Today at 9 a.m., the Holy Father visited the "Casal del Marmo" youth detention center in Rome where he celebrated the Eucharist before going on to meet the fifty young people detained there.
In his homily, the Holy Father commented on the Gospel episode of the prodigal son, in which the younger of two brothers goes out "to seek a life free from the discipline and norms of the commandments of God," and having received his inheritance leaves home for a distant land in search of "a completely different life."
The prodigal son, he went on, does not wish to remain "in the prison of the discipline of his home," but to do as he pleases. And although he is initially happy, he becomes weighed down by tedium and "in the end all that remains is a disquieting emptiness."
In this situation, the son begins "to reflect and ask himself if this is really his path in life, ... and whether it would not be better to live for others, to contribute to the construction of the world, to the growth of the human community. Thus he begins a new journey, an interior journey," and comes to believe "that he was much freer at home, ... discovering the project God had for him."
This process of maturation, the Pope said, also includes "an exterior journey:" the son returns home to restart his life, and his father - "who had left him free in order to give him the chance to understand what life is and is not" - welcomes him with open arms.
"The prodigal son understands that it is precisely the work, humility and discipline of every day that creates true joy and true freedom. So he returns home internally mature and purified. He has understood what it means to live, ... and now he is fully aware that a life without God does not work, because it lacks an essential quality, it lacks light, it lacks reason. It lacks the great sense of what it means to be a human being."
The younger of the two brothers understands that "God's commandments are not obstacles to freedom and to a happy life, but indicate the path to follow in order to find life."
"The errors we make," the Pope said, "even when they are big, do not affect the faithfulness of His love. In the Sacrament of Confession we can always begin life again. God welcomes us, He restores our dignity as His children."
The parable of the prodigal son also helps us to understand that man "is not an isolated unit," but was created "together with others, and only in being with others, in giving ourselves to others, do we find life."
Human beings are "fragile creatures exposed to evil," said the Holy Father, "but they are also capable of doing good."
"In the final instance," he concluded, "man is free. ... Freedom, we may say, is a springboard from which to dive into the infinite sea of divine goodness, but it can also be a slippery slope down which we slide towards the abyss of sin and evil, thus also losing our freedom and our dignity."
Following the Mass, Benedict XVI went to the prison gymnasium where he met with the young inmates, who are between 17 and 23 years old and 85 percent of whom are non-Italian, in the company of their families, and of administrators and volunteers of the detention center.
The Pope thanked them for their best wishes for his name day, which falls tomorrow, and gave assurances to the young people of his concern and affection for them.
"Today," he said, "is a day of celebration for you ... because the Pope has come to visit. ... But how is it possible to be joyful when one suffers, when one is deprived of freedom, when one feels abandoned?"
"God loves us, this is the source of true joy," he explained. "Even when we have everything we desire sometimes we are unhappy; yet it is possible to be deprived of everything, even of freedom and health, and yet to live in peace and joy, if in our hearts there is God. Here, then, lies the secret: God must occupy the primary place in our lives."