Listening to the parable of the Prodigal Son in today's Gospel, I reflected on how ready we are, on the other hand, to sell ourselves into slavery—and here I am not talking only about Americans, but about humans in general. The prodigal son was prepared to become his father's slave just so he could get enough to eat. It wasn't difficult for him to make that decision because he was already a slave to the man whose pigs he was forced to feed. Even before that, however, he had willingly become a slave to his own passions. Like so many people, he probably thought that he could break free whenever he wanted, but he discovered that once you surrender your freedom, it is not an easy matter to get it back. In fact, the young man in the story was only freed by the generous, unconditional love of his father.
Our work among the poor and outcast puts us into contact with people who are similarly enslaved to vices and passions. Those who work most closely with these people talk about how difficult it is for them to become free again, even with the assistance provided by us and many others.
As much as we value our freedom, we must also recognize in ourselves a willingness to become enslaved—whether to avarice, lust, self-esteem or a host of other attractions. The tragedy of the prodigal son was that he gave up his freedom for ephemeral pleasures. The beauty of our Christian faith and our Franciscan vocation is that by giving up everything, we win that most precious gift of all, the freedom of a son of God.