The Parable of the Prodigal Son


St. Thérèse of Lisieux
A Transformation in Christ

by Fr. Thomas Keating

The Parable of the Prodigal Son
Chapter 6

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There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father: "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me." So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens in that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said: "How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.' " So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his slaves: "Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" And they began to celebrate.

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied: "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound." Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father: "Listen! For all these years I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!" Then the father said to him: "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found." 
(Luke 15:11-32)

There are two young men in this story. One is the son who set out for the good life, came to ruin, returned home, and was received without any request for repentance or that he repay the money he had spent, part of which was to take care of his father in his old age.

The other son is one of those self righteous people who do all the right things but for the wrong reasons. He was looking for the inheritance too, and he felt he had a right to be angry with his brother who had squandered his share. It meant that the eldest son would have to pay for the support of the old man all by himself.

The older son berates his father for his goodness, thus breaking the fourth commandment, which is to honor father and mother. Thus, both sons fail. The father embraces and forgives his wayward son without a word of remonstrance and lovingly remonstrates with the one who was well behaved but bitter and self righteous. We may suspect that the older son was seeking his own gain by behaving properly in order to guarantee for himself the full inheritance. To remonstrate with self-righteous people is quite a job. The father tries to explain: "My son was lost and is found; we have to rejoice."

The point to emphasize here is that this father, instead of worrying about his honor, which was very important in that culture, throws it away and does not act as the typical patriarchal father. Instead, he acts rather as a mother and forgives both sons. His chief concern is that they live together in peace and harmony.

The Gospel precept, "To love one another as I have loved you!" is the program that Thérèse tried to carry out on a day-to-day basis. One wonders whether this is not the best program to propose to people--since anybody can do it, because everybody has an everyday life. The Kingdom of God is in everyday life and in what we do with it. We have to keep trusting in God when physical, mental, and emotional difficulties arise for us and those we love. These are occasions to open us to deeper self-knowledge and self surrender to God. We may have to struggle with what is most difficult for those sincerely seeking God--the inability to overcome our faults or sins.

As we saw in the Parable of the Leaven, the Kingdom of God is present in the midst of vast corruption. Perhaps what we have to do is to accept the humiliation of not being as good as we would like and to do the best we can, trusting audaciously in the Father's goodness and in the power of divine love to heal the wounds of a lifetime. As Thérèse knew, the experience of divine love is the ultimate healing. No matter what our difficulties are, Thérèse urges us to continue to show love, to build instead of tearing down, and to trust God with boundless confidence. She writes:

What pleases God is to see me love my poverty and the blind hope I have in his mercy ... Please, understand that to love God, the weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more apt one is for the operations of that consuming and transforming love.

Excerpted from St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Fr. Thomas Keating

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