The Prodigal son
The first thing I notice in the story is that the father gives his son what he asks for. Why? Because even if the son is making a bad choice, he believes it is to his own good. So the father lets him make the choice. The Father allows us to make mistakes using our free will. Why? He gives us what is necessary to learn from our mistakes. He gives us grace and the Holy Spirit, reason and free will, and even the natural instincts of survival and desire for pleasure. If we have a good will these things work together well in learning from our mistakes. If we have a selfish will or even a bad will at least our natural instincts for self preservation and pleasure assist us in experiencing bad consequences as something unpleasant and harmful and dangerous to our life if not to our soul. Thus, we can learn from our mistakes. Since He allows us to make so many mistakes, He must not see them as irreversible and irreconcilable. In other words, He must not see them as something that causes a permanent barrier or a separation from Him. I am not suggesting that He is ok with sin. But He sees sin as something we choose and separate ourselves from Him by doing so, and it is we who put up the barrier by our refusal of Him and our wanting something else more than Him when we disobey Him knowingly and willingly.
The son's realization
When the son realizes his error, he at first does not have real contrition. He is only thinking of his belly and how his father's servants have plenty of food. He is sorry only for himself and what he lacks. He is starving and realizes that he is so depraved that the pigs food now looks good to him. Believing that his father's justice would be severe, he decides to beg to be made a servant, so that he can at least have a servant's life which is far greater than he has at present. This shows that he neither knows his father's mercy nor is he contrite yet, he only wants to not have so miserable a life as he does in the moment. This is attrition and not contrition.
The Father's gaze
The father sees him from far off, well before the son sees his father. This means that he is looking out for him, he has been keeping watch, waiting, hoping, anticipating his return. The Father, then is always just so. He is always calling us to come closer to Him. Always and in every way and in every thing He allows in our lives is for this sole purpose. We may not be able to understand this, we may not like this, we may feel that He is unjust, unfair, unloving, or unkind, or just plain mean to us. But God Is Who He Is, and Is He Who Is. And that means that He is not what we perceive or feel, but simply who He Is and always has been. He can not change and He does not have mood swings, nor does He have bad hair days, and He certainly can't change for appearance sake according to His audience, and He can't be bribed, manipulated, bullied, or tricked or deceived. He is charity and love and He can not and will not act outside of that since He can't oppose Himself in His very nature of who He is. For then He would be a different God every time He acted. Therefore, He always has His loving gaze fixed on us.
Now when the son comes near, the father does not wait for him to come all the way home, he runs out to meet him. Our Father does not wait for complete and perfect contrition. He looks for even the slightest movement toward Him and supports us in this movement, encourages us, comes to meet us. And when He does, He does not belittle us, look scandalized, or shame us. He wants us to experience that we are His children, heirs to all that He has. The ring, the robes, and the feast for our return tell us that he does not want us to now be servants instead of children because of our past sins and mistakes. He wants to rejoice and celebrate now that we are "found and alive again." To be in sin is to be lost and dead, to repent is to be found and alive again, to come home to the Father. The Father is our true home.
When the other son finds out what is going on, he gets angry. Why? He is often called the good son as the prodigal son is seen as the bad son, but he is not completely good, nor does he understand his father's love. He is envious and that makes him angry with his father as well as his brother. He reproaches his father treating his brother as an heir and he complains that he never got any special treatment from his father while his brother who has sinned is getting a feast in his honor. He tells his father that he never transgressed his commandments. But if he had been good all this time and never transgressed his father's commandments out of love for him, he would not now be angry, neither at his father nor his brother. He did what was right and did not do wrong but in a servile way not as a son. This is why he feels an injustice was done him by his father, he worked for his reward of his inheritance from his wealthy father, not for love of his father. So he then can not understand his father's generosity and mercy toward his brother.
This brings up a sore point with many people. They identify with the son who remained and have a lot of anger at their prodigal siblings. I have heard so many people say "why does God bless people who don't even believe in Him or are bad Catholics/Christians or people who aren't as faithful as me, while he lets all these bad things happen to me and I work at least twice as hard to be faithful to Him in every way and do everything he asks of me?!" They say this with much wrath in their voices. There are many things happening here and on different levels. Firstly, they are afraid what it may mean that others are treated seemingly better than they. They are afraid it means that they have been rejected by God, and" if those other people are treated better and are more prosperous in their lives, and they are bad, then it must mean that I am worse than they are." They may also be afraid that it means that God does not want them to have anything good in their lives. All of this can make them feel as if "perhaps God just doesn't love me." All of this is childish and immature, and is most likely a result of being treated severely by parents or parent figures when young and is still not reconciled and perhaps not fully forgiven either. But there is also an error here. If God's love can be measured by gifts, then rich people are loved most by God and poor people are hated by Him. That is far from true. Jesus taught that it is hard for rich people to enter heaven, and blessed are the poor in spirit. And Jesus had a predilection for the poor and was poor Himself, so this just can not be true. These errors lead to envy and covetousness, and they are dangerous to a soul. It is the sin of lucifer, and it leads to malice and hatred and ultimately murder. People mistakingly think that they won't let it get that far but it is not that easy to do and impossible if not reconciled. Jesus said that to willfully sin in one's heart is the same as committing the act itself, when he said that lusting after another's wife is to commit adultery. So how far is hate from a murderous heart? Or desiring a misfortune for someone else. So in their severity they want severity for the prodigal brother and to be treated to a feast as their reward for being faithful. But the father says, you are with me always and all I have is yours. In other words all you ever had to do was ask, it is already yours. Because a son is an heir and not a servant. But someone else being treated well should not cause us grief or suffering. We should be able to rejoice in another's good fortune and blessings. Therefore, if we feel hurt when others are treated well by God, then we must have the erroneous idea that God chose to do something for them instead of us, as if God had to portion out goodness as if He were constrained by limits.
Our good and gracious Father
Our good and gracious Father gives us what we need. And He is solicitous for our good. When we fall or turn from Him, He waits only for a sign from us, even the slightest, that we want to return to Him. Then He rushes toward us to give us our dignity back as sons and daughters. If He waits it is only because he made us in such a way with our free will, that we must cooperate by using it in order to have Him back fully. But in this way since we merit by our actions, we also can receive the reward of heaven. He does not wait for us like a despot making us make the first move in order to show His superiority, delighting in us groveling for what we need knowing only He can give us what we need. That is the spirit of the world, and it is demonic. His waiting is for our own good, to let us think about what we have done and meditate on the consequences of our actions, so that we can arrive at true contrition and have hope in a restored relationship with Him and use our own will by our own choice to seek Him again. This is a loving Father, who knowing us well as He created us, knows how to obtain our good without imposing Himself or needing to make sure we acknowledge how much He is doing for us, since He is Humility itself. Do you not think that after having so much love lavished on Him as this prodigal son, that he will not be less likely to sin again? Will not this son hesitate to to be so ungrateful as to misuse the father's generosity? Will he not know now that he is undeserving of such divine charity in true humility and feel shame at the thought of transgressing this newfound reverence that he has for His father's goodness and mercy? And will not the brother, through a holy envy now after his father's kind reproach, want to have more confidence in his father's goodness and realize that he is an heir and not a servant or slave. And will he not be more good himself and honor his father as he should and have filial charity for his brother? Then indeed the father has saved two sons. The rebellious son and the son who served but by fear instead of love. How good is our Father, how loving and just, treating each as is needed according to our personal differences of nature and soul.
Too often we are dissatisfied and blame God for not having what we think we need. How wrong we are! Most often the dissatisfaction comes from not being in the rhythm and harmony of the Father's will. If our conscience is clear, then it most often is an attack of the devil to disquiet our spirits and and make us not able to perceive His presence because we are now too disturbed. And as a rule, we should not compare ourselves to others, we are not good at judging the actions of God in general, and if we can't judge rightly in our own lives, how are we to judge His actions well in other's lives who we may think we know well but usually haven't a clue.
Br. Mariamartin de la Cruz SDBV General Steward