by Pope Benedict XVI.
The story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32) is one of the greatest pieces of writing of all time—both in terms of literature and spirituality.
Indeed, what would our culture, art, and more generally, our civilization, be without this revelation of a God the Father so full of mercy? … Every time we hear or read it, it can suggest to us new meanings.
Above all, this gospel text has the power of speaking to us of God, of enabling us to know his Face and, better still, his Heart.
Ever since Jesus told us about the merciful Father, things are no longer as they were before. We now know God: he is our Father, who out of love created us to be free and endowed us with a conscience and who suffers when we get lost and rejoices when we return.
For this reason, our relationship with him is built up through events, just as it happens for every child with his parents: at first, he depends on them, then he asserts his autonomy; and in the end—if he develops well—he reaches a mature relationship based on gratitude and authentic love.
In these stages, we can also identify moments along our journey in our relationship with God.
There can be a phase that resembles childhood: religion prompted by need, by dependence.
As man grows up and becomes emancipated, he wants to liberate himself from this submission and become free and adult, able to organize himself and make his own decisions, even thinking he can do without God.
This stage is delicate and can lead to atheism, yet even this stage frequently conceals the need to discover God’s true Face.
Fortunately for us, God never fails in his faithfulness, and even if we distance ourselves and get lost, he continues to follow us with his love, forgiving our errors and speaking to our consciences from within in order to call us back to him.
In this parable, the sons behave in opposite ways: the younger son leaves home and sinks ever lower, whereas the elder son stays at home. But the elder son, too, has an immature relationship with the Father….
The two sons represent two immature ways of relating to God: rebellion and childish obedience. Only by experiencing forgiveness, by recognizing that one is loved with a freely given love—a love greater than our own merit—do we at last enter into a truly filial and free relationship with God.
Dear friends, let us meditate on this parable. Let us compare ourselves to the two sons and, especially, contemplate the Heart of the Father. Let us throw ourselves into his arms and be regenerated by his merciful love. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, help us to do this.
—Excerpted from the Angelus talk at St. Peter’s, March 14th, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 2010
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