Before his conversion, Saint Augustine was lost. He lived a life of self-indulgence and wantonness. His mother prayed for many years that God would seize Augustine’s heart, which is exactly what happened. After his conversion, Augustine had a lot to say about being lost: “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
Sometimes we, too, feel lost. We make choices that leave us feeling far from God—both big choices and small daily compromises with sin—and our lives don’t look like they once did. We’ve wandered off. We spend time with people who don’t expect much from us and lead us into trouble. Maybe we start drinking, using drugs, hooking up, or skipping out on things we once cared about. We look around and wonder, “What have I done?” or “Who am I?” Sometimes we feel lost even though our lives don’t look very different. We haven’t wandered off; rather, we’ve slipped into a sort of auto-pilot. During these times, we may still go to Mass and attend to all of our responsibilities, but our hearts aren’t really in it. During these times we may feel invisible, unwanted, and unloved. Like the lost coin, we’re in the house but we’ve forgotten our value. We’re tempted to stay hidden in the couch cushions because we’re not sure anyone cares.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes important promises for the times we feel lost. If you wander away, Jesus promises that He has strong shoulders to get you home. If you feel rejected and alone, Jesus promises that He sees your worth and is eager to grab hold of your heart. How do you respond to these promises? How do you trade your restless heart for the loving embrace of God?
The answer lies in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When we wander away, the path home lies in reconciliation. When we find ourselves in big trouble, it is easy to be defensive. We blame other people for our bad choices. We expect other people to clean up our messes. We risk full-out despair by believing that no one could ever love us after what we’ve done. The prodigal son shows us a different way. Instead of blame, denial, or despair, we can trust in God’s mercy and seek forgiveness. We can offer restitution for the wrongs we’ve done. Restitution means that we try to restore what has been lost. If I have stolen something, I return it. If my behavior has broken someone’s trust in me, I work to earn that trust back. This path requires remarkable courage and faith. It is not an easy path when you first start walking it, but it becomes easier and brings genuine freedom. There is also an older brother in the story and Jesus wants us to notice him, too. The older son needs transformation as much as the younger son. When the younger son returns, the older brother basically says, “Haven’t I done everything right? I’ve earned a place here, he hasn’t!” The father gently reminds his older son of their relationship: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” He opens his older son’s eyes to the life he has enjoyed with the father. Jesus wants to shift our focus, too. It is very easy to lose sight of our relationship with God and the blessings we experience in life. Daily prayer helps us to remain attentive to and grateful for God’s loving presence. If you do not have a daily prayer practice yet, find one. Experiment until you find one that fits you. If you don’t know where to begin, use five minutes in the morning or in the evening to quiet your mind and thank God for the day. As you settle into prayer, remember that God is a shepherd with strong shoulders ready to lift you. God is eagerly searching for you like the woman searching for just one coin. God is a loving parent standing with open arms. God is running to you – let yourself be found. You are worth it, you are loved, and you are never alone. That is today’s Good News!