Song du Jour

Song du Jour

Benedictine Thoughts, Teachings, and Prayers

The Prodigal Son: Lessons of the Heart

March 11, 2013

In these past few weeks of Lent, God has really challenged us by trying to teach us through the power of story as well as through “nature.”


Last week, I brought to mind how wood looks dead but comes back to life in the spring. We heard in last week’s Gospel about a fig tree and how not to give up on its lack of growth for we need to cultivate and fertilize the ground around it. We heard last week also about the “burning bush” afire and speaking to Moses but not being consumed. So far, I have recognized botanical nature but now am focusing in on “humanness” with biological nature: “the human heart.” Since Ash Wednesday, we have been asked to change our hearts, soften them, allow the heart to gather tears for fertilization, cleanse old ideas and mindsets, and to grow into a deeper relationship with God.


The Prodigal Son teaches us many lessons of the heart especially in the heart of a family. When there is more than one child in a family, there is measuring: one getting more than the other…life isn’t fair…I have done everything right and he hasn’t…he is loved more than I am loved…why can’t father see this?


It has gone on since the beginning of time. If we do not measure or judge we could see with clearer eyes. But how do we see? We do not see things as they really are; we see things as we are. Talking with God will help us in seeing things the way they really are. There are so many aspects to this story: looking at it from the father’s eyes, from the good son’s eyes, and from the “prodigal son’s” eyes. A father will always love his children; he may get hurt and be angry but he will always love his son. The “good son” who felt that he did everything right through life for his father, sees that he is being shortchanged after doing what was expected of him. The “prodigal son” felt ashamed for he realized that he had sinned against heaven and his father. He was remorseful. His father was so elated to see him that he hugged and kissed him welcoming him back. When the “good son” saw this, it provoked anger for his eyes saw this as such unfairness. I am talking about the “eyes of the heart” here. There are three sets of eyes attached to three hearts; all feeling differently. What will it take to melt the “good son’s” frozen heart? I believe that through God’s grace, we are given an interiority of understanding where we (God and I) talk it over until I see things God’s way. It takes a swallowing of pride, a removal of ego, and a lot of humble pie to melt the frozen heart into a glowing heart of love.


In Gregory Collins’ book, Meeting Christ in His Mysteries: A Benedictine Vision of the Spiritual Life, he talks about “irreplaceable human factors: which involve a penitent who must be truly sorry from their heart and the person who accepts their penitent heart.” Collins also discusses how sin and guilt are so destructive of life; our own as well as others. “Sin and guilt are like bands of constricting cloth which confine us like bandages tightly bound around us. Sin is a crippling, limiting, hindering force that stops us from becoming what God wants us to be.” By the Prodigal Son’s father welcoming him back with open arms, he pardons his son who turns to God for forgiveness; to someone turned to him by grace. “Forgiveness cuts away the strangulating bands…God’s liberating word pierces the darkness and penetrates into the tomb of the heart; it calls us out into the light of life so that we can move and act with freedom,” Collins. According to Collins, it is the heart that needs to be liberated, the word of grace enters in, transforms people from within, freeing them from sin and guilt, unloosening their bonds, and renewing communion with God and the father (the forgiver).


So in conclusion, we take our botanical nature which mirrors our human nature and discern how closely they are connected. The fig tree, the burning bush, and the dry wood that sprouts green again are all images of our interiority. It is the mind, body, and spirit that transform but the heart is what beats in all of those areas. As Collins says, “forgiveness, reconciliation, and freedom aid us medicinally and therapeutically…where grace is disclosed, suffering is relieved.”


Song du jour for this week is:


Psalm 17(18): 4-5; 19)

The cords of death encompassed me;

   the torrents of perdition assailed me;

the cords of Sheol entangled me;

   the snares of death confronted me.

 …but the Lord was my support.

He brought me out into a broad place;

    he delivered me, because he delighted in me.


“That in all things God may be glorified”


Sr. Jo-El McLaughlin, OSB


ART:Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1669, oil on canvas, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg (

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