4th Sunday of Lent
This is one of the parables in which the central figure is not God the Son but God the Father. And he is a Father of such love and mercy and patience and forgiveness. Never once do we hear a sharp word, or a complaint or anger. The Father simply rushes out to meet the prodigal, covers him with gifts and love and rejoices. Even the elder Son, who has so clearly misunderstood how much the father has always loved him receives not a scolding but love “my son all I have is yours”.
The prodigal son of course is us, each one of us now, as we are. The inheritance is the likeness of God in which we are created. Those gifts of free will, the ability to know God, the ability to love, the ability to reason and pray and ultimately transcend the limits of a finite human existence, this is the inheritance, a sharing in the dignity and wonder of the likeness God which sets us apart from the rest of creation. From the original sin of our first parents to our daily sins, what we do with this dignity, this inheritance, is spoken of in this parable. How often we squander the inheritance – how often we end up on the level not of those created in the likeness of God but of animals, pigs – willing even to eat pig food.
This is what we do, each time we sin, and it may take many sins, before we come to our senses like the prodigal son and our conscience says “look what you have become”. You have received a divine inheritance but what remains of it?
Yet even though we are in exactly the same situation as the prodigal son – we can find it difficult to accept the sheer gratuity of the Father’s forgiveness. Where is the justice? Is maybe the older son right? Surely the prodigal son needs to be punished, justice must demand at least a severe telling off. But no. That is where Jesus is in the parable. Our Lord tells the parable, he reveals the Father’s forgiveness - and he makes it possible, he satisfys the requirements of justice. The punishment due, the damage caused – Our Lord accepts it all, for the prodigal son, for everyone of us for everyone who ever sins. It’s a heavy price – but out of love it is paid by Jesus and so the Father is able to forgive. It is the eternally effective payment of this price, the sacrifice of Calvary, the cross which is the heart of this Holy Mass.
And the way Jesus has chosen to make this forgiveness accessible to us when we sin again is the sacrament of confession. It is the normal way in which sins committed after baptism are forgiven. It is the only normal way we know of that mortal sin can be forgiven. And don’t forget that mortal sin, serious sin, for example deliberately missing mass on Sunday, fornication, murder, not only destroys the life of grace in our souls, so that we simply cannot grow in the love of God or in holiness but if we die unrepentant with mortal sin on our souls heaven is closed. It’s that serious. Only in confession, as far as we know, can mortal sin be forgiven The Father who forgives our sins in confession is the same loving, merciful, patient and forgiving Father who runs to embrace the prodigal son, a love made possible by the cross of Christ.
Do not despise or ignore this sacrament of love. In the person of Christ, the priest sits in that confessional so that the eternal vigil of the Father is maintained. The Father longing to see each of his children coming to their senses, looking out for you just as he looks out for me, longing to see us returning, so he can rush not to condemn or scold or criticise, but so he can forgive and embrace and heal in the Sacrament of Confession. Do go to confession.