There is so much packed into the parable of the prodigal son that it warrants months of meditation. This story was hammered into my heart the summer I made a hitch-hiking pilgrimage to Jerusalem from England. I was on the road every day, staying at Benedictine monasteries all across France and Italy before traveling through Greece and on to the Holy Lands.
It was 1987 and I had a Sony walkman for company with a cassette tape of the American gospel singer Keith Green. He had a particularly moving rendition of the story of the prodigal son in ballad form. I listened to it over and over. In some deep way I still find hard to put into words that beautiful story finally made the long, long journey from my head to my heart. Time and again as I walked and prayed and listened and sang along at the top of my voice along the side of the road where no one could hear, I was gathered up into the drama of the story and moved deeply–often racked with what the Eastern Orthodox call ‘the gift of tears.’
I don’t know what deep places in my own heart the Almighty was touching, but something was happening within my hard heart. I had been through a rough time personally and had some rough years to go still, but these months and this story and that song was working through me like some deep healing ointment, and I know it was all about a return to the Father.
I suppose it is like this: each one of us, no matter how good our family and how fine our lessons in self esteem and how marvelously encouraging our education, still has a deep and unshakeable conviction that we are unloved, that we have to earn the love we need, that we have to please somebody. The negativities that result from this deep conviction are manifold. We feel guilt, we feel anger towards others, we long for what is wrong, we lust for all that is dust, we feel the need for greed. We reach for so many things to fill that gap which is really the need for total, unconditional love…the love of the Father above.
Now the ironically painful thing above all is that this is the one love we need, but this is the one love, above all which we most defend ourselves against. The total, unconditional, oversweeping love of the Father is the one which will wash over our souls like Niagra and so we shy away. We fly away. We run away and would prefer even the pig pen, the frozen mud and the broken cobs of corn than to open our soiled hearts to that love.
So on this prodigal son Sunday all I can say to myself and anyone who reads these words, “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundred-fold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”