Two Brothers and Their Demons

Today’s Gospel gives us a familiar tale: Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Many of us have prayed with this passage many times, perhaps doing an Ignatian Contemplation on it. At times we identify with one or the other of the brothers.

Ron Rolheiser, talks about the fact that our hearts are a “murky cauldron of grace and sin, angels and demons” and that to go into the desert, as we do in Lent, means staring in the face our inner demons.

He illustrates the demons we face through the two brothers in the Prodigal Son parable: “the demons of the prodigal son, grandiosity and unbridled sexuality; and the demons of the older son, paranoia and joylessness.” Rolheiser writes

Grandiosity is the demon that tells us that we are the center of the universe, that our lives are more important than those of others. Unbridled sexuality is the demon of obsession, addiction, and lust. Its urge is to bracket everything else – sacred commitment, moral ideal, and personal consequence – for a single, furtive pleasure.

Paranoia is the demon of bitterness, anger, and jealousy. It makes us believe that life has cheated us, that the celebration is always about others, and never about us. This demon fills us with the urge to be cynical, cold, distrustful, and cursing. Finally, the last demon in this family tells us that joylessness is maturity, that cynicism is wisdom, and that bitterness is justice. This is the demon that keeps us from entering the room of celebration and joining the dance.

Rolheiser suggests that each of these demons are inside each one of us. I suspect he is right. Perhaps not to the extent we see them actualized in the two brothers, but at least strains of each.

Can you identify each in yourself? Can you stare your demons in their face?