“I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation." (Psalm 13:5)
Gospel text (Lk 15,1-3.11-32): Tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus, all of them eager to hear what He had to say. But the Pharisees and the scribes frowned at this, muttering: «This man welcomes sinners and eats with them». So Jesus told them this parable: «There was a man with two sons. The younger said to his father: ‘Give me my share of the estate’. So the father divided his property between them. Some days later, the younger son gathered all his belongings and started off for a distant land where he squandered his wealth in loose living. Having spent everything, he was hard pressed when a severe famine broke out in that land. So he hired himself out to a well-to-do citizen of that place and was sent to work on a pig farm. So famished was he that he longed to fill his stomach even with the food given to the pigs, but no one offered him anything. Finally coming to his senses, he said: ‘How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will get up and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against God and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants’. With that thought in mind he set off for his father's house. »He was still a long way off when his father caught sight of him. His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said: ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son...’. But the father turned to his servants: ‘Quick! Bring out the finest robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and kill it. We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and is found’. And the celebration began. »Meanwhile, the elder son had been working in the fields. As he returned and was near the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it was all about. The servant answered: ‘Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father is so happy about it that he has ordered this celebration and killed the fattened calf’. The elder son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him. The indignant son said: ‘Look, I have slaved for you all these years. Never have I disobeyed your orders. Yet you have never given me even a young goat to celebrate with my friends. Then when this son of yours returns after squandering your property with loose women, you kill the fattened calf for him’. The father said: ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad’».
When we hear this gospel read at mass year after year many of us seem to always focus on the younger son, but his older brother was at least as prodigal. The older brother looked good but was just as alienated from his father as the younger brother. The younger brother did not feel worthy to be called his father's son (Lk 15:18). However, the older brother spoke of life with his father as slavery (Lk 15:29). He did not know that everything his father had was available to him (Lk 15:31).
Many Christians today are like the older son. We appear to never disobey one of God the Father's orders (Lk 15:29). We are church goers, good citizens, and hard workers. Our vices are socially acceptable. We look good, but aren't in a good relationship with our heavenly Father. We're not cheerfully serving God but begrudgingly slaving for Him out of fear, habit, or social pressures.
One of my favorite quotations from the Catechism is paragraph 982:
"There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin."
The story of the prodigal son is one that is repeated many times in our lives. We stumble and fall into darkness and sorrow many times as we live. Perhaps some of us unfortunately never leave it. But that does not change the fact that God, the ultimate, mysterious Love, is ever-present, waiting patiently with open arms for our return.