Seven Lessons from Prodigal Son

What Fathers can Learn from the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Part 2)


The attempt to find happiness apart from God the Father is the root of all the misery in human life.

Many times we transfer that alienation to our biological fathers.

“Coming to his senses at last,” the prodigal son concludes that his salvation lies in returning to his father. What caused the prodigal son to come to his senses? Memory of his father.

As he stood there feeding those pigs in his selfish disaffection, the prodigal son realized that only his father knew how precious he was. The memory of his father’s compassionate presence converts the prodigal son. The memory of the father’s goodness in the son’s mind sends him back to where he belongs.

Parents cannot predict or prevent turmoil that their children may encounter. Therefore, a Christian father must create in the present the memories that will sustain his child in conflicts of the future. Fathers have to trust with unwavering hope that their children will come to their senses and return to the right path.


The most shocking detail of this parable is the mode of the reconciliation:

“The father ran out to meet him.”

In the culture of the New Testament, a patriarch never would be caught running in public. Few things were more degrading. The father risks ruining his reputation so as not to lose the chance of reconciling with his lost son.

John Paul II in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) explains something essential about the father of the prodigal son:

“The father’s fidelity to himself is totally concentrated upon the humanity of the lost son, upon his dignity….The love for the son…[that] springs from the very essence of fatherhood, in a way obliges the father to be concerned about the son’s dignity. This concern is the measure of his love.”

A child must sense how much his own personal dignity is the focal point of his father’s loving concern. Thus, not only must a father be ever-approachable — he must actually make the approach and rush to initiate reconciliation with wayward children.


What the father gives his reunited child — the robe, the ring, the shoes and the feast — are signs that the father wants to invest his son with his life – to generate him in a spiritual way. The father recognizes just how much his formerly dissolute son needs to be generated, or reborn.

When we are generated we know we belong to one whose constant love sustains us. When we are generated we are lifted up out of our fears, our self-assertion and our self-sufficiency.

Being generated means we possess parrhesia, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as straightforward simplicity, filial trust, joyous assurance, humble boldness, the certainty of being loved (2778).

And when we are generated, we want to depend on the one who generates us. We want to respond, comply, devote ourselves to his direction, be obedient.

Being generated saves us from becoming degenerate. However, no one can generate unless he is being generated. By generating his son, the father prepares him to become a father himself.

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