Stories of the Prodigal Son
The Younger Son's Foolishness
by Chelsea Igtanloc
The father (God) finds both of the sons; the one who physically leaves and comes back, and the one who gets lost in his intentions. Instead of ridiculing them, the father meets them where they are with unconditional love, one that is always given to us by God. Agape. We remember that we’ll always be found in Agape no matter how lost we think we are.
Foolishness plays a vital role in growth. It is in foolishness, where we make mistakes and realize the type of person we want to be one day. Obviously, we can't be perfect and we are bound to experience our own foolishness. My love for God and faith have been a big part of my life, but I am also not immune to foolishness.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is also not unfamiliar with foolishness. We see this with the younger son as he leaves his father. He goes out and tries to find happiness in someplace else and we see his foolishness. How could he do that when he has everything he’s ever wanted? Why does he long for more? But it’s when the younger son hits rock bottom that he sees his foolishness, and growth happens. The younger son finds himself among the pigs and realizes what he was missing this whole time was back at his father’s home. When the younger son goes back home, his father responds by welcoming him with open arms and a celebration.
Growing up, my foolishness was similar to the younger son. There were a lot of times where I felt very static in my faith and thought there had to be other places I could receive a love like God’s. I longed for more and was constantly met with disappointment. I searched for a large period of time and in this process, I strayed so far from God's love that I didn't feel or see any love anymore. It was as if my heart shrunk every time I took a step away from Him.
I felt tired, scared, and lonely. It was then that I felt like all I had was foolishness and I felt so unsure. I had to stop. I listened to a homily about the prodigal son, and reflected. I saw a parallel between me and the younger son: we both thought we could find a love like God in other places and looked for so long that we lost what we were looking for.
Sometimes when we read the prodigal son, we wonder how he could’ve wanted more when the father was always there. We forget that we are not immune to feeling like the younger son, who thought he could find better elsewhere. We forget that our eyes are not always open to seeing that all we need can only be found in God. What God has is so powerful because He is always able to love us in our foolishness. So, let us not be afraid to bring our mistakes and foolishness to God. Instead, let’s embrace growth; knowing that even in the worst of times we are always found within God’s love. He is always waiting with open arms and a celebration.
The Elder Son's Bitter Ache
by Katie Hollcraft
As a cradle catholic, I’ve known the story of the Prodigal Son for as long as I can remember. It seemed to come up constantly, in Catechism classes as a little girl, on retreats as a teenager, and so on. I knew the story, could retell the story, but it was years before I truly understood the story.
Enter Fall 2018: I was a missionary in Boston, it’s always raining (particularly on Tuesdays, what’s that about?), and even though I know the Lord is doing something in my heart, I have no idea what that something is. It just felt like an ache, a longing; I was waiting for an invitation into something, anything. Maybe a community where I felt total belonging. Maybe a job where I wasn’t constantly exhausted. Maybe just proof that the abundant life Jesus promises is actually possible.
At the time, I was part of a virtual small group (no, not because of COVID, it’s 2018 remember?) and we decided to read Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. Well, it was put to a popular vote and I was not in the majority, but I took the ‘L’ and braced myself for all the cliches I had grown used to when people spoke of this parable. I had no idea that this book was about to wreck me- in a good way, slaps and hugs.
If you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it. I cannot even begin to summarize Nouwen’s wisdom and insight into this familiar parable. What I can tell you, is that the first time I read his chapter on the elder son I bawled, on a plane, very much in public. The elder son who had always been with the father, but didn’t really know the Father. The elder son, who was out in the fields when his brother came home and didn’t catch a word or even get an invitation into the party until he heard the sounds of music and celebration himself. The elder son, who felt forgotten, unloved, unseen, and had not realized that all of this could be cured in the arms of his father. In all the times I had read the parable, I had not taken a real look at the elder son, nor at how much I felt his ache. Where was my celebration? Where was my invitation?
Months later, I was still praying with this new realization, when an image filled my heart. I was looking at the Father’s face, difficult to see at first because of the glow and lights of the party behind him. I felt the frustration of the elder son and asked again; “where was my celebration, my invitation?” Then I looked into the Father’s eyes and there it was - invitation to rest, to abundance, to creativity, to community. Ultimately, invitation to daughterhood, all found in the gaze of the Father. And, possibly for the first time, I heard the response of the father to his elder son:
“... you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” (LK 15:31)
Jesus does not share the response of the elder son in his parable, he leaves us on a cliffhanger - did the elder son go in and embrace his brother?! It’s very likely Jesus didn’t finish this story because it’s up to us. Will we accept the Father’s invitation? Will we go inside with him and celebrate our brothers and sisters who’ve returned home, knowing it will never take from who we are - beloved sons and daughters of the Father.