Because this son of mine was dead, but has and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.Luke 15:24
Have you ever wondered what the word prodigal means? The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one that I’ve heard since my Catholic elementary school days, but it took me until my senior year of college to learn what prodigal means. One evening, I went to Mass at the Newman Center, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son was the Gospel Reading. I listened to Fr. Adam’s homily and learned that to be prodigal means to be wasteful.
Understanding this adjective given to its main character has helped me to understand this parable so much more. First, the son rejects his Father, asking for his inheritance early. He basically tells his Father that he wishes he were dead already so he could have the money he’d bequeath to him. After this, he doesn’t invest his money or spend it on something useful or valuable. He squanders it as he lives a scandalous life. Humbling himself to tend swine just to scrape by, he realizes his wastefulness. Most of all, he wasted his identity as a beloved son. He lost sight of how good his Father has always been to him and how much he loved him and provided for him.
How have we been prodigal? Maybe we’ve squandered the gifts and the talents that the Lord gave us. Sometimes we neglect our relationship with our Father and choose not to pray. We can take for granted the Sacraments and fail to appreciate the gift of the Eucharist. Perhaps most often, we forget our worth and our identity as a child of God. Like the Prodigal Son, we might find ourselves feeling empty and alone because of our wastefulness, and when we have no where else to go, we return to the Father.
We know how the Parable of the Prodigal Son ends. He returns to his Father, ready to live the rest of his life as a servant because he doesn’t think he deserves to be loved as a son anymore. But the Father had other plans. He disregards his son’s wastefulness and remembers the love that he has for him. He’s filled with relief that his son is home and alive. He calls for a celebration and embraces his son, overjoyed that he returned to him.
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Knowing this, why would we think the Father would react any differently to us? Would he be any less merciful or any less loving when we return to him? Would he not embrace us and rejoice that we’ve come back to him? Our Heavenly Father is slow to anger and quick to forgive contrite hearts. It’s easy to think that we have to serve our Father and work hard to earn his love, like the older brother in the parable, but we learn that this isn’t the case. He loves us endlessly and is ready to provide for our needs. No matter what we’ve wasted, he welcomes us home when we return to him with all of our hearts. Whatever your relationship with the Father is like, if you’ve been wasteful or faithful, if you’ve been home or if you left, you’re his beloved child. He longs to make his love known to you, to embrace you, and never let you go.
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