Fr. Richard's Sunday Homily, February 9, 2020
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
Using a Lenten Lifestyle to Enrich Our Spiritual Lives
Epistle: First Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel: Luke 15:11-32
There are three main characters in today’s parable. Two of them show absolutely no change in their outlook during the course of the story. The older son is unhappy, angry, resentful, materialistic and perhaps even greedy. He obviously is not happy that his younger brother has returned home safely, which shows how much he cares for his brother. He insults his father continually by never calling him "father" as any good Jewish son would do. He'd rather be off with his friends than his brother or dad, and that shows how much he cares for his family. Nothing that belongs to him has been taken away and yet he acts as though he has been robbed. It would be wrong to think he is the dutiful son who stayed home to work the farm and is now justified in his anger when his brother returns. That's not what is going on here. We are meant to see him as one who has little love for father or brother, and that's not something new. It has been his attitude for a long, long time. There is no change in the older son. He is no better from the beginning of the story to the end. Maybe he is even worse.
Next, we have the father. It had to have been hard on him to discover that his younger son wanted to leave him, not for a vacation, not for a period of time, but presumably forever. Of course, he knew his son and how he thought, and it is very likely that he knew the boy would use his inheritance for partying and good times. A sad thing for a loving father to think about, and even more sad to think his son did not want to live with him, and most sad, as he waved good-bye from the front of the family home, to wonder if he would ever see his boy again.
We are certainly meant to see him as kind, generous and very loving father. Notice there is not one word of recrimination when his son returns home. He doesn't ask how the boy lived, he doesn't ask for apologies or for anything else. He is simply glad he is home safe and sound and whatever the boy may have done is left behind in the father's joy at his return. The love he shows this son is the same love he shows his other son as he goes out to try and beg him to change his attitude. And what does he want for the older son? He wants him to be happy! He wants him to be glad in his family, and despite the abuse this son hands to him right to his face, the father still begs him to find a way to celebrate with his family. The father never changes from beginning to end. But unlike the older son, his steady character is not marked by sin and selfishness, but rather by his enduring love for his sons. He has always loved them this way, and despite the faults and failings of both sons he loves them still. No change here. The Father is always loving, and always loving the same.
And then there is the youngest son who, just like his brother, doesn’t care about family, and went out into the world not to seek his fortune, but to spend his share of his father's fortune. We don't know exactly whether he spent his money on prostitutes, gambling or cocaine. That’s what his brother says. But he went through that money rather quickly and from being a good-time Goliath, he rapidly fell into the role of down and dirty Daniel. Starving and slopping those un-kosher pigs, he was in misery, and this condition, this situation, this radical change in his life gave him a clear mind to see the truth of what kind of person he was. Packing with the porkers was not just proof of material poverty. It allowed him to see the proof of his spiritual poverty. Now he saw clearly. He was so miserable that he had to do something, and with this new clarity of who he was as a person, the truth about himself in the plain light of day he was forced to do something. He could have turned to evil and crime, but he chooses to live for what is better. His father's love is like grace, calling him back to a better life, and that is what he chooses. What a changed man he is as he begs his dad's forgiveness, telling him the only thing he desires or needs is to be close again to his dad. The prodigal son is the only character who changes in the parable and it is a change from sin to virtue, from fleeting, false pleasure to enduring peace and loving contentment.
So then: we are not bad to the bone like son #1, nor are we like the absolute loving father, but somewhere in between, more like the Prodigal. One of the reasons the Church offers us the season of Great Lent is so that by changing our condition in life a bit, through extra prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and paying more attention to our spiritual life in a different way than the rest of the year, we set up the conditions to see ourselves more as we are, and to see our lives with greater clarity and honesty. Without having to be starving, without having to feed pigs we can change our own condition through a Lenten-lifestyle to better see where we are in life and how we are doing with life. And if we see it is not where we want to be then we can make a decision for something better. We can ask our Father for pardon and accept whatever work we may need to do so we can lift up our heads not in shame or disgrace but lift up our heads in peace and God's grace.
Now, different than the Prodigal son, we are not forced to consider the status of our life or the state of our soul by external forces we cannot control. We are not forced into harsh conditions that will reveal the truth about ourselves.
Instead, we are invited to create our own change in conditions through the Lenten-lifestyle so that we can choose to make those changes which will bring us closer to our heavenly Father and bring greater love to this world, even as we accept more eagerly and more wisely our Father's love for us. The Church invites us for seven weeks to change or alter our condition on the outside, so that we can see more clearly what is going on inside. Then, with a better understanding of who we are and how we are, then we can better choose which direction we want to go. It's an invitation to the pig sty, so to speak, to see if we are wallowing in things that are harmful to us, and to give us perspective to better see what our Father is offering to us. We are not forced; we are not forced to go there. We are not forced to change but by choosing to change our daily lifestyle for a small amount of time it can help to change our life for eternity. If we truly believe we are living the best our life can offer to us, then I guess there is no need for a Lenten lifestyle. But if we believe there is more to life in Christ than we have right now, then let us consider changing some external situation this Lent so we can examine ourselves and move to be living more freely and living more graciously. Christ Himself will show us the way home to the Father. That’s where our inheritance will be found.