bears repeating again. A few months ago I was down in Dallas for a conference and I went to dinner with a couple of other priests. You could tell that our waiter was uncomfortable around us. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. He was an attentive waiter, but he kind of seemed standoffish. Finally he broke down in tears and he told us how his grandma used to take him to a Catholic Church when he was younger, but he had a hard upbringing and hadn’t been to church in years. He began to tell us about his life, and let’s just say his life was not one you would expect of a church going person. His life was one where it might be hard for him to fit in with the Catholic Church and her teachings. But he remembered those days of being at Church with his grandma. So I asked him if he ever thought about just walking into a church and sitting there. I said you’ll see this big gold box upfront and Jesus is there. You can sit in that church and tell him all of your struggles and know that He is hearing it. By this point the man really began to break down in tears and he said “am I really welcome there?” I assured him no one was going to kick him out of the church. I left the meal challenging by asking him what he had to lose. Why not go sit in the church and see what happens. I gave him my business card not expecting to hear back from him, but a few days later I received an email his life is certainly in shambles, but he said for the first time in a while he actually felt like there might be a way out of the mess he found himself in. He said for the first time when he sat in that Church he felt like there was someone who actually understood and cared about him. Certainly that man is just beginning his journey of faith and I don’t know where it will lead, but that is between him and God. But all it takes is a simple invitation. What about you? When is the last time you invited someone back to Church. The season of Easter is that perfect opportunity. It doesn’t matter where they are. Coming home allows us to put the pieces back together.