That son, who receives from the father the portion of the inheritance that is due to him and leaves home to squander it in a far country “in loose living,” in a certain sense is the (individual) of every period, beginning with the one who was the first to lose the inheritance of grace and original justice. The analogy at this point is very wide-ranging. The parable indirectly touches upon every breach of the covenant of love, every loss of grace, every sin. In this analogy there is less emphasis than in the prophetic tradition on the unfaithfulness of the whole people of Israel, although the analogy of the prodigal son may extend to this also. “When he had spent everything,” the son “began to be in need,” especially as “a great famine arose in that country” to which he had gone after leaving his father’s house. And in this situation “he would gladly have fed on” anything, even “the pods that the swine ate,” the swine that he herded for “one of the citizens of that country.” But even this was refused him.
As we read through the rest of this section let’s keep in mind that we might consider the elder son to be saved believers, and the father is also analogical, and not just to God.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana