We Are Prodigals All

Recently, one of our close friends lost his father. This last Saturday we attended the funeral. Prior to his death, his dad had selected which readings he would like to have read at his funeral. Inexplicably, the gospel reading that he chose was the parable of the prodigal son found in Saint Luke’s Gospel.

— 1 —

This man had been a faithful Catholic his entire life, raised ten children in the faith, and been married to his wife for an astonishing 66 years! In fact, shortly before his death he renewed his marriage vows, publicly proclaiming that after 66 years he was every bit as much in love with, and committed to his wife as he had been on the day that they were first married.

By any standard he had lived a commendable Christian life. He had lived a life of faith and commitment to family. And yet, as the hour of his death approached, he asked that the story of the prodigal son be read at his funeral. It was a reminder to me that,

We are prodigals all.

— 2 —

The word prodigal basically just means wasteful, or describes one who is a wastrel. The prodigal son leaves his father’s house with his share of the inheritance, and proceeds to waste his entire inheritance on a wild and reckless lifestyle.

“Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.”1

He takes the gifts which his father had bestowed on him and he squanders them.

— 3 —

But, who among us can say that we haven’t at some point wasted the gifts or talents that our Father has given us? All of us at one point or another have forsaken our Father and our family, have lived a life “of the world” rather than a life set apart but nevertheless “in the world.” We have squandered our inheritance and gifts.

All of us have at one point or another wandered dusty roads far from home, wanting nothing more than to return to the outstretched arms of our Father and be welcomed into His loving embrace.

We are prodigals all.

Who among us, coming to the end of this earthly sojourn, muddy and bedraggled by our exile here below, doesn’t dare to wish that he might be made but a servant in the heavenly realm? For in the end, just to return home, just to be fed the scraps from the table in return for service – is that not enough? To have a purpose and place? Even that of a servant? Happy thieves in paradise indeed!

We are prodigals all.

— 4 —

St. Augustine (perhaps the most famous prodigal son of all Christendom) wrote that, “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.” It is, one could say, the first step on the journey home. And it is confession and reconciliation that are at the heart of the story of the prodigal son.

St. John Paul II writes that, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving God.” Confession, also called the Sacrament of Reconciliation by the Church, is certainly a means of grace. It is, in fact, the primary means by which God’s mercy is bestowed on us as repentant believers, for,

We are prodigals all.

And certainly the return of the prodigal son is both a confession and an appeal to mercy.

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”2

— 5 —

And yet, in taking that first step, in simply turning our face towards home, shockingly, we see the Father Himself running towards us! It is as if, “Jesus wants to make it clear that the God of whom he speaks is a God of compassion who joyously welcomes repentant sinners into his house.”3

And, amazingly, it is not as servants that we are welcomed home – but as sons! It is why the Church teaches us that,“Grace is a participation in the life of God.  It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life.  By baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body.  As an adopted son he can henceforth call God ‘Father,’ in union with the only Son.  He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes clarity into him and who forms the Church”4

Grace brings us into restored relationship with the Father, not as servants, but as sons! [Tweet This]

— 6 —

Augustine famously wrote: “You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace”5

Henri Nouwen in his masterful book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, writes, “I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’ The question is not ‘How am I to know God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be known by God?’ And, finally, the question is not ‘How am I to love God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be loved by God?’ God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”6

— 7 —

Brennan Manning was a best-selling Christian author and speaker. He passed away in 2013, but it is his voice that speaks to us from the dc Talk song What If I Stumble? observing that, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Manning was also a failed Franciscan priest who broke his vows in order to marry and then later divorced. He was an addict who struggled with alcoholism and it’s effects throughout his life.

In his immensely popular book The Ragamuffin Gospel he writes:

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.'”

Reflecting on the reading of the prodigal son chosen for the funeral Mass of my friends father, I realized that I could not imagine a more perfect selection to accompany his passage from this life into the next, for in truth,

We are prodigals all.


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You can buy Henri Nouwen’s book here:
The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

  1. Luke 15:13 

  2. Luke 15:18-19 

  3. Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son 

  4. CCC paragraph 1997 

  5. Confessions, Book 7 

  6. Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming 

  8 comments for “We Are Prodigals All

  1. November 19, 2015 at 10:16 PM

    This is awesome, such a great breakdown of the prodigal son! I especially love the quotes from St. Augustine.

    After confession one Saturday evening my penance was to read this gospel story every day for the next week, such a great exercise. It is such a story with so much depth and at the same time proclaims the simple essence of the gospel.

    Thanks for writing!

    • Adam N. Crawford
      November 20, 2015 at 1:54 PM

      Amy – thanks so much for the kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! If you haven’t had a chance to read Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son, I would highly recommend it. I think you would really enjoy it! There’s an Amazon link to it at the bottom of the post. Thanks again!

  2. jeanpergande
    November 20, 2015 at 12:44 PM

    Great post. I am in total agreement that “we are all prodigals”. Thanks for this.

    • Adam N. Crawford
      November 20, 2015 at 1:55 PM

      Thanks Jean – we are indeed!

  3. November 20, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    Thou wastrel thou!! Yes, I am a prodigal, too.

    • Adam N. Crawford
      November 20, 2015 at 1:55 PM

      You sound vaguely like my wife Brian 😉

  4. November 21, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    I love this thought! Just recently a leader of my church (I’m Mormon) gave a great talk on the same subject and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In God’s eyes, there really is not such a wide divide between the worst of us and the best of us – which is a fact that is both encouraging (you mean it wouldn’t be impossible for me to become like the most faithful people I admire?) and humbling (hey, hot shot, you’re not as great as you think you are.) Thanks for the thoughts. Your friend’s father sounds like he was a very wise man.

    • Adam N. Crawford
      November 21, 2015 at 11:44 AM

      Jenny – great thoughts! The Scriptures seem abundantly clear that Christ came, “not for the righteous,” but instead, “to seek and save the lost.” – a truth that brings both hope and gives pause. Thanks for your comment!

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