*Special Message, followed by Reflection: Dear Reader—We are thrilled to share that a generous benefactor to LifeCraft has given a gift of $100,000 and encouraged us to match it dollar-for-dollar before December 31 at 11:59 pm as part of our Beginning at Home campaign. People are hungry for the work of LifeCraft, and we will always keep the Wednesday Quote you’re about to read and our courses and other resources completely free. You will be hearing more from me and Sofia about Beginning at Home over the coming days and weeks, and we hope you will consider making a tax deductible gift to LifeCraft before the year ends—even right now by clicking here—to reach our ambitious goal of raising $100,000. Thank you, as always, for being a faithful reader and supporter of our community at LifeCraft.* ~ ~ ~

The story of the prodigal son is foundational in the imagination of Christian civilization. It can also be foundational in how we think about our homes. The prodigal’s flight from home, his return, and the brother’s refusal to enter this pivotal family moment forces us to think again about the surprising complexity of human happiness. Beginning in our own homes.

Commentators point to the older brother’s envy and its horrible consequences. Ambrose of Milan offers a striking image of him standing outside looking in at the celebration, and “he could not hear the dancing and music…the harmonious song of a people, resounding with the sweet pleasantness of joy for a sinner saved.” Another commentator simply notes, “He was unwilling to enter into the common joy.”

Home is the icon of true human happiness. Home is where we learn what it is to be happy. And here in this most amazing of stories we glimpse some under-appreciated aspects of happiness: wayward loved ones and their return; the offering and receiving of mercy; and the challenges this implies for all of us.

For me as a teacher of philosophy and student of Aristotle this should give pause. A common mantra in my teaching and my reflection is the intrinsic connection between virtuous activity and real happiness. And here the prodigal son dances with joy, surely along with his father(!), as the seemingly ‘good’ brother looks on and smolders. Has the connection of good character and happiness been unhinged?

The good news here, I think, is that this Gospel story forces us to look more closely at basic principles, and, if we’re careful, will bring them into clearer focus.

The essential place of virtue is in no way impugned. Key to the joy of the return is precisely that it is a leaving behind of a wayward lifestyle and a setting forth (perhaps again, perhaps for the first time) on the path of virtue: a path the son will now share with his father, moving forward. But what about the brother?

Envy at mercy offered to another reveals an inner problem behind the outward appearance of goodness. Perhaps we have seen this in ourselves. If our heart were in the right place, how could we envy mercy offered to the repentant?

This amazing story then at once points to an ever-active, ever-ready Mercy as well as to the dangers of self-righteousness. Indeed, those making headway on the path to virtue are reminded that they too are the objects of mercy, including a forgiving mercy they might need at any moment.

Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of the story is the message for all households suffering under the shadow of prodigal children. There is no joy like the joy on the return of those who have wandered. Here there is a new togetherness that fairly shines, all the brighter by comparison to the suffering of separation. This can give us new hope, and new resolution in maintaining an open heart and persevering in watchfulness and prayer, while our loved ones are in foreign lands.

I really do wonder: is there any family togetherness like the bond experienced from repentance, mercy offered, and mercy received. Together.

“…the dancing and music…the harmonious song of a people, resounding with the sweet pleasantness of joy for a sinner saved.” Ambrose says the older brother couldn’t or wouldn’t hear it. But oh yes, what a sweet sound! Perhaps here most especially is the icon of human happiness: the incomparable joy of a returned prodigal to the heart of the home; where he belongs; where we all belong. ~ ~ ~


Here’s a VIDEO on Finding Rest in the Home

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