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     Relating to The Prodigal Son

Through the Cornerstone Retreat projects that I’ve been involved in – a very important part of my life, I’d like to add – I’ve met a lot of men who relate the Prodigal Son story to their personal relationship with God.

Some of them have stories that rival the biblical one, but each of them sees himself in the hungry son, who squandered his inheritance and comes home wasted by his debauchery, unhappy and broke.  In coming home he will receive all he had hungered for in the first place: happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment, i.e., a loving relationship with his Father. 

God planted this hunger in each of us.  Many of us almost completely destroy ourselves looking to the glitter of the world for nourishment.  We forget, or maybe we never quite understood, what Pope Benedict XVI describes in his first encyclical, that “God is Love.”  While the encyclical talks specifically to world peace, world peace is but one facet of the fact that God is Love.  Furthermore, Jesus specifically taught us that the most important thing we can do, is to Love.  (Matthew 22:34-40) 

We instinctively knew the importance of love when we were at our youngest; our mother’s love was all we wanted.  It not only nourishes us, but we found comfort and protection there; in her love we knew real happiness.  As we matured, and maybe, in some cases, because of a mother’s behavior, we looked to the material world for comfort, protection, as well as for the fulfillment we as adults need.  Oh yes, and happiness. 

Mark Neilsen wrote an interesting comment on what Zebeedee, father of James and John, said to Jesus Matthew 20:21-22.  Believing that Jesus was preparing to sit on an earthly throne, he asked, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”  Jesus’ reply was, “You do not know what you are asking.” 

In the Living Faith, Daily Catholic Devotion booklet’s devotion for July 25, 2006, Neilsen’s four paragraphs show, in my mind, a twist on the Prodigal Son story.   

When the first shoe dropped, Jesus’ arrest, James and John both ran, turning their backs on Jesus.  Ultimately, however, as Mr. Neilsen puts it, “…James and John were transformed by their Lord into remarkable men of courage and conviction.”  One could make the case that these prodigal sons left Home because the situation as they saw it, offered no happiness, satisfaction or fulfillment. 

How many of us have stories that show a man, still far from Home, having his heart transformed by the Lord, and thereby making the journey back to our Father that much easier. 

And who can blame us for looking to the world for happiness and fulfillment; God gives us so many gifts and pleasurable experiences in the world: the magnificent sunset; the beautiful flower, the rolling ocean, the mighty mountains – they take your breath away and fill you with excitement… and such wonders are everywhere.  One need only look.  But we should realize that it is not through the material things of the world that we will find true love, fulfillment, peace or happiness, but it is in God.  And because of God’s universal love for each of us, we will find these things when we live a life loving and serving one another. 

The hints to this truth are all around us.  The power in the smile of your child whose little hand is wrapped around your pinky, far out weighs all the oceans and mountains and sunsets put together.  The feeling that floods your heart after you have helped a stranger lasts far longer than the memory of all the flowers you’ve ever seen. 

Ultimately, we are all prodigal sons and daughters.  We spend our lives searching for happiness.  Today it is a certain car, or a new house.  Tomorrow it’s a pair of shoes.  It can be anything from wanderlust to a search for the best hot dog.  But each time we achieve or gain the item of our latest quest, we find the satisfaction is short lived, and happiness is fleeting.  True fulfillment escapes us; so we search again. 

Maybe the time we spend searching and sinning is necessary in order to fully comprehend the truth.  Man’s compulsion to search for everything that man searches for, is really a search for God; man’s longing for all the things man longs for, is simply a longing for God.   

Your compulsion to search for happiness, all of your longings and desires are in response to God’s constant call for your love.  He created you to love Him, and for Him to love and take care of you.  One might say that the gift of a loving, personal relationship with God is the achievement of what Adam and Eve lost.   

Yes God is love.  And since we are made in His image, we can find God in each other.  When we love our neighbor, we are loving God and showing God’s love to our neighbor.   

We can feel God’s welcoming, forgiving embrace each time we go Home to Him through another one of His beloved.  

Finally, at any time of our choosing, our Father is right there and willing to welcome us Home again.

by Joseph De Matteo

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