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April 23, 2020

The Return of The Prodigal Son – Book Review

The Return of The Prodigal Son – Book Review

By Nessya Santoso

For my Lenten Reflection, I chose to read The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. The book is a reflection on a famous Rembrandt painting titled “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (1669) which was inspired from the Bible story “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11–32).

The book reflects upon three main characters; the Younger Son, who was lost and finally returns to the Father. The Elder Son, who was jealous of the Younger Son. And finally, the Father, who loves both sons equally. It is a story of “returning home” for both sons and also an invitation to become the Father.


Like most of you, I have to stay at home and if I can be honest… it’s tough. A dearest friend of mine shared how she could not get a good night’s sleep because she thinks about a lot of things in a day and it’s hard to feel alive if this is what we call living. Being at home no longer relaxes our minds because we continuously have to think about what to do next and adjust what was our ‘normal’ routine to our ‘new life’. This makes me think that the feeling of ‘being at home’ must give a safety net to the mind and soul. Yet, we have lost that because we are not returning anywhere to rest since everything is at home.

Thus, this journey of “returning home” holds a profound meaning as to return to a place where we can finally rest. But then, what does ‘resting’ mean to us?

When I reflect on this word, I find that ‘resting’ means I am at peace, and the word ‘peace’ itself, I believe, can only be found in Jesus Himself. So, it’s true that the Journey of Returning always ends in Jesus because only in Him, we can find peace (a resting place for the mind and soul).

In some ways, we are much like the sons in the story that Henri describes as we are yearning to come back ‘home’ (a restful place). The Elder Son desires this as much as the Younger Son, in fact, he is as lost as his brother. Perhaps we too are lost in this ‘living condition’ and now searching for a way to come back’ home’. However, the book does not just tell you to return home, it has a much deeper meaning and I think we can all learn from it. The book invites us to also become the Father. It’s asking for us to go on a journey to become the Father.

“…there is a call beyond the call of to return, It is a call to become the Father who welcomes home and calls for a celebration” (page 119).

The Return of the Prodigal Son


First, we need to identify the characteristics of the Father. According to Henri (based on his observation both from the Bible and the painting), he is a father who embraces the lost son in his merciful arms, who loves both sons equally, and invites both to delight in the joyful celebration.

To me, there’s a sweet calling for each of us to receive this invitation of joy and enter into that joy, especially during this time. Sometimes it is easy for us to get used to living with sadness, “and so have lost the eyes to see joy and the ears to hear the gladness that belongs to God” (page 115).

Jesus is a man of sorrow, but He is also a man of complete joy. Perhaps a real calling is not to wait around until we come ‘home’ to receive the peace and joy that we are yearning; but rather to be the peace and joy that the world needs right now. There is an urgency where now is the perfect time for us to become the Father and invite the world to delight in the joy that sometimes can only be seen in the corners of the world.

I think about the amount of time I have in a day and how much time I have spent to be the Father to the people around me. Ask yourself a question, what would you do today to bring joy to other people’s lives? It’s probably a better reflection to ponder every day than worrying about the current situation, which is not good for your mental health.

Perhaps a few simple things you can do are:

  • Make a cup of coffee for your parents in the morning
  • Take up some extra work to help your colleague’s project
  • Send a good morning message to your friends and family
  • Invite your friends to join in prayer online and don’t forget to pray for them
  • Offer to help an elderly neighbour do their grocery shopping
  • Bake cakes in your free time and offer it to someone you know lost their job and say a few comforting words to encourage them

We are all in this together and now is the time for us to invite them into the joyful celebration God has called us to.

Let’s ask our Mother for her powerful intercession to guide us through this time of sorrow and strengthen us in the joy and hope of our Lord Jesus…

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Pope Francis Prayer for protection from coronavirus

Catholic Youth Ministry
Catholic Youth Ministry
Catholic Youth Ministry is the official agency supporting and promoting youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Perth. Our aim is to assist young adults to build a deep and lasting relationship with Jesus and to help them find their place in the Church and the world.