The End of Ourselves

“A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you…”

The 15th Chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke.

We are all born the children of prodigals. Born into this world; our cradle is a pigsty and our companions are devilish swine. This is the lot of each human soul wherein we are “joined” by our poverty to a citizen of that land of famine. We are taken and taught to serve the pigs. Knowing no better we accept the filth as the way the world is. We are only aware of our emptiness and when desperation overcomes disgust, we may even be tempted to fill ourselves with the slop that so pleases the unclean beasts we serve. For a time, living in this way, we may think ourselves happy and successful. But then we come to the end of ourselves. We hear a call. We feel a touch in our soul. We see a light that causes the scales to fall from our eyes and we know with sudden fury that there is something deeply wrong with our world. Our relationships with things that once filled us with pride and delight now are all bondage, sorrow and regret. We may even long for death. We may accept it as our only way out. This is not far from the truth. If we stay with the pigs, we will die and be trampled under their feet, trapped under their filth forever.

When we come to ourselves, really come to the end of ourselves, we are faced with a simple choice: Change or Die. Change begins in the heart. Long before our feet can take the first step toward a different life, before our mind can understand or hope for a different life, the compass needle of our heart must turn. It must turn away from ourselves, away from our circumstances, from our worldly lives and the unclean masters we serve. We have to turn toward the light and when we do we see for the first time that we are in chains. We are slaves, bound not by chains of iron but by our own flesh through our uncontrolled passions.

Jesus said, Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” 

In time we begin to understand that the light by which we see our bonds is beckoning us to leave the world we know, to walk out of the darkness and into…the desert. The pigsty is not a prison. there are no walls, bars or locks. There is only a narrow way through a dry and barren land. We can almost hear the pigs whispering over our shoulder, “you will die if you go out there!” We stumble and struggle to take each small step. But in time, the smell fades and we become accustomed to the light. Now we stand upright and see the path and the light leading us onward. In our mind, we may wonder if the pigs were right. We could die in the desert. We don’t know where we are being led. We don’t know how long the journey will take or what dangers lie before us. All we know is that we would rather face anything than go back to the pigs. We are learning faith. We set our face toward the sun.

We are ready to face the desert.

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