The Prodigal Returns
by Fr. Jack McArdle
"I will arise now, and return to my Father's house". I accept the Good News of the Gospel. I know only too well that I am one of the sinners whom Jesus came to find, to redeem, and to lead safely back home to the Garden. Yes, indeed, I have wandered away down many a side-path, I have given free rein to self-will run riot, and I have put myself, and my own selfish agenda at the top on many occasions. I am thankful, Lord, for the gifts you have given me, even if I have not always used them for the building of the Kingdom. I have used my tongue to hurt and to deceive; I have used my mind and my heart to harbour resentments, angers, jealousies, and self-centred ideas.
Father, I know that I have allowed the evil one to lead me further away from the Garden. I fell for the lie and the allurement of sin, I chose not to heed the inner voice of conscience, and I protected myself, at times, with a cloak of indifference. I think of you looking off into the distance, watching for signs of my return. The love with which you created me is still fully aglow, and all your hopes and expectations for me are still fully alive. It frightens me to think that, because of freewill, I can continue to wander away, and no matter how much you longed for my return, I can walk away from you for all eternity. I think of the Gospel as you sending Jesus, the Messenger, inviting us to return to the banquet, to the celebration of life, to the celebration of love. "Father I am not worthy to be called your child". I know, of course, even if I never left the embrace of your love, that I am still not worthy of such an extraordinary gift. I sometimes experience a certain fear and anxiety that I might take you for granted, as if I had some claim on you, or you owed me something. I thank you, Father, that I know you, that I can speak to you, that I have listened to Jesus' words about you. In that sense, I do feel special, privileged, and chosen, and I don't understand why. There are many who don't know you, and there are others who don't want to know you. I don't understand why you should have sent Jesus to me personally, and I don't want or need to understand. When I think of your love, and the practical down-to-earth love expressed by Jesus, and then I examine my own behaviour, I have all the reason in the world to be grateful.
Father, you are the creator, the sower of the good seed. You can see the weeds in me that are not part of your creation. You sent Jesus to remove those weeds, so that what remains of me could be gathered into your barns. Like St. Paul, I often experience something deep within that rebels against my better self, and overcomes my good intentions and resolutions. That is one of the weeds, called sin, that is not of your creation. I open my heart to the fulness of your Spirit, that sin might be removed from my heart, and that I may be washed in the Blood of the Lamb, your Son Jesus. Father, I do want to belong in your family, and I want to be free from everything that would alienate me from your family. There are drives, impulses, compulsions, addictions, and attachments within me that frighten me at times. I can look at the most public criminal and know "There but for the grace of God go I". Father, I can identify with the Prodigal Son; but what frightens me even more, I can find myself in the role of his self-righteous brother. In my heart I know that I cannot afford to throw a stone at anyone, but that doesn't seem to stop me doing so, when the opportunity arises.
Father, I know, of course, that I have not yet reached your house, that I am still very much on the way. As you look off into the distance, I believe you can see me coming. Father, please guard my every step along the way, because I am so wont to wander, to dally, to be distracted, and to risk getting lost. As a child of a loving Father, I owe nothing to this world, or its allurements. I accept you as the one true God, and I accept Jesus, whom you have sent. What I ask for, please, is that, through the working of your Spirit, I might be given a new heart. I ask you, please, to remove this heart of stone, and to breathe your Spirit into me. I have a deep-felt need for a total inner transformation, that will direct my steps towards you, and in the path opened up for me by Jesus. Father, when the Prodigal returned, you insisted that he be fitted out with sandals, which was a declaration that he was free to leave again, if he so chose. You will never take away our freedom to make decisions or to have choices. It is one of life's greatest mysteries that you should entrust to us so much responsibility for our own eternal welfare. The more I think of it, though, the more I come to understand your love, your way of loving, and your way of doing things. You know me through and through. You know my every thought, longing, and desire. You offer me everything that will make my life here on earth of such a quality that it will take on eternal possibilities. You offer unconditional love, and unconditional forgiveness. You offer me full membership in your family, where I can call you Father, and call Jesus Brother. You offer me the very same Spirit that was breathed into the clay at the beginning of creation, so that I can be re-created, and made new again. Your offers are endless, enduring, and eternal ; and yet, you still insist that all final decisions and choices be mine. It is really difficult for a human mind to understand such unlimited, boundless love. In our world, we are used to trading favours, to meeting requirements, to paying and repaying debts. We are familiar with pressures, with manipulation, with blackmail of various kinds. There is a price-tag on everything, and there is a line beyond which human love cannot pass. It is difficult for us not to tie you in with our ways of doing things. I always need reminding that you are God, for whom nothing is impossible, and that your ways are not our ways.
Father, I come before you now, exactly as I am. Like the Prodigal, I have gone my own way, and done my own thing. I have wasted many of your gifts, including the gift of time. I have lived without a thought of you, and I have assumed your rightful place in my life, on those many occasions when I have tried to play God. The very fact that I'm turning to you now is evidence that my ways have never satisfied my heart, or given me peace. I want to return to you, where I belong. I have sinned against heaven, and before you, and I am not worthy to be called your child. I ask your forgiveness, and I ask that, through the Blood of Jesus, and the work of your Spirit, my heart might be cleansed, my inner being might be renewed, and my proper belonging in your family be fully restored.
Welcome, welcome home into the heart of my family, my dear dear child. I have watched your every step, and your heart has always been before me. I sent Jesus to bring you back. If your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow. I sent Jesus to save, to invite, and not to condemn. I give you my Spirit of Truth to lead you away from the power of the evil one, the father of lies. I embrace you with great joy. Like the Prodigal, you are always free to leave again. I want you to make your home with me, to be at home with me, and to feel at home with me. You are back where you belong. Jesus has paid the price, to redeem you from slavery, and I want you to experience the freedom of the children of God.
The greatest thanks you can give me for sending Jesus is to accept all that he died to earn for you. As God, Father, Son, and Spirit, we rejoice in your goodwill. We never ever want to take away your freewill, and we understand your human condition in a way that would be entirely impossible for the human mind to comprehend. We are so much less interested in what you do, than in why you did it; in who you are, than is how you act. It is what is going on in your heart that gets our full attention. We, the Trinity, have made our home in you, and we want you to know that your heart is a holy place, a sanctuary, a place of divine indwelling. It is from within your heart that we wish you to change. This is not possible for you. You can do everything within your power to improve your outward behaviour, to control your compulsions, to harness your emotions........and all to no avail. Your healing, your redeeming, your power, and your life must come from Our presence within your heart. Thinking of Mary as the care-taker of your heart can help you accept the possibility of miracles there. When you return to me, you are returning to your heart. Look at yourself in the mirror sometime. Study what you see there. If you can really forgive the person looking out at you from that mirror, then you are getting in touch with the forgiveness already available within.
Spend some time thinking of the function of the human heart ; how totally dependent the rest of the body is on it ; and how its every beat is ensuring that your life continues. Move then to think of the heart, not as something physical, but as that part of you where you are most yourself, that inner part of you that is at the very core of your being. That is where the evil one had penetrated, that is where We choose to make our home; that is where the battle is fought. It is here that your basic choices must be made. You can choose good or evil, life or death. Choose life, and you will receive life in abundance. Go to this place of your being with your decisions, your choices, and your prayers. For you to go to this place is for the Prodigal to come home. The journey to the heart is the journey home.
The conflict between good and evil will always continue within you, until your journey is complete, and you are free, free, free at last. It would not be good for you if the conflict were removed, because that is part of human life, and it is in and through the conflict that growth takes place. Experiencing your own weakness is the school where compassion is learned. Your inner being is but part of the world-wide struggle between good and evil. There is very little happening out there, that is not reflected, in some way, within your own being. Because your heart is the home of the Trinity, however, you live with this sure and certain hope : evil can never overcome the good, even where it is seen to be successful for a while. The only real sin for you is not to have hope, not to live with the certain belief that, in the end, when the kingdom of satan and the kingdom of the world come to an end, there will remain forever and ever the Kingdom of God. Because of what Jesus has done, your name is registered as a citizen of that Kingdom, and, unless you deliberately and irrevocably decide to tear up the passport, you will live in that Kingdom forever.
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It's Me Again, Lord... copyright © 2004 Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.