Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Freedom in Lent

We all know the story of the Prodigal Son. Traditionally, the father in the parable represents our heavenly father, the older son represents the Pharisees who live the letter of the law but not the love of the law, the wayward son represents all sinners.

However, the beauty of a parable is that it can have many layers -layers that speak to us at different times in our lives and even during different liturgical seasons of the Church.

Which is why this parable is also a story about Lent and what happens when we misuse one of God’s most beautiful gifts ... the gift of free will.

You’re probably wondering, “What does free will have to do with Lent?” I know that many times Lent seems as if we are in chains ... that Lent is all about what not to eat, or what not to watch, or when to go to church. There seems to be nothing free about it at all.

But the wonderful thing about these next 40 days is that each and every day serves to remind us to appreciate the free will that is God’s gift to us; that we have the power and self-discipline to live as free people.

The key is to devote that freedom to God.

And in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, both sons show what happens when we misuse our God-given free will.

In the case of the younger son, he desired independence from his father -- both his earthly and his heavenly father -- and wanted to be in charge of his own life. He mistakenly thought that freedom could be found in the opportunity to do what he wanted; he didn't realize that freedom comes not from the opportunity to choose, but from choosing the right thing. Instead of finding freedom, he became enslaved to his own selfish desires.

On the other hand, the older son shows us a different kind of misuse of free will.

Lent isn’t meant to be oppressive, or weigh us down, or enslave us; if we let it do that, then we are like the older son who merely goes through the motions of doing the right thing. His misuse of free will is that he does it out of obligation ... it wears him down ... and there is no freedom in that. He doesn’t freely choose to do the right thing, he does it because he has to.

God created us in His image, and He loved us so much that he let us go ... and just like the father in the parable who lets his youngest son go only to eventually have him return home, God releases us because he wants us to freely choose him instead of being forced to choose him.

Wisdom teaches us that unless we are free to say no to something, we are not free to say yes to it. During Lent we are reminded that our free will of saying “yes” and “no” is a gift from a loving parent.

And that is what Lent is: a time to say “no” for a while so that we can fully appreciate it when we say “yes”.

Saint John Paul II said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right (or the free will) to do what we ought.”

And that’s what I want my Lenten journey to be about . . . to choose God in everything and experience that freedom he so desires us to have.

13 comments:

E said...

Well first I loved this.
I would love to talk to you about free will. There is a lot of neuroscience now that suggests we don't have any.
It is almost impossible for me to grasp. i am a control freak. To give my will over to God was hard enough, to suggest that I don't have any to begin with is a complication I almost cannot bear.
But the science is there and it is getting stronger. Lots of the nuero scientists are working on it. They have mapped so many of our decision making functions, Not all, but so many. There are even genetic components to spiritual belief. Some DNA is predisposed to belief. Is that because families who believe raise others who will as well, and their DNA is represented and connected?
Tonight I prefer your parable. It is a gentler notion.
I am thinking a lot about this now. Your post was perfect for me now in this moment.
I often feel like I was supposed to find you Bia. Again and again...thank you

Cheryl Lage said...

Saying no to appreciate saying yes.
Amen. Bia, you are a wise, insightful interpreter. Thank you.

Tiziana said...

Sono rimasta più di mezz'ora al computer con il vocabolario in mano per tradurre al meglio quello che hai scritto. Ne sono rimasta molto colpita. Certamente penserò molto alle tue parole e ti ringrazio per la bella lezione che mi hai dato sulla quaresima.

SuzyQ said...

What an interesting post :0) I love the way you illustrate how we can fail to use our free will for God by making a comparision with the story of the prodical son. It is one of my all time favourite parables.
Like you say there are so many layers in it that only become apparent over time.
We can often start our journey in faith, it seems, as the son who used his free will to leave his fathers house only to become, in time, the son who stays dutifully yet joylessly.
To stay for love of "Our Father" alone is the best way. Lent is such a wonderful time to try and nurture our relationship with our Heavenly Father!
Thanks for sharing this :0)

GrandmaK said...

"Lent isn’t meant to be oppressive, or weigh us down, or enslave us; if we let it do that, then we are like the older son who merely goes through the motions of doing the right thing." I was struck by this because that was me for some time. At last I have found my way! Very good lesson! Thank you! Cathy

Soutenus said...

What a wonderful post!
Whenever I hear the story of the prodigal son two things pop into my head. . . . the Godspell version :-)
I think all my little theater students know the Bible a lot better after having performed Godspell (WITH, may I mention, an added resurrection scene)

I also think of my friend, Randy, who has always been disturbed by this parable. He sees himself as the good son and feels the whole story is so unfair to that son. I need to share this post with him.
Maybe it will help him understand the symbolism AND understand that we are all the prodigal son.

I LOVED this part,
"He mistakenly thought that freedom could be found in the opportunity to do what he wanted; he didn't realize that freedom comes not from the opportunity to choose, but from choosing the right thing. Instead of finding freedom, he became enslaved to his own selfish desires."

Bia said...

Cara Tizi,

Ho sentito che forze, forze venite in agosto. Che fantastico! Non vedo l'ora.

Laura said...

Lovely expression.
Free will. God wants us to choose him freely. It is so important that we be prudent in our everyday choices. Lent helps me to get back on track with those daily choices and behaviors.
Thanks for a thoughtful post.

Lisa said...

So insightful and perfectly explained, Bia! First full week of Lent coming up with renewed will to say "yes" to "no"! I'm with E, in saying that I feel always blessed to have found you in this wide world.

E said...

One more thing...
My big kids were home this weekend and I read your blog to them one night while we were in front of the fire drinking spicy hot chocolate. We talked about the question of freedom in our choices and how saying no makes yes so much sweeter.
This was a wonderful discussion. Thanks Bia

Alexandra said...

A nice reflection, thank you!

Ellen Stewart (aka Ellie/El/e) said...

I want this everyday, too bad I keep getting in the way.

I'm so blessed to know you.

Jessica said...

Lovely!