“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.” This is the way St. Augustine of Hippo described his conversion in The Confessions. He sought beauty, love, truth and joy everywhere, but only found them when he looked within. I have always found comfort and solace in those words. They disclose the journey of a soul as it learns to truly love and to accept True Love.
The parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11–32), chronicles such a journey – the quest of a wasteful man, through the misery of his own ingratitude, to the joy of restored communion with his father and the members of his household.
The tale begins with the prodigality – the extravagant wastefulness – of a son who asks his father for his share of the inheritance. The son, who I have always called Marty, is wasteful because he lacks to understand that everything is grace. He has lived with plenty his whole life. He benefited from his father's wealth but was never truly grateful for it.
For St. Ignatius of Loyola, gratitude is the first and most important step in the spiritual journey. It moves our hearts with awe and appreciation for the gifts God bestows upon us. Conversely, ingratitude is the mostdespicable sin. It is the cause, beginning and origin of all sin and misfortunes.
Marty's ingratitude causes him to be imprudent and wasteful. In turn, his superfluous living leads him to lose everything he received from his father. Feeling destitute, Marty starts to discover the real meaning of his father's bounty. When I pray with this parable, I usually focus on the way the father welcomes the son back. Lately, I feel invited to stay with the son's moment of conversion. In recent times, I have found myself contemplating, not Rembrandt's famous The Prodigal Son, but rather one of his sketches that portrays the wasteful son among the pigs. In that moment of complete lack, he increases in faith, hope and love. He experiences consolation.
Looking at his own poverty, Marty remembers the joy of living in right relationship with his father. It was not so much that Marty remembered how much his father loved him, but that he in his indigence and hardship his father's love called unto him. St. Augustine tells us what happened when he stopped searching without and he became aware that God dwelt within: “You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness” (Confessions, Book X). As Marty comes to his senses, he discovers how his ingratitude lead him into sin and destitution. He longed for more. And then, just like The Convert in G. K. Chesterton's poem, Marty bows his head and finding healing and freedom – “being not unlovable but strange and light”.
Marty's most powerful realization is that he is not unlovable. He realizes he is deeply loved. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, “The speech he prepares for his homecoming reveals to us the full extent of the inner pilgrimage he is now making.” (Angelus, September 12, 2010). Love sets him free from his bondage. It fills him with purpose and gratitude. The son is returning home, to himself and to the father.
In our own lives, we have moments when we become aware of our own poverty and ingratitude. God can use those moments to call, shout and break through our deafness. He invites us to open our hearts to the recognize that, despite being sinners, he loves us. He calls us to know ourselves loved, forgiven sinners. He is always waiting with open arms and he calls us to repent and to live in the light of his love. He is the Lover of our souls and he calls them out of the land of ingratitude and prodigality, to the land that flows with milk, honey, gratitude, freedom and love.