On the Saturday of the Second Week of Lent in the traditional calendar, the Church presents us with the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). It is one of the two best known of all of Christ's parables, the other being that of the Good Samaritan. The relevance of the parable to this season of repentance is obvious: The Prodigal Son, having received his inheritance early and squandered it in a "far country," finally comes to his senses and returns to his father. His story of repentance is one that all of us, on some level, have lived in our own lives—and, on another level, still need to live.
Still need to live? How can that be? Aren't we good Christians, or at least don't we try to be?
Saint Ambrose of Milan, in a commentary on the parable of the Prodigal Son, says that the "far country" represents the world, the life outside of the Church. We are pulled back into that world constantly, because its fleeting pleasures have their attractions. We are tempted to take our inheritance—the grace that God has given us through our Baptism and the reception of the sacraments—and to squander it in pursuit of the things of this world. But, says Saint Ambrose, we should not "envy the pleasures of them who remain in the far country."
We too have once been there, but, as saith Isaiah, they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. And that far country is the land of the shadow of death.
If the world is the "far country" of the parable, the father's house, as Saint Ambrose points out, is the Church. She awaits us with open arms, whenever we come to our senses and return to Her. Have we squandered our inheritance, fallen from grace, through our infatuation with the things of this world? The Sacrament of Confession awaits. The door to the confessional is always open; the Church, like the father in the parable, sees us coming and responds with compassion.
If we repent and return to His house, no sin is too great to cut us off from the Father's love. The Prodigal Son declares, "I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son." Yet his father accepts his confession and welcomes him back with the greatest of joy, "Because this my son was dead, and is come to life again: was lost, and is found."
How often do we fall away, in little things and in big? Perhaps we find ourselves at Mass every Sunday, but do our feet stay firmly rooted there throughout the week, or do we spend the other six days squandering our inheritance—taking God's grace for granted—in that far country? Where does our heart truly lie—in our Father's house, or in the world?