I didn't know any other way. Though I could sympathize with my friend, the life of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son was foreign to me. I was a prodigal through and through, and it was how I came to God: finding Christ through heartache and brokenness, looking up from the pigsty, far from home. Not that I would necessarily advocate going this route--pursuing sin is a quixotic exercise in futility, since peace and joy are always kept at bay as you chase after illusionary windmills. The "fun" my friend refers to is really just rotten consolation fruit, and in reality, I was the one who missed out. Though I was washed clean and forgiven by the blood of Christ, I spend most of my adult life just getting back to zero in terms of the passions.
We like to think of justice and mercy as two separate things, and we may gravitate towards one of the other depending on our individual proclivities: the righteous and upright long for justice, and call on the God of vengeance to render recompense to the proud (Ps 94:1-2), while the poor in spirit cry out for mercy (Ps 86:16).
But God does not regard justice and mercy the way we humans do, in a dichotomous manner. Msgr. Pope has an excellent post here, and writes: "When we discuss the relationship between justice and mercy in the Church and in God, we must avoid distinctions that merely see them in opposition. We must seek to see them as rooted in God, simply, and in a way that harmonizes them."
I have always had to learn the hard way, doing things myself and finding out for myself. So part of me was jealous of my friend, in the same way he was jealous of me, for his ability to follow the rules. We were both brothers in faith, loved the same by the Father. And yet our struggles were different--I did not struggle with resentment of feeling like I missed opportunities, but needed mercy more than anything; my friend did not struggle as much with the damage done by sin and its fallout, but may have struggled more like the workers who went out into the vineyard at daybreak who were paid the same as those who came in the late day (Mt 20:1-16).
I can't go back and do it again, but knowing what I know now about the wasteland apart from God, I would advocate for my children--for their own good!--to keep the statutes of the Lord and to walk in His ways and not stray. Yes, where sin abounds grace abounds more (Rom 5:20), but should we go on sinning so grace may increase? Of course not, says the same Paul (Rom 6:1).
We should consider it a great gift and mercy to receive punishment for our sins and chastisement in this life so that we might be spared from it in the next. Sin always comes with consequences--nobody has all the fun without the cost, and if they do they are in for a rude awakening come Judgement Day. Msgr Pope again:
"Punishment is, therefore, an aspect of mercy. The purpose of punishment is to help us to experience the lesser consequences of our sin so that we do not experience the fuller, more dire consequences. Punishment also imparts a greater a greater understanding of God’s justice and vision for us, as opposed to the false promises offered to us by this world.
For many of us today, it is difficult to see punishment as an aspect of mercy, because we tend to equate love and mercy with mere kindness or approval. It is an immature notion of love that says, “If you love me you will always be nice and kind, and you’ll let me do and be whatever I please.” God loves us too much to yield to that notion of love and mercy."
Justice and mercy are not opposed, but unified in God's economy, emanating from the same source. My friend from college feels like he missed out on all the "fun" of sin, while I feel like I spent most of my adult life trying to overcome the effects of it just to get back to square one. In many ways, the parable of the prodigal son (which is just as much a parable of the older son as well) is a picture of the Father holding justice and mercy together in the equilibrium of His love, which overflows from His very being and spills out, soaking the feet of both brothers.
If I could go back and do it again, I would hope to never choose sin, nor would I advise anyone else to. We save ourselves a lot of heartache and damage when we listen to the Lord's commands and follow His statues, for they are for our own good. And yet it was sin that brought me to the feet of Mercy, and grace surely did abound. So whether we are are a good rule following lifelong Catholic or a wayward son or daughter that learns the hard way, may we always trust in God's mercy and respect his justice, bathing in the font of His love from which both flow.