Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32. The Prodigal: Which Brother Are We?

I once heard a friend repeat a quote by the author Katherine Mansfield: If you wish to live, you must first attend your own funeral.”

How true. We begin to live life perceptively only when we project ourselves to the time of our own death, imagining how we’ve lived our life and wondering whether we’ve met the mark.

Depending on our frame of mind, and perspective on life, we may not include the spiritual in our self-assessment, or, only give it a passing thought. That is why Mansfield’s phrase may be viewed as spiritually deficient.

In today’s Gospel on the parable of the Prodigal Son there are family members that Jesus is requiring us to understand. The behavior of these people, the father and the two sons, provokes four questions. Questions not so much about our secular situation but our spiritual – our relation to God, and, each other.

At first glance, the younger son impresses us as an individual who is quite selfish. When he requests his inheritance from his father, he isn’t just asking for the cash, he is in effect saying to his father: “I want to live my life now and without any strings attached. To me you’re unimportant, this family is unimportant. Just let me get on with my life and give me my share right now.”

Are we living in  a way that categorizes God? Are we willing to acknowledge  Him only because we want to get something out of Him? Do we play upon His charity and generosity?

If this is so, if we have the younger son’s attitude, we end up like him – swimming with the pigs.  What will be our inheritance? It will undoubtedly be spiritual poverty and secular discontent. Sadly, sometimes people understand this only in the last few months of their life, or, in the moments right before their death.

Jesus is teaching us that the prodigal son was only able to enter into a state of recovery when he “attended his own funeral.” When he was able to perceive his own personal endpoint, his own material and spiritual poverty. He was finally able to admit that he was grievously wrong only when this realization slammed into his consciousness.

His new perception demanded that he learn the root causes of his problem, reject his worldly self, and humbly ask for repentance. He needed to realize that his father and family were all important to his happiness. This required acceptance of and humbly requesting his father’s mercy and love.

This perception did not demand psychoanalysis. He did not need years of therapy on a psychologist’s couch. He had the intelligence to figure it out because he confronted himself as he truly was and extended that personal analysis to his family and surroundings. He acknowledged his sins, and how truly needy he was of his father’s love and mercy.

We are half way through the Season of Lent. Like the younger son, have we confronted our own faults, our lack of perception, and yes – our own sins?

The Prodigal says: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.”

This is the turning point in the Prodigal’s life. It can also be ours.

Improvement begins with a decision to change the way we do things, the way we behave and perceive reality, both in a secular and spiritual sense. If you are a Western Rite Catholic, this is accomplished in three ways: Sacramental Confession, prayer, and resolution of purpose. Reconciliation is always possible. Our God is a God of justice, but also, a God of infinite familial love and mercy.

Do we behave like the younger son or the elder son? Are our hearts cold?

What the younger son ultimately accepts the elder son initially rejects. At first, the elder son resents the generosity of the father’s love – he resents the generosity of the act of forgiveness. It appears that he is unable to accept his repentant brother or his generous father.

Does this, in any way, apply to us? Do we ignore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s love for us; do we resent people who have converted, changed their spiritual way of life? Or do we continue to judge them as if they were still enveloped by their sins? Do we verbalize our resentment or question their repentance? Are we unwilling to repent of these attitudes? Are our hearts cold?

I am a sinner and you are a sinner. There are very few people on this earth that are living saints. Regardless of whether our sins are small or large, visible or hidden, it is paramount that we remember the words of St. Paul: God the Father “reconciles us to Himself [through the passion and death of His Son] and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21).

We need to take stock of ourselves this Lenten season, repent and return to the Father’s embrace. This can only be done through the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation – a Sacrament made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-illustration-for-the-life-of-christ1.jpglarge
Painting by James Tissot (French; 1836 – 1902). “Return of the Prodigal Son.”

Thank you for reading this post.

 Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Virtue of Christian Responsibility

This weekend’s Gospel (26th Week in Ordinary Time) about Lazarus, and a rich man by the name of Dives, is filled with very concrete images about the virtue of Christian responsibility.

Jesus’ message is twofold: first, He is saying that during his earthly life the rich man was not applying the teaching of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures which speak of the obligation to hospitably help those around us.

Jesus is also challenging us by mentioning that the rich man sinned. In the Hebrew language the word sin means to “miss the mark” and the rich man Dives clearly missed the mark.

diveslazarusdrawn by an unknown illustrator of petrus comestar's biblehistorialecrop

Father Ron Rolheiser tells us that the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with the concept that giving to the poor was never a negotiable moral option. Rather “it was an obligation” which stated  “giving a certain amount to the poor” in your community was “prescribed by law.”

For example, in the book of Leviticus (25:23) Moses clearly states that nothing is really ours because everything belongs to God. “We are only its stewards and guardians.” We may enjoy it because we worked for it, but with the understanding that our enjoyment is possible because God Himself allows us to earn and take pleasure from it, yet, everything ultimately belongs to God.

How does this apply to us?

The answer brings us to the second part – the silent challenge within Jesus’ parable. Missing the mark, that is, sin, is a deliberate human act that denies or defies the teachings of God. Ultimately, it is an act of narcissism – an act of self-absorption – an act of self-will that puts “the almighty me” first, and the laws of God and His Church, second.

Jesus challenges us to examine how we put our trust in other things: pleasure, pride, power, or possessions – to the neglect of God. What did Dives – the rich man – trust? From the parable we see that he trusted in his wealth. Now, there is nothing wrong with wealth; wealth, however, can become a problem – and lead to sinful behavior – when we as its stewards fulfill only our own needs to the detriment of those suffering around us.

The rich man committed a sin of omission in that he failed to help a needy person that was right in front of him; so the rich man’s wealth, which in itself was morally neutral, enabled him to make the decision to become gluttonous, avaricious, and selfish. This leads us to understand that the root of all sin is pride and the inability to consistently act with humility before the Lord.

Jesus’ challenge in this story is extremely applicable, for we need to determine whether we are going through our lives committing sinful acts with little regard for the consequences of our behavior. When this happens – we – like Dives – miss the mark, and ultimately, we will go unfulfilled in this life, and like him, unfulfilled in the next so, what must we do?

Well, if Dives – the rich man – trusted in his wealth, Lazarus – the poor man – trusted in God. In fact, the name Lazarus means God is my help. Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus, in humility, did not lose hope in God.

Like Lazarus we must rediscover, or discover for the first time, the joy and freedom of completely trusting in God.

And what does this mean?

It means that the virtue of Christian responsibility demands that  we perform our work, worship God alone, and acknowledge that He is our only lasting treasure. By doing that we will escape the deadly trap that befell the rich man – for when we love God with all our heart we never forget to help those in need.

Let our prayer be: Lord, increase my thirst for You and for Your way of happiness. Give me a generous heart so I may responsibly share with others the wealth you have given to me.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved The above is a homily that was delivered by Deacon Paul O. Iacono on the weekend of September 28/29, 2013 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA. Notes on the painting: The painting above is an illustration drawn by an anonymous illustrator for the Petrus Comestar (Peter Comestor) Commentaries on the Gospels. Peter Comestor, a French priest and scholar, died in Paris in 1178. He was considered one of the three most learned men in France during his lifetime.