Living As Son or Daughter of God
Thursday, April 1, 2010
By Fr. Mark Mary

The parable of the prodigal son, which we read every Lent at Mass, summarizes so much of our faith. It is about conversion, about coming home to the Father after having strayed. It describes our call to sonship and our call to dwell in the house of our Heavenly Father. It certainly addresses the big sinners, but also those who, like the elder son, have not left the Father in body, but in spirit.

The parable is addressed by Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees; they, like the elder son, protest Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners. They were self-righteous, not recognizing their need for repentance and a savior in Jesus Christ. Yes, Gods mercy and goodness are open to all, and sometimes we miss that, if we ourselves have not been open to it. Our self-righteousness can blind us to our need for Gods grace in our life and our need for repentance.

The parable also reminds us that we are children of God. We often lose sight of our dignity as a son or daughter and what we have in the Fathers house, where everything the Father has is ours.

Like the prodigal son, I see the elder son, who resents celebrating the younger sons return, as losing sight of his sonship as well. Maybe he did not go off to a distant country and squander everything, but he certainly lost sight of his relationship to his father as a son. Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. Interiorly, he was distant from the father, addressing him as you and seeing him only as one who gives orders. The fathers house has then become a workhouse for us, and we are merely hired hands carrying out orders.

We celebrate Gods mercy to others because it has been lavished upon us. We have been forgiven an insurmountable debt, and we forgive others a much lesser amount. We have found the pearl of great price, in which all other things pale in comparison. God is the vineyard owner who pays the agreed upon wage, but He is surpassing mere human justice in the gift of our salvation upon a fallen humanity.

Without cultivating our relationship with God, in other words, our interior life, Thy will be done becomes a drudgery and a chore. We forget Whom we are serving, a Father who loves and cares for us. We lose sight of the kingdom that we belong to, and His love becomes just a concept or a task that seems very remote from our hearts.

The prodigal son lost sight of his sonship as well. He demands his inheritance, goes off to a distant country and cuts himself off from family and religion, to live a dissipated life, squandering his inheritance. He ends up broke, friendless and feeding the swine something abhorrent to Jews.

Sometimes it takes a lot to remind us what we have lost in leaving the Fathers house. There is a decision we have to make in the depths of our hearts, to return home, to leave the distant county of selfishness and sin, and return home where even the hired workers have more than enough to eat.

This process of conversion involves rediscovering our sonship, our being a child of God. The prodigal son prepares an apology, hoping to be accepted as a hired worker by his father. It is hard for us to believe or accept Gods unconditional love for us. Come home! No questions are asked, no rendering an account of debts owed. We are children of the living God who welcomes us home because we never cease being His children.

It is through the Cross of Christ that we experience Gods forgiveness and grace poured out upon us in the sacraments. It is there that we experience what the father in the parable tells the elder son, My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.

In the Fathers house, we find peace and joy; we leave the distant country that left us empty and alone. In the Fathers house we find a fullness and communion with others that a dissipated life could not give us. Most importantly, we find mercy in a Father who forgives us. We can drop the load of guilt that burdens us and can live as sons and daughters of God.

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