24th Sun [C] 2010

Fr. Charles Irvin

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

We just heard one of the most famous of all the parables employed by Jesus in His teaching, the parable of the prodigal son. It open with: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,’ Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country…”


We rarely, if ever, pay closer attention to that part of the parable, namely the son’s decision to leave his father, probably because we want to focus on the father’s forgiving love or the elder son’s icy coldness. But today let’s consider the son’s departure and what it tells us.


First of all, the younger son is asking for his share of the inheritance that will come to him upon his father’s death. By demanding his inheritance right away he’s telling his father that as far as he is concerned his father is dead. The only useful thing the son is looking for is for his father to die. But since that won’t happen right away, he’s demanding his inheritance now. This is self-centeredness at its height. Nevertheless we’ve heard of young men and young women who have walked out on their parents, left their homes and have, in meanness of spirit, put great distances between themselves and their parents, and their childhood homes. They may as well consider their parents to be dead as far as they are concerned. Fortunately we don’t hear that story too often but when we do it always causes us to feel sad, very sad indeed.


We ought to consider what happens when people cut themselves off from their parents, their families, and their homes. That tearing asunder may at first give the younger person a sense of freedom, but it’s a freedom that comes at a terrible price. The price paid is a loss of grounding, a deep aloneness in this world, a world that is often a hostile world. Without the grounding of a home we can find ourselves to be in a sort of foreign land, surrounded by foreign people in the sense that we do not know them or understand them. Thereby we become vulnerable to being used. Spiritually and emotionally, and perhaps financially as well, we can become emptied and bankrupt. That’s one of the points being made in Jesus’ parable. The younger son ended up penniless, his self- respect in tatters while living among pigs, starving not only for food but more importantly for love.


Life is all about relationships. We are made in the image and likeness of God, the God whose very nature is to be Persons totally in love and existing for each other in infinitely deep relationships. We came from that God, and our destiny is to find ourselves in living out that reality. Leaving home, separating ourselves from our parents and families is lethal; it is death dealing, a form of slow suicide.


Now all that I have put in front of you so far is about situations in which people of their own choice cut themselves off from not only their fathers, but their mothers and families as well. Consider now the terrible truth that the majority of men who populate our nation’s prison systems are men who have been fatherless. From the time they were little babies until they grew into their teen years they had no fathers, either physically or else emotionally. The terrible cost of being fatherless is found in many young men (not all, thank God) who have turned to gangs to find their self-worth. In joining a gang they have find a sense of identity, of who they are. It’s always a twisted image; it always results in hate-filled hearts and souls; it always causes them to become anti-social and commit terrible crimes of violence. Being fatherless, homeless, and alone in our hostile world exacts a dreadful toll on the individual souls involved and a terrible cost to our society as a whole.


Ten years ago a study was done that resulted in these findings:


85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (U.S. Center for Disease Control);

90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes (U.S. Bureau of the Census);

80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes (Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26, 1978);

70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988); 

85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home (Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992).


Fatherless children are: 

5 times more likely to commit suicide;

32 times more likely to run away;

20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders;

14 times more likely to commit rape;

9 times more likely to drop out of high school;

10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances;

9 times more likely to end up in a mental institution;

20 times more likely to end up in prison.


Those numbers are now ten years old and we can only speculate on what they are today. Likewise we can only speculate on the resulting huge costs borne now by federal, state, and local governments.


As Catholic Christians, we place a heavy emphasis on God’s plan for us to be born and raised in what today’s media calls the “Traditional Family,” as if it simply one option among many living arrangements. We recognize, of course, that many wives and children lose their husbands and fathers because of death, disease, or other causes and go on to successfully raise their children and keep their families intact. I am in no way dismissing the roles of mothers and other women in raising children. But fathers and adult male figures are important and along with the roles of women and they need to be recognized. May God bless each and every one of them.


Today’s Gospel account with its parable involves situations in which a son or a daughter leaves home and family as a result of their own choice. Such a choice brings with it great peril, peril to one’s soul and peril to one’s relational life with all others.

May we, as Catholics, do all in our power to build up all families and likewise do all that we can to cherish, care for, and support youngsters who have lost either their fathers or their mothers.


The human family is the cradle of not only our American culture but of human life, and of peace and harmony in the world that surrounds us. Certain voices in our world sneer at that but the family is, after all is said and done, the building block of our society.


Finally, I ask you to consider that the key figure in today’s Gospel account is not the prodigal son, it is rather his father. May we have a father’s love for all children, a love that comes from the love of our Father in heaven.



[Note for the homilist: The statistics can be found at http://www.quebecoislibre.org/000610-9.htm#macbas]



About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”