The Prodigal Son
The long form of today’s Gospel contains the parable of the Prodigal Son. The following is a reflection (6/7/98) on this parable by Msgr. Thomas Wells, as found in the book, “From the Pastor’s Desk”, which is a collection of his writings:
“You mean I’m a sinner!” the woman exclaimed. Two or three times she said the same thing, “You mean I’m a sinner!” She had come into the rectory on a Saturday morning, outraged because we insisted on preparing her child for confession before Communion. (Happily, this is not a recent story.) A child could not sin; a child needed to know the joy of Christianity, not guilt; a child could be damaged by trying to find the negative in her life. And so it went until, as she had become a bit more calm, I asked her about her own use of the Sacrament of Penance and about the reality of sin in her life. Finally, we read together the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and discussed the figure of the second son in that story. You may remember him as the son who stayed at home, never did anything wrong in terms of actions, but who had a heart that was fixed on himself rather than either his father (God) or others (his brother). It was as I was talking about the older brother’s self-righteousness and judgmental attitude that, out of the blue, she cried out her question. Shortly thereafter, she went to confession; I guess the child soon did the same; and I have no clue what became of either mother or daughter.
Read over the story of the Prodigal Son if you are not familiar with it. While we focus on the colorful younger son who spends all his money on loose women, it seems that Jesus was primarily focused on that older son. One of the many lessons of the story is that, while the younger son was most certainly a sinner and most certainly had to pay the consequences of his sin, his realization of his need for his father’s forgiveness gives him a nobility when compared to the older brother who really believes that doing all that he has done around the farm entitles him to happiness. Because he focuses on actions and things, rather than on his hard heart, he completely misses the Father’s love that calls to him as surely as it called to the Prodigal Son.
When an individual says, in actions if not in words, that he does not need the Sacrament of Penance, could he not be imitating the older son? Can any of us listen to Jesus as He says, “Come, follow me,” and really believe that selfishness, fear or lack of faith have not kept us from really obeying? Sin is not so much a stain on our souls, I believe, as a disease which we must always fight. Is it possible on the one hand, to believe in the damaging power of that disease, and on the other, not to take advantage of the antidote, the Sacrament of Penance?