Whenever I remember the story of the prodigal son in the gospel of Luke 15 : 11-32, it tells me a lot of about freedom, joy and peace of mind. In my life, I really want to be happy, free (my name, Charles- means “a free man”), and I also want to have peace of mind. The prodigal son equally wanted these. This is the craving of, virtually, everyone in the world. People really want to be happy. I am sure you too want to be happy, have peace of mind and freedom. The prodigal son thought that to have these things, he would have to leave the presence of his own father. He saw his father as an obstacle to all of these. Isn’t that what we do today? People abandoning their loved ones and God and then going into themselves. When the prodigal son left the presence of his father to find freedom, he ended up walking into captivity – he became poor, lost everything and degenerated to the level of feeding on slops.
I remember, vividly, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Magnificat son in Luke 1: 46-55. Mary sang, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…The Almighty has done great things for me.” So, for Mary, when God is great, we become great. God is not in competition with creation. The great fifteenth-century genius, Nicholas of Cusa, said that God is non alliud- “not another thing”, in relation to the world. God is the raison d’etre of the world’s existence. What this means is that the presence of God in the world and around us does not impede the realization of who we are and our dreams. No! In fact, his presence helps us become who we are suppose to be.
If you want to be free, Jesus shows you the secret: do the Father’s will. It will free you; your own will, will addict you and enslave you. Jesus says that he came into the world not to do his own will but the will of his Father. Jesus was the most obedient man ever lived and the freest. True freedom and real peace do not come from doing whatever we want but from doing what God wants us to do and being who he wants us to be. That is why Jesus says, “if you love me you must keep my commandment. The goal of love is intimacy – staying close Jesus.
In the first reading of today the early Christians found themselves in controversy about belongingness in the Church in Antioch. Is Jewishness a criterion for becoming a member in the body of Christ? Paul and Barnabas agreed to fall back to the apostles in Jerusalem so that everyone will be involved in a more robust conversation on the question. This is crucial. In God or in the Church, community is very important. The Church is a gathering of people of God. It is not a place where I do what I just want. No Pope, bishop, priest or laity does what he or she wants in the Church. Just pay attention to what they said after the deliberation, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…”
To really be a good Christian is to learn to decentralize the self. Obedience is very important. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Misery follows whomever becomes obsessed with himself/herself, but joy, peace and freedom belong to those who are ready to deny themselves and carry their cross and follow Jesus.