March 9, 2013

He Came to His Senses - The Beginning of Prayer

The parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15:12ff stands out for those struggling in the life of prayer.  As we read the story, we find ourselves putting ourselves in the place of the different characters, measuring our actions against theirs: the merciful father, the prodigal son, the elder son, even the servants.  I also love to think about the father's house and how it serves as a fitting image for the ultimate end of the divine economy, the fundamental purpose of our creation and salvation: that joyful communion of love, of perfect unity with one another in the bosom of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus tells this parable on his way to Jerusalem from Galilee.  He too is going to His Father's House, the Temple where he was presented as a child and where he was found at the threshold of his teenage years.  He knows the Father of Mercy.  In the mystery of such exceeding love, how could His heart not be broken over the plight of His sons and daughters?  Where there was no hope, the Father sent His Son to be hope.  Christ, like the prodigal son, lost everything He had - except not in disobedience but obedience, not on destitute living but rather out of love for the destitute.  Spiritual poverty, misery, suffering- this is the horizon of our humanity that God has chosen to share with us.

Like a servant, a suffering servant, accomplishing the Father's will with signs and wonders, the Son liberates those He encounters along the way.  He wants to help them come to their senses so that He might free them from serving the pigsty in which they are trapped.   This redemption is won at great price.  Like the Merciful Father, the Image of the invisible God is misunderstood, rejected, threatened, betrayed and denied by those He most relies on.  It is by passing through this misery that the Word made flesh enters into the heart of humanity, the Father's House where the Chosen People worshipped God in the shadow of history - where we too can begin to worship Him now in mystery.

When we listen to the parable of the prodigal son, it is important to remember that Christ Himself is telling us this story.  The Word of the Father journeys through our hearts just as He journeyed through the misery of Galilee and Judah.  Everything He says and does has inexhaustible meaning in relation to His destination, the Father's house to which He leads us.

When He tells us the prodigal son came to senses, this means something for our life of prayer.  To hear the voice of the Father's Word in our hearts compels us to deny our false judgments about life and to make a new judgment about the Father: this is to come to our senses.  It is a moment of humility, a moment of trust, and a moment of compunction.  It is the moment in which the Father finds us.  If, in our righteous indignation, we play the elder brother and refuse this moment, how will we enter the Father's House?  Embracing this moment with gratitude and allowing oneself to be embraced by the Father: this is what it means to begin to pray.