On the Prodigal Son.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Prodigal Son.
Suppose yourself to be a spectator of the touching scene when publicans and sinners drew near to the Good Shepherd, and with feelings of contrition pressed familiarly round Him, while the Pharisees, who were apparently just, gazed on the spectacle with malicious looks, and feelings of wrath and rage in their hearts, and said: “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” (St. Luke xv. 2.) Jesus, far from allowing Himself to be disconcerted, or deterred from making known His charity towards sinners, proceeds to propound, with the intention of exhibiting more clearly than ever His loving compassion, the three beautiful and consoling parables of the lost sheep, the lost groat, and the prodigal son. Let this last be the subject of your meditation to-day.
1st. Consider what our Lord says: “A certain man had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance.” (v. 11, 12.) The Fathers of the Church interpret this passage in two different ways. St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great consider it to signify the relative position of paganism and Judaism in regard to the work of redemption. By the younger son we are to understand the Gentiles, who in Babylon departed out of their Father’s house and becoming scattered amongst the nations, fell to the worship of idols. Israel, however, the elder son, remained at home with his father, that is to say, continued faithful to the one true God. Now when the younger son, the Gentiles, recognizing their misery and the heinousness of their sin, wasting away with hunger for the truth, returned with contrite hearts to their Father, who received them joyfully and lovingly, the elder, by whom the Jews are represented, was angry, and refused to hold any communication with his repentant brother. This wider, more general interpretation of the parable, which is borne out by the testimony of history, differs from the explanation given by other Fathers, amongst them St. Jerome. They give it a narrower application, as being intended to portray the relation of the sinner to the just in regard to our Redeemer. The younger son is the child of God who, mastered by passion, separates himself from his father. The elder son depicts the law-abiding Pharisees who opposed our Lord, murmuring at the charity He displayed to the prodigal son, i.e., the sinner. Finally you can apply this parable to yourself and to all transgressors. The elder son symbolizes the just man; the younger son the sinner who will no longer tarry in his father’s house, will no longer obey his father, but is desirous to spend his substance, the powers of his body and soul, in freedom and independence. Marvel at the beauty and depth of this parable and the divine teaching it contains; meditate upon the three meanings, and keeping the last before your mind proceed with your consideration of the story.
2d. “And not many days after, the younger son gathering all together, went abroad into a far country, and there wasted his substance, living riotously.” (v. 13.) This departure is indeed one to be deeply regretted. When the young man quits the paternal roof, how good and high-principled he is, how richly endowed with mental and physical gifts. How kind, how indulgent, how loving is the father whom he forsakes! What a pleasant, happy, peaceful home he abandons! And what is it for? In order to go abroad into a far country, and there squander all his money, destroy his bodily health and strength by debauchery, and ruin his splendid spiritual endowments by plunging into a vortex of sinful amusements. Meditate, my soul, on this sad course of life, and weep, not indeed for the prodigal in the parable, but for what you yourself are. Or has your conduct perhaps been more exemplary? Have you never forsaken your Father, never wasted your substance, your temporal and spiritual treasures, and especially the rich inheritance of divine grace which was your portion, in a far country, there where your soul ever felt itself an alien, in the kingdom of the evil one, far from your God? Let your conscience answer this question, and according to what that answer is, either pour out your heart in thankfulness or in contrition; at all events conceive a heartfelt compassion for those who are on the eve of becoming prodigal sons; and let your compassion for them take a practical form by interceding in prayer on their behalf or by administering a friendly rebuke to them.
3d. “And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country, and he began to be in want. And he went and cleaved to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.” (v. 14, 15.) unhappy young man, how low art thou fallen! Thou didst turn thy back on the well filled table in thy father’s house; now thou art hungry, for, as the Ven. Bede says, in that place where the father is not there is starvation. Separated from God, the soul, after she has had, contrary to her true nature, a surfeit of earthly gratifications, begins to crave for the celestial food of divine truth and grace which alone is suited to her taste and to her needs and which she has lost. Nor is this all. The young man found the mild discipline enforced in his father’s house too strict, subjection to that father’s gentle authority too onerous, he longed to be free; and now he, the free-born son of the house, has taken service with a farmer, he who once enjoyed intimate intercourse with his high-bred father and the distinguished friends of his father, now spends his days in the company of filthy swine. Here we see the lot of the sinner. He exchanges the light yoke of subservience to his God for the degrading servitude of sin; the fellowship of beauteous angels he exchanges for the companionship of foul demons. He who formerly was nourished with the holy sacraments, now with difficulty is able or rather seeks to still the pangs of hunger with the husks the swine eat, the unruly, loathsome pleasures of earth, which like the briny sea-water only increases the thirst the more one drinks it. Endeavor to realize to some extent the misery in which the prodigal son was sunk, and form suitable resolutions according as you see your own condition to approximate more or less closely to his; at any rate pray and perform acts of penance for your erring brother and sister, and speak a word of warning to them. See that you do not resemble the elder brother, who was angry instead of rejoicing when the son who was lost returned to his father’s house.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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