By Fr. Neil Bakker
To be a true disciple of Jesus, we must be attentive to the fact that we are inclined to fall short of our call to holiness and Sainthood, and that we must often turn to our Lord and ask His pardon and mercy. It was said that our newest Saint, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, would go to confession every day! In the story of the Prodigal Son, we hear how our Heavenly Father receives sinners by way of actors; the Father, the elder son, and the younger son.
The younger, very boldly demands his early inheritance. He might as well have said, “Father, I cannot wait for you to die; give me my money now.” This is a radical rejection of his father. Not just because he wanted the money to have fun, but because he wanted to cut away from his fathers’ way of living, thinking, and acting. He could’ve stayed home and had fun with the money, but he cut-and-ran. But look at how the Father accepts him back!
With a repenting heart, the son, playing out the scene in his head, thinks, “I’ll just explain everything and apologize, and Dad will accept me back as a servant.” In the midst of all his squandering, he never forgot who he was – his identity as his Father’s son. The painting on the front cover does a wonderful job depicting this; showing that the son still kept his sword. The sword not only was for self-defense, but also marked ones’ identity – to what family you belonged. He could’ve easily pawned that sword off for a good deal of cash, but that was a step too far.
Before the son could even get close to the Father, the Father rushes out to him. This is the most unexpected part of the story, because the Father is in a place of prominence in the family, and likely the community. He is above what is ordinary and is worthy of respect; he wouldn’t move in this rushed way for anything – things were to be brought to him! But here we see Him rush out, as if He wanted nothing to get in the way of reconciliation with His lost boy.
There is a stillness in Rembrandt’s representation of this scene; as if it is frozen in time. The first thing you notice is the Father’s face, soft, glowing, looking down with relief. The younger son, knelt down in front looking disheveled, head shaven, one shoe off his foot, the other slipping off. The elder son standing stoically at guard, a good distance from the two.
Our Heavenly Father desires to give us our Heavenly Inheritance early! In each of the sacraments, we experience a foretaste of our Heavenly Beatitude. In confession, we receive unconditional forgiveness and acceptance; in marriage we glimpse unity and exclusivity; in the Eucharist we get the very life that sustains us. Let us not squander these gifts, but if we do find ourselves in a sorrowful state of sin, quickly turn back to our Lord.
As we continue to contemplate what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus, making the choice to follow Him and place Him in the center of our lives, we take great solace in the sure knowledge of our Lord’s unrelenting Mercy, and His unconditional forgiveness of our Sins when we turn to Him in repentance.