From the Pastor – March 10, 2013

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. (Lk 15:20)

When we hear the Gospel for this Sunday, our mind immediately identifies it as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” It’s so familiar that we could probably recite it from memory and likely explain it to others. We call the son “prodigal” because what he did was “prodigious” meaning “extraordinary in size and degree.” Calling someone a “prodigious” spender means they are a person who spends a lot of money. And the son is call “prodigal” because he spent his money with a wasteful extravagance.

Our eyes tend to be fixed on the prodigal son rather than on the father or the other son. He’s the protagonist. He’s the one who carries the action of the parable by demanding his inheritance, skipping town, spending all of his money and then finding himself in the lowest place possible – the one who feeds the pigs. We keep our eyes on him with a small sense of scorn. “How could he do that to his family?” we wonder. And we begin to compare him to other “prodigal sons” we might know in our own lives.

But there’s something else about the son. We might also see a little bit of ourselves in his conduct. We might recall how we’ve “squandered” gifts given to us by our family and by God. And we might then shift our gaze to another character in the parable: the father.

In the “return home” of the son, we can visualize the sad father looking out across the fields, longing for the return of his beloved son. Then we see his eyes widen he recognizes the distant figure of his son walking downcast toward the family home. And then we see the joy on the father’s face and the tears in his eyes, as he jumps to his feet and runs out with abandon to embrace his lost son!

How can the father be so forgiving? Why doesn’t he condemn the scurrilous conduct of his son? It only makes sense because Jesus is talking about our heavenly Father, who isn’t concerned about His own pain. He is concerned about us – how we are hurting ourselves by taking the gifts of God and turning away from the giver, as if the gifts alone can bring us happiness. That’s what we do when we sin. And sin puts us in the mud with the pigs.

Sure the story is rightly called the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but it could also be the “Parable of the Prodigious Father” because of the extraordinary way that the Father forgives us. His is not a conditional forgiveness putting us on a “restrictived allowance” so it won’t happen again. He doesn’t “clip our wings” but restores us to the same status we had before. And that’s when we realize how generous He really is. Lent is a good time to realize how much Our Father wants to restore us to our souls to their original, unstained status through the Sacrament of Confession. Don’t forget your “Easter duty” coming in a few weeks!

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty