Today's Gospel is one of the most moving in Scripture. The parable of the Prodigal Son embodies parental love. Knowing that the unbounded and unconditional love of an earthly father for his son is only a pale shadow of the love of our Eternal Father for each of us is overwhelming.
But here is a bit of a provocative question: With whom do you identify more--the Prodigal Son or the Older Brother? I know there are many times that I have read this passage and said, "I really understand how the Older Brother feels. It just doesn't seem fair. Where is the justice?"
Yet every time I get that Older Brother sense of righteousness, something pops up to let me know that I am really the Prodigal Son. How many times have I failed to appreciate and wisely use the time, talent, and treasure God has given me? How many kind words have I left unsaid? How many alms have stayed in my pocket when they should have been offered to my neighbor in need? How often have I judged a person rather than his actions? How often have I refused to forgive? The list goes on and on.
It is the virtue of humility that keeps us cognizant of our need for God's mercy and forgiveness. Like all virtues, it must be practiced in order to be strengthened. One way to practice this virtue is to recognize the authority of the Church. The Prodigal Son came home with no demands of his own. He threw himself on the mercy of his father and was willing to obey whatever he said--to the point of living as his father's hired laborer or even being told to leave.
We reflect the arrogance of the Older Brother when we approach the Church and say, "I am good. I have no need of your mercy. I will set my own rules and standards." It is only when we recognize and acknowledge our own fallen nature that we can say "I am a sinner. I trust in your mercy. Show me the way."
Frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is an important way to keep ourselves humble and open to God's mercy and forgiveness. For those in the DC Metro area, don't forget The (confessional) Light is on for you.