Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Thoughts from the Chaplain - the Prodigal Son

Last Saturday, the second week of Lent we heard as our Gospel reading the parable from Luke which is popularly known as the Prodigal Son. This parable is in my opinion one of the Lenten readings par excellence.  It is about some major topics which are part of our Lenten journey: prayer, repentance, forgiveness and charity (or lack of it) as reflected in the characters of the parable; a father and his two sons.

Firstly there is the younger son, obviously at an age where the spirit of rebellion against parental constraints is coming to the surface; he asks for and is given his share of the inheritance and goes off to enjoy life.  This he does until two things coincide; firstly there is a famine in the land where he has been living and secondly his money runs out; what is they say about a fool and his money being easily separated.  Meanwhile the father and the elder son are living life as always with the son working away, doing as he is told and taken an active part in the business which will one day be his.  Unfortunately things are not going so well for his brother; he is hungry, has no money and no social network to turn to.  In despair he accepts work looking after a herd of pigs. Imagine it:  a good Jewish boy looking after pigs one of the animals forbidden by Jewish dietary laws - they are unclean; and he has to tend to them. After reflecting on this he realises that he has made a big mistake and he repents of his actions:  “I have sinned against my father and against heaven”.  The young man makes a decision to return to his father and to beg for his forgiveness even if he has to work as a hired labourer.

Meanwhile the elder son is working in the fields and the father is pining for the return of his youngest boy.  The parable tells how he is looking constantly for the first sign of his son returning home.  At last he sees a little cloud of dust in the distance and then there he is; his son. He hurries to meet him and orders that he is to be given what he needs:  he embraces the boy a sign forgiveness and of his returning to the family, to the community; he is given sandals for his feet the symbol of his not being a slave; he is given a robe as befits a man of rank and a ring is placed upon his finger, the emblem of his being a son who is an equal of his father and his brother.  And lastly the father celebrates, he throws a party for everyone using the calf they have been saving. 

As they start their celebration the elder son comes in from the fields and demands to know what is going on and when a servant tells him of the return of his younger brother, and how forgiving the father has been, he storms off and refuses to take part in the festivities.  Missing his elder son the father comes out and tries to persuade him.  Angry the son accuses his father of favouring the younger boy and ignoring all the work that he has been doing while his brother is off squandering his inheritance; you have never given me a lamb or anything to celebrate with my friends.  He then explains to him that this older son is as dear to him as the younger and that everything that is the father’s is his. He doesn’t rebuke the man but is kind to him and as forgiving as he was to his younger son.

And so we have this wonderful Lenten parable our Lenten journey:

Prayer as the young son reflects on his actions and includes heaven as he says he has offended both father and heaven.

Repentance as he makes his way back to the father to ask his forgiveness whatever the consequences.

Forgiveness as the father embraces him and welcomes him back into the bosom of the family and re-instating him in his earlier position.

Charity as the father talks to his older son and explains the important place he has in the father’s heart.

And what happens to the older son? I like to think that he did follow his father back into the house and that slowly he realised the bonds of love which joined both him and his father together but also the bonds to his younger brother.

I am celebrating a very special Fathers' Mass next month. Take a look at the details and maybe add your father? 

Fr Michael Manning, O.Carm
Chaplain, National Shrine of Saint Jude

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