"To the Youth..."
a letter by St. John of San Francisco
"(...) And the younger of them said to the father, ‘Father, give me a portion of goods that falleth to me' ”
The parable of the prodigal son offers a most enlightening lesson for youth. It reveals to us through the person of the prodigal son the true character of superficial youthfulness: folly, irrationality, the passion for independence; in a word, everything which usually describes the majority of young people. The younger son grew up in his parents’ home. Having reached his adolescent years, he begins to consider that his parents’ home has become “much too cramped”. It becomes unpleasant for him to live under the supervision of his father and the watchful eye of his mother. He wants to imitate his friends who had given themselves over to the noisy pleasures of the world. “I am,” he contends, “the heir of a wealthy inheritance. Would it not be better to receive my portion now? I could then manage my wealth differently from the way my father manages his.” And the foolish youth, deceived by the illusionary splendor of the pleasures of the world, decides to throw off the yoke of obedience and flee from his parents’ home.
Do not such similar motives compel many even today to forsake, if not the homes of their earthly parents, then the home of their Heavenly Father, i.e., to forsake obedience to the Holy Church?
To those who are still immature in their rational thought, Christ’s yoke appears to be too heavy and His commandments too difficult. They think that there is no particular need to obey that which God and His Holy Church commands. They think that it is possible to serve God and not renounce serving the world. They say, “We are already strong enough to withstand the onslaught of deadly temptation and scandal. We are already able by ourselves to remain firm in truth and sound teachings. Allow us to perfect our knowledge with a large variety of sources of information. Give us the opportunity to personally strengthen our will amidst temptations and trials. And let us experience the vileness of sin for ourselves.” In what way are such rationalizations any better than that rash request, which the younger son made to his father when he asked, “Father, grant me the portion of my inheritance!”?
Thus, the foolish son then ceases to submit to the commandments and counsels of the Holy Church. He ceases his study of the Word of God and the teachings of the Holy Fathers, and instead wastes the best hours of his life by paying heed to the pontification of those who are falsely called teachers. He attends the services in God’s Temple less and less often, or, when in church, stands there inattentively, distractedly. He does not find it possible to strive diligently toward piety and to exercise himself in the pursuit of virtues because the greater part of his time is spent in attending spectacles (events with a questionable moral character) and entertainments: in a word, every day he gives himself over more and more to the world and in the end departs “to that distant land.”
To what does such alienation from the Holy Church lead? To the same crisis that the prodigal son encountered as a result of his departure from his parent’s house. The foolish youth quickly wastes the splendid powers and abilities of his soul and body and destroys all his previous accomplishments which would have benefited him in time and eternity. In the meantime, he is stricken by a “great famine in that land.” He begins to experience emptiness and dissatisfaction, the inevitable byproducts of excessive merrymaking. He lusts for pleasure, a thirst that only intensifies the more he satisfies his defiling passions. In the end, this need becomes unquenchable. And as often happens, this miserable lover of the world succumbs to base and shameful activities in order to satisfy his passions. These activities prevent him from coming to his senses in the way that the prodigal son did. Therefore, rather than returning to the path of salvation, he seals his own destruction, both temporal and eternal.