On the Return of 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 Return of the Prodigal Son.
In commencing to-day’s meditation, place yourself once more in the sad, deplorable condition and state of mind of the prodigal son. Think that you see the unhappy youth hungry, wasted away with want and misery, grief and remorse, alone beside his herd of swine, distracted by varying emotions and conflicting resolutions, until at last, struck by a ray of divine grace, he exclaims:
1st. “I will arise and go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee. I am not worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.” (St. Luke xv. 18, 19.) At length, having reached the utmost limits of the path of error and career of vice, the unhappy sinner comes to himself. He remembers the happiness that formerly was his, that he enjoyed beneath the paternal roof; he becomes acutely conscious of his present misery and wrong-doing, and he expresses this consciousness in the confession: “Father, I have sinned, etc.” That is the first syllable that he utters, the confession of his guilt to Him who is the Judge of our misdeeds and the God of mercy; who knows everything and yet waits for the words of confession from our lips. For he disburdens himself of the load of guilt who takes on himself the burden of confession; and he who by self-accusation disarms his accusers, robs of its sting the charge brought against him. How valuable is the counsel these words contain! Would that you always followed it, and that you imitated the prodigal son in his penance as you imitated him in his divergence from the path of virtue.
2d. “And rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion, and running to him, fell on his neck and kissed him.” (v. 20.) Oh the infinite love and mercy this simple narrative reveals! Who can read it without emotion? Meditate upon it word by word; follow the footsteps of the contrite son, of the forgiving father, and you will find ample food for thought. Here we see the ways of divine compassion. Desirous of our conversion, it goes forth to meet the penitent sinner, it embraces the soul that does penance, and for her encouragement gives her the kiss of peace. Commenting on this passage St. Ambrose exclaims in a strain of rapture: “He comes to meet thee whilst thou art yet far off, that no one may detain thee on the way. He falls on thy neck as it were with all the warmth of paternal affection, to raise thee from the ground where thou liest prostrate, heavily laden with the burden of sin, immersed in the things of earth. I would therefore rather be a son, than a lamb. For the stray lamb is sought and found by the shepherd, the prodigal son is received with honor by his father.” How often, my soul, have you in like manner experienced the love of your heavenly Father! In the sight of God a wretched, ragged beggar, you present yourself before Him, and scarcely has the confession: “I have sinned.” escaped your lips, before He clasps you to Him with the kiss of peace, He arrays you again in the robe of grace which you had lost, He gives you back the signet-ring, restoring you to the dignity of a son which you had forfeited, He confers on you new graces, in order that with them, as with new shoes upon your feet, you may advance steadily in the path of virtue which you have again entered. Moreover He invites you to His table, rejoicing with you in the eucharistic banquet of gladness. Dwell in thought on the fathomless depth of the fatherly love of our God, and awaken within your breast sentiments of admiration, of love, of thankfulness.
3d. “Now his elder son was in the field, and when he came” and heard and saw what was going on in the house, “he was angry and would not go in.” (v. 25, 28.) Instead of rejoicing with his father at his brother’s return, he was angry; instead of sympathizing in his father’s delight, he reproached him, saying: “Behold, for so many years do I serve thee and I have never yet transgressed thy commandments, and yet thou hast never given me a kid, to make merry with my friends; but as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” (v. 29, 30.) Compare the speech of the elder son with what the younger says. The latter speaks with the greatest humility and makes no claim to be placed on an equality with his brother, he only asks to be treated as one of the day-laborers in his father’s employ. The words of the elder son on the contrary display self-complacent pride and repulsive envy. It was through his father’s kindness that he was allowed to remain at home: did he not value the affection that led his father to say: “Son, thou art always with me, and all that I have is thine.” (v. 31.) If he was really so exemplary, a true son of his compassionate father, would he not for that very reason have rejoiced with his father? Consider this, my soul, and guard against the fault of this elder son. Forget not, if your brother goes wrong, and you remain with your father, that it is no merit on your part, but only a grace God grants you, for which you will in due time be abundantly rewarded. Forget not that even in Heaven there is more joy upon one sinner that doth penance than upon ninety-nine just persons. Forget not, that you will also be a prodigal son, if God should withdraw the support of His grace from you. And if you are really one of the just, you will not miss your recompense, your Father’s love for you will not cease, for He calls the elder son His child. But it is only natural, it only answers to the spontaneous impulse of an uncorrupted heart that, as our Lord says: “It was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found.” (v. 32.) But although that may be quite natural, yet does not a feeling of envy, a sort of surprise stir within you, when you see a Brother, a Sister, who formerly only too nearly resembled the prodigal son, now receiving special favors from God and their Superiors? when you see them, after all, better treated than you are, who were always “with your Father”? That it may be otherwise with you, remember how much you blame the speech of the elder son in the parable.
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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