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Take a deeper look at the meaning behind the parable of the prodigal son

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Detail from 'The return of the prodigal son', Rembrandt (Getty Images)

The King James Version of the Bible states that when the prodigal son “came to himself,” he thought, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger.”

In a lecture at the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Scripture scholar Carmelite Father Craig Morrison challenged the audience to take a second look at the words “came to himself” and reflect on what this means.

Eugene Hemrick
Father Eugene Hemrick writes for Catholic News Service (CNS file photo/Bob Roller)

At first, I thought of the prodigal son as coming to his senses. But Father Morrison prompted us to go deeper than this. He used the example of Mother Teresa seeing the poor on a train and saying to herself that serving the poor was her calling.

The example reminded me of the statue of St. Damian — the priest who served on the leper settlement in Molokai, Hawaii — in the U.S. Capitol. At the bottom of it is a saying by its creator Marisol Escobar. She wrote that she saw in the face of St. Damian a mystical inspiration of a man who was what he wanted to be.

No doubt, many of us have had a similar experience. Take, for example, meeting the right person for marriage and saying to yourself, this is who I want to be with the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, we live in an age that often presents images of what we should be that are not really what we desire down deeply. It is also a cosmetic age that prompts us to look glamorous and to consider this being what we want to be like.

Going deeper into the parable of the prodigal son prompts us to look into ourselves and ask, “Who do I really want to be?”

The question goes beyond being self-confident. Rather, it prompts us to ask, “In the eyes of God who made me, for what did God make me?”

When we ask this question, life takes on a deeper meaning in which we envision it through the eyes of God, in addition to seeing it through our own eyes. There is nothing more beautiful than a person who humbly puts himself or herself in the providence of God.

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