Summary: Lent 4C
There are a couple dialogical excerpts from the Prodigal Son story that deals with our conscious awareness, which is to “think about one’s thinking” or to consciously know what one knows, and to explicitly use this cognitive process in our spiritual life.
1. The first is when the passage states, “Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.”
The Prodigal’s self-centered life of acting on his impulses, and cravings lead to his hitting bottom by caring for pigs. Since Jews considered pigs unclean animals, only the most desperate conditions would force the son to take this disgraceful position not to mention being starved. The gift of desperation! It’s a gift if it leads one out of habitual mortal sin back into the state of grace.
Let the person hit bottom. If you keep softening the bottom, he or she will keep digging. In Scripture, Israel never hit bottom and that was a problem. As Pablo Polischuk says, Israel’s history was that of “cyclical disobedience, defeat, and degradation that culminated in oppression, slavery, and the loss of inheritance and status.”
Pablo Polischuk continues: at the lowest level, experiencing his utter defeat, the Prodigal was able, by God’s grace, to engage in a mindful detachment in a self-scrutiny and assessment of his situation.” In Catholic theology, God sends us actual graces to help us stop “the flux of a trapped consciousness in sin (being stuck) to experience an “aha” moment, which Jesus calls coming to our senses (Lk. 15:17).”
2). The second internal dialogue of the Prodigal is, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” Pablo Polischuk notes “prompting his anticipatory dialogues with the father, is a sort of ‘stress inoculation training’ to prepare for the eventual encounter.”
The Prodigal was able to face the reality of his offenses against a benevolent father, which triggered his conscience, elevated his anxiety and distress about the repercussions of his poor choices and elicited a great deal of guilt and shame in having to face his father, it seems that the anticipatory impact of the eventual encounter with the father would elicit a fight or flight response; however, in the parable, the son seems to have shifted from an initial emotional impulse (to go to the father and face him) into an anticipatory, deliberate, and slow-thinking process of proactive nature.
If the son had not been able to bring himself to return home, strict justice would have been inevitable. He would suffer and die in a foreign country. The lost would have remained forever lost. By God’s grace, he took action and made an actual decision, as he says, “I shall get up and go to my father.” To escape our woundedness as well as outright sin, we need to recognize that God is throwing us the life preserver, we need to grab it. If we don’t grab it—that is if we don’t do our part to change ourselves—it is not likely that God will haul us out of the sea of our woundedness. We need to prudently do our part.
F.A.C.E—Face everything and recover.
With his spiritual recovery we can see that the actions of a selfish young man caused a rift in the relationship between him and his entire family, not just his father. Everyone is affected, as can be judged from the attitude of an angry older brother. A community is also affected, as actions and their results spread out into the wider society.
Even after forgiveness, as shown by the loving mercy of the father, the echoes of justice remain. The forgiven must reestablish relationships. One must be constantly vigilant not to fall again into the errors of the past by relapse.
In our prodigal son culture, there is a need of redemptive suffering. Jesus suffered and died because of our sins. Our own redemptive suffering is what can also save a person who is lost, or someone who was perhaps saved but now is backslidden.
In conclusion, the book called “The Seven Basic Plots” of every story ever written, the Prodigal Son, would fit under the plot called “The Voyage and return” where a person leaves the familiar behind, journeys to a strange land where she or he faces trials and has unexpected experiences, and eventually returns home transformed. By our cooperation with God’s grace, may this be us.