The Prodigal Son,
Sculpted by Herman Wald (1906-1970),
Executed in 1963,
Patinated bronze,
© Herman Wald Artist

The Prodigal Son,
Sculpted by Herman Wald (1906-1970),
Executed in 1963,
Patinated bronze,
© Herman Wald Artist

Gospel of 2 March 2024

The prodigal son

Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

Reflection on the bronze sculpture

Our sculptor, Herman Wald, was born on 7th July 1906 into a Jewish family in Romania. As you may have noticed, the Prodigal Son is outstretched, naked, vulnerable and in a pose of complete humility in front of the standing figure. The upright figure should be the father, but in our sculpture, the prodigal son does not return to his father, but to his mother. The reason behind this is that the sculptor left Romania in 1937, as it was becoming largely anti-Jewish. He left his own mother behind and, sadly, she perished in the Holocaust in 1942, whilst Herman established a new life in South Africa. In 1961 he returned to Europe to visit Auschwitz where his mother had died. This sculpture is about Herman Wald portraying himself as the prodigal son returning to his mother, expressing his survivor's guilt for leaving her behind.

The prodigal son, bent in an upward arch, shows how everything from his past, through his feet and his naked, scarred body, all lead back to his mother. The soles of his feet are turned towards us, the viewers, inviting us into his pain. The mother figure bends over him, with arms hanging helplessly by her side. She wants to support him, but she is no longer there to do so….

The artist, like the prodigal son, humbled himself through this work, admitting he had made a mistake earlier in life. In today's parable, the son returns to his father thinking he would have to plead with his father for forgiveness and that perhaps he could be taken back as one of the servants. But, as we read, his father not only forgives him, but welcomes him back with open arms and celebrates his return with a feast. The parable suggests that God the Father’s love is never in doubt. What is in doubt is our openness to receive this love which transcends all human loves.

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Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago

this sculpture upset me.
this selection by the choir of Westminster Cathedral always makes me feel better.
O Magnum Mysterium:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y9yM53TowA

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
2 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Cardinal

Oh I love that piece.

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago

This sculpture fascinates me! Where is it located? Would love to see it in person someday.

I thought I would come back here to re-analyze this sculpture or re-analyze my emotions, etc about this art…….
And I am perplexed………this sculpture makes me feel completely different than Rembrandt’s painting on the same topic.

Where is the mercy in this scuplture?
In Rembrandt, we see the hands of the Father comforting the spoiled-rotten son.
Here, the mother is “dead” so to speak…..and her hands are (as Fr. Patrick said) “hanging helplessly by her side. She wants to support him, but she is no longer there to do so”.
I see the pain and the guilt of the son, but where is the forgiveness and the mercy?
I do not think this sculpture is uplifting in any way…..that does not mean I do not think highly of it….I think it is genius, in what it shows.
But i see no forgiveness…..the mother is dead….you cannot get forgiveness from a dead person.
How do you forgive yourself than?
That is why I question………Where is God in this??
Maybe I am too naive or slow to understand……..but this scuplture, to me, is about pain.
How will the son heal? What must he do? Where does he go to get mercy?
Life is ugly and unfair and there is no mercy in this sculpture.

Last edited 2 months ago by Jamie Cardinal
Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Cardinal

TY Janey….I was thinking I was crazy……but as you say……this art is not easy to view……the despair and helplessness make me question.
I am sorry, I like Rembrandts Prodigal son better.

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Cardinal

Im confused by what you are talking about.
This sculpture is unpleasant to me because I think it doesnt show how I view God.
This sculpture to me represents guilt and loss………Rembrandts Prodigal Son shows mercy and forgiveness.
I dont know what you mean by saying will I accept Gods challenge.
This sculpture is not about God……..it is the opposite in a way.

Where is God? that thought is unpleasant to me……and thats what I think of looking at this art.
What do you see in this sculpture?

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Cardinal

Hello Janey….the time difference can be frustrating….I am in the United States and I assume you are in England……but thank you for answering my question.

You know Father’s art selection on Saturday really left an impression on me and made me think and feel certain emotions (some very scary emotions)……maybe that’s the purpose of art really: to make us think and feel and imagine.

You know I saw this beautiful film about CS Lewis and there is a scene in the movie where one of Lewis’ students tells him about why we desire to read and reach out to the world and he says “we read to know we’re not alone.”
It is true we all have our crosses to carry…..and I often feel alone….even when I am surrounded by many people, I can sometimes feel alone. But ultimately, we are NOT alone……..Jesus, Our Lord, did promise us that he would not leave us orphans……His love is always with us and this gives us strength and resilience.

It is early morning here…..a brand new day 🙂 …..my emotions are more in check ……I feel better and I am more logical.
Today is more ordered……..a good night sleep can do that for me.
The feeling of loss and guilt looking at the sculpture yesterday almost made me want to …..lets say ‘drink’. But i did not.

1 John 3:20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Divine Mercy pray for us.

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Cardinal

Okay then…..I am understanding what you mean now.
I agree life is very challenging and is very much a struggle …… and I remain and will always remain with Christ. 🙂
I cannot get through this life without Christ! I dont know how people manage without Christ.
I guess something within me needs Our Lord and Savior…..to give me strength and resilience.

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Cardinal

yes……nothing wrong to have a drink to take the edge off (if you know what I mean by that idiom)…..but its the second and third LOL etc

Ever since the pandemic I have gone back to my old ways when i was young …… but I am aware and Im on top of it now!

Ciao……hope you have a lovely day……ah to be in England 🙂
havent been there in ages and ages….but i have my memories of it.

Elvira
Member
Elvira
2 months ago

In his book, Man in Search of Meaning, Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived several Nazi concentration camps, analyzes the capacity of the human being to overcome difficulties and to always find the way of hope. Have you read this book?

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago
Reply to  Elvira

Not yet Elvira.

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago
Reply to  Elvira

What a brilliant man Viktor Frankl was………..whenever my emotions get too out of whack i think of what Frankl is supposed to have said:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
No matter what life throws at us…we have the power to choose how to react.
We are not ‘robots’……we can rise above it…..and yet………

Sometimes, I think it is easier to rely on Christ ….. I mean it is hard to be logical all the time……
this passage helps more sometimes:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

JESUS IS LORD!
I dont know how people do it by themselves….bottom line: I think its more logical to go to Christ to be saved.

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago

one more comment….i understand why some people cry out: WHY!
why is there such evil in the world!
Why can’t God hear our prayers!
God forgive me ….for doubting……but why is life at times so ugly!
It is not fair what some people have to deal with.
Where is God?

Elvira
Member
Elvira
2 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Cardinal

I’m sure the Lord will answer your questions, dear Jamie 🙏🏻

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago

Reading today’s Gospel, I immediately thought Father would have selected Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”.
And then we get this work by Herman Wald……this sculpture of the prodigal son touches my heart.

Rembrandt’s work makes me feel a variety of emotions….because there is more than just the parent-son dynamic…..
in addition to the father and son, we also ‘see’ the brother and the others. We can imagine being the prodigal son
and the Father, but we also can imagine what it is like to be the brother and the others and
we can feel their emotions, especially the brother’s anger…..and emotions of jealousy and even envy.

From Herman Wald’s work……the overwhelming emotion I feel is pain…..GUILT.
Reading what Father Patrick wrote in regards to the artist’s life broke my heart.
I cannot imagine the intensity of that kind of survivor’s guilt…..the son lives because he fled to South Africa
and his mother dies because she was left behind……..his mother died in Auschwitz!
I don’t want to imagine what that must have felt like……….I know he is deceased, but my heart even now aches for Herman Wald.

How could he ever be whole again? He let his own mother perish….the guilt you would have would be unbearable………but what could he have done?
I could not have left my mother and family behind…..couldn’t he have brought his mother to South Africa or Canada?
I heard many escaped to Australia too. And where were the other siblings? why didnt they help?
If I am obsessing over this for a few minutes, I can only imagine what this dear artist must have felt until the day he died.

Okay then… we must tame our emotions.
Art sometimes can be overwhelming. It can make us emotional……..(maybe when we are feeling vulnerable, art is too emotional for some of us?)
It is good to examine our emotions, etc……hopefully, however, we must not forget that our emotions can be tamed and controlled by logic.
Interesting……I dont know why….but this art selection may stay with me, so to speak.

Carol Heise
Member
Carol Heise
2 months ago

The prodigal son has taken on a personal meaning for me in the last four years. I have felt the pain of the father’s separation from his son very keenly every time this passage is mentioned or I read it again. It has, thankfully, a good ending, which does leave me with some hope. This sculpture does not have a good ending, which fills me with fear and much sadness. I pray every day for a reconciliation between my son and daughter, which has engulfed me as well, We are not allowed to see his children. We have no relationship with him anymore. We have tried many, many times to appeal to him. It was a part of my life that is gone forever, I guess. But, even though I feel that a death of some sort has come over me, I look at the crosses on my wall that my dear mother in law gave me years ago and try to take the words on them to heart. “there is hope in love” & “what joy in faith” I think of that poor woman in the death camp, thankful that her son was not there. No doubt, she is with her Lord, as she should be. I also would like to think the prodigal’s father had a very long and happy life with both his sons, all of them being reconciled to each other. For those of us who have been “cancelled” there is no answer right now. It reminds me of that silly sign in front of the bar that says “free beer tomorrow”.
Thank you, Mark for putting up the Rembrandt. I was taken aback by that one, too. The prodigal looks very much like my son. I pray very hard that he never feels the shame of the son in today’s sculpture.
I’m sorry I am so maudlin…thank you for putting up with me, everyone. God be with us all and same us from the pain of this life.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago
Reply to  Carol Heise

I read every word of your post Carol. God be with you. Your pain is personal and I think it can be annoying when people say I feel your pain.
Family rows like you describe are very painful. We’ve got one right now with my father-in-law’s estate. I won’t say any more.
X

Carol Heise
Member
Carol Heise
2 months ago
Reply to  Carol Heise

Thank you, Janey…I did read your earlier post and I knew. There are many of us. Thank you so much for your great kindness. We must pray for each other as well as our children.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
2 months ago
Reply to  Carol Heise

Especially for our children!

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
2 months ago
Reply to  Carol Heise

Keep praying Carol. I have been (perhaps in slightly different cirumstances) where you are now. I don’t know what the future holds but I couldn’t have imagined this time last year, what is now taking place in my life. God’s time is not our time, and sometimes we feel so frustrated that things are taking so long. Hope and pray, every day.

Carol Heise
Member
Carol Heise
2 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Thank you SFG…I wait on the Lord. “commit your ways to the Lord…have faith in Him and He will act”. “Lord…help my unbelief”

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
2 months ago
Reply to  Carol Heise

Dear Carol, I join with those in the CA community whose hearts are touched by your words. I pray that the huge heart of Jesus might comfort and strengthen you as you persevere through your pain. I feel you have a loving community here that is united in our support.

Last edited 2 months ago by Mark Crain

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