Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!
When the younger son sought his share of the inheritance, he must have wanted to gain independence from his father as soon as possible. Isn’t this the dream of every young person – to go as far as possible from his parents in order to be on his own? Like most young men, this son must have thought that if he leaves his father, he will be happier as he thought that he would be beyond his father’s control and thus, enjoy the freedom to be himself and do as he pleases. He must have enjoyed his “freedom” while it lasted – meaning, while he had money to spend and friends to keep him company. But eventually, when he had spent everything, he had nothing. Then reality shook him to his senses. He realized a truth which he did not appreciate before: “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough to eat…” Thinking that he would be better off and even happier if he were free from his father, the son realized that those who stayed with his father, even the servants, were happy because they had more than enough of what they needed to live.
And so he decided to return to his father, not to return as a son (for he rightly thought that he did not deserve his filial right), but as a servant, a hired worker. This indignity he was willing to swallow, just so that he could have food for his hungry belly. And yet, when he returned, the unexpected came about. His father ran toward him and would have nothing of his prepared speech. Instead he ordered his servants to bring out 3 things: a robe, a pair of sandals, and a ring. The robe means the restoration of human dignity. The saying “the clothes make up the man” has a grain of truth in it. Contrary to what our modern world says, nakedness is the deprivation of human dignity. That is why when Adam and Eve sinned, they realized that they were naked. Wanting to be freed from God, they found themselves dehumanized. The Lord Jesus was stripped naked when he was crucified. It was the depth of his humiliation to be exposed naked before the curious crowd. Thus, the Lord bid us to clothe the naked as an act of mercy.
The pair of sandals signified the status of a free man. Slave walk unshod. Freemen were shoes. Thus, the father restored to his son not only his dignity but also his freedom – authentic freedom which is enjoyed by the sons and daughters of God.
The ring is the sign of both love and authority. It was the sign that the son belongs to his father. The father loved his son and gave him authority in his household. The father was more than willing to accept his son back – and not as a slave but as a son: “Let us celebrate and rejoice because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and has been found.”
St. Augustine remarked: “We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated.” (CCC, 1718) Unfortunately, many of us are deceived into thinking that we can pursue our own happiness by ourselves – apart from God. We seek satisfaction from the world and even from our own sources and we find out that none of these is able to answer our deepest longing. And so St. Augustine says, “How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life. Let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul, and my soul draws life from you.” (Ibid.) Do you seek satisfaction? St. Thomas Aquinas answers, “God alone satisfies.”
Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!