The story of the Prodigal Son is a familiar one. For the purposes of this study, I’m going to take you through a form of prayer called the Spiritual Exercises, created by St. Ignatius. I want you to read the whole story of the Prodigal Son and imagine yourself in the story. Do you identify more with the son who left his father, the son who stayed, or the father who loved both of his sons equally?
Let’s start with the Prodigal Son. He starts out the story by declaring to his father “You’re dead to me. I want my inheritance and I want it now.” After getting what he wanted, he leaves for a far off place and lived a life of squalor and decadence. How many of us have gotten so mad at someone that we just stormed out? How many of us as kids wanted to run away from home? Maybe we did mentally and emotionally, if not physically. Or maybe we waited until we reached that long-awaited age of 18 and picked a college as far away from home as possible. Maybe we left home and have yet to go back.
Now fast forward to when the Prodigal Son is making his way back home, repeating to himself the words he planned on saying to his father. How often do we try to rehearse some kind of speech when we want to apologize for something? We have this script in our minds of how we want things to go. The burden and blessing about life is that the “script” of life is more of a series of improvisations than an Oscar-winning screenplay.
So imagine this scene that completely flips the script. The father is already waiting for his son and runs out to hug his son as soon as he sees the son coming down the road. The Prodigal Son apologizes, but before he could ask if he could work, the father cuts him off and basically says “Dress him up in sandals, my best robe, and put a ring on his finger. We’re gonna have a party!”
Let’s imagine ourselves in the place of the father. We have been waiting for a loved one who has lost his way. We missed the one we lost so much. All of a sudden, that person comes walking down the street. Without even thinking, we run to him and hug him. Thoughts of dealing with him or some kind of punishment are the farthest thoughts from our minds. For now, we are cherishing the fact that the one we thought was dead has come back to life, that the one who was lost has now been found.
Now let’s turn our attention to the older son. The one filled with resentment. How many of us held a grudge against someone or kept a record of wrongs towards those who have hurt us? Even when we say we give someone a second chance, we have this idea that they have to earn our trust back. Some of us are so angry that we don’t think they deserve our love. This sentiment is far from what God calls us to do. And honestly, it kind of misses the point of the story.
The point of the story isn’t whether or not the Prodigal Son deserved to be welcomed back with a party. The point was that the Prodigal Son came back with a contrite heart. The fact that he came back was cause for celebration. He declared his sin, confessed his transgression to his father, forsook the life he led, and sought forgiveness. He expected to work his way back to his father’s good graces. Instead, his father welcomed him with open arms.
No matter which character we identify with, we can all open ourselves up for God’s mercy. Keep praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and remember that God loves you and all those in your life.