Michael P. Sullivan, O.S.A.
Saint Thomas Monastery
Ex 32: 7-11, 13-14
Ps 51: 3-4, 12-13, 17. 19
1 Tim 1: 12-17
Lk 15: 1-32 or 15: 1-10
For many years whenever the Gospel of the Prodigal Son was read I always tended to identify with the older son. The first born son is usually the son who corners the market on being the obedient and parent pleasing one. Sometimes since the older son has, if you will, cornered the market on being the dutiful and pride producing son, the younger son is left to distinguish himself by claiming the opposite turf. Rebellious and difficult are character traits that often distinguish the younger son so like the prodigal son in the gospel today. In my years as a priest and involved with many families, I have found this to be the norm, although there certainly are exceptions.
The older son was righteous and arrogant and totally focused on self. He was not able, because of his myopic vision to see past his self interest. He was jealous of the younger son because the fatted calf was slaughtered for the brother and not him. Perhaps he might in his self-centeredness imagine losing his inheritance to the returning brother. Whereas the younger brother returned to the father because his belly was empty and he knew what he had to do to fill it. His motive in returning was self-preservation. Perhaps he was sincere in his repentance or perhaps he just knew where his bread was buttered. He hit bottom and had nowhere else to go. He certainly got the father’s attention. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and you.” Certainly, an understatement.
As I have grown older I have come to see the central figure is neither the elder or the younger son but the father. Certainly the father loved both his sons. One was dead and has come back to life. A cause for great rejoicing indeed.
As a celibate Augustinian people have asked me if I miss not having sons or daughters. Sometimes my vanity kicks in and I reply that I would be curious to see if there was a resemblance. Then I share that my biological children have never warmed my heart but they have never broken it either. Well, each of us children of the Father have perhaps broken His heart at times, but He has not and will not ever stop loving us. Our Heavenly Father will always have His arms open to embrace and receive us. It does matter what motivates us to return. What matters is that we return the embrace and forgive ourselves. God may hate what we do but will never stop loving us.