If there is an image that describes our postmodern world, it is the Prodigal Son. Everyone has heard of this Gospel parable where the son of a rich man takes his inheritance and goes to the city and squanders it.
When he runs out of money and famine comes upon the land, he becomes a swine herder and is reduced to eating the husks of the swine. He then remembers his father’s house and returns to the open arms of his father—and the complaints of his faithful brother.
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By saying that the parable applies to our times, does not mean to say that we live in a world that is repentant and desires to return to the Father’s house. There were many phases in the life of the Prodigal Son. Right now he is much more prodigal and much less son. We are now living in his phase of reckless consumption, sin and the enjoyment of life that forgets about God.
Meaning of the Word Prodigal
Prodigal describes our society today. The word, prodigal, comes from the Latin prodigere which means to drive away, or squander.
A dictionary definition of prodigal is “characterized by lavish or wasteful expenditure.” To put it in other more postmodern terms, we can say that those who are prodigal are people who engage in the frenetic intemperance of wanting everything now, instantly and effortlessly, so that they might enjoy lives without restraint.
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Like all Gospel parables, the Prodigal Son story is valid for all times and all peoples. It can also be seen from both a personal and social perspective.
From a personal perspective, many of us can look at our own prodigal son past and think about the suffering of the Father. We can also be thankful that we were rescued from our follies and returned back home.
However, the parable can also be seen from a social perspective. The Prodigal Son story can apply to peoples, nations and historical epochs.
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Applying the Parable to America Today
The parable of the Prodigal Son explains what is happening in America today. Hopefully, it will also involve our path to repentance and conversion.
If we paint the prodigal son picture in America today, it would look like this:
The flight of the Prodigal Son from his father’s house represents the apostasy of modern man from Christian civilization. The process is described by the book, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution” by the Catholic thinker, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. It involves the four great revolutions in modern history — the Protestant, French, and Communist Revolutions and the Sixties’ Sexual/Anarchical Revolution. America as a nation has participated in this great apostasy.
The city represents all that is revolutionary, sensual and sinful in our culture and takes us from the path of virtue.
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The father’s house is the Church and Christian civilization that was left behind.
The inheritance represents all that Christianity produced that was good. It was humanity’s true progress. Indeed, Christendom laid the foundation for so many things that we value today—education, law, hospitals, technology, and economic theory. All these things had their roots in Christian civilization. We live off these fruits even today. These things now help keep some semblance of order in society.
The sin of our revolutionary society is that we have taken this inheritance and shamelessly squandered it. We have been prodigal.
We have turned our backs upon God saying: We take all that is yours and use it for evil. We refuse to recognize Thee as the source of all that is. Instead, we say: I will do my own thing. I don’t need your help anymore.
This is our tragic Prodigal Son scenario of America today.