Sunday of the Prodigal SonPosted: February 11, 2017
The Sunday of the Prodigal Son is the second pre-Lenten Sunday. The gospel reading for the day, is of course, from St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ parable. This parable is well known — even among those who embrace secularism and have never heard from, or read from, the Scriptures.
As we all know, a father’s youngest, selfish, and ungrateful son shockingly asks his father for his portion of his inheritance while his father is still alive. The father agrees and gives it to this son. The son of course leaves for a distant country where he squanders his wealth in immoral living. He comes to poverty, and a famine hits this land. He is forced to the despicable role of tending swine. He awakens to his condition and repents. He plans to return to his father, family, and home, but as a hireling — he is no longer worthy of sonship. His rehearsed confession before his father is composed, “I have sinned before heaven, and before you!” He journeys home in shame. However, his father graciously embraces his repentant son. The son is clothed, welcomed, and feasted back into the company of the family — as a son! All is forgiven, and all is restored!
“The Prodigal Son has returned!” Perhaps we have all used this line in jest to welcome someone into our company — a friend not seen for a long time. Or, perhaps, we have observed a real life parallel: a sibling, friend, or family member has left family and faith to go to his or her own “far country.” Here, in this unsettling reality, we, in sorrow and concern, pray for this known Prodigal to return the the fellowship of faith and family and Church.
Given this, I want to present the Prodigal Son in a more personal manner: We need to see ourselves as prodigals, not the other person who has wandered astray. Too often we see others as the subjects of Jesus’ teachings. We think of the other person as prodigal, but never wish to turn the focus on ourselves. You see, we all have “far countries” to which we occasionally journey, or frequent far too often. Maybe the journey lasts but a moment, an hour, or the good part of a day. Or perhaps far too much time has been squandered on our little excursions to a foreign realm where we don’t belong. In any case, we depart from the home of our Father, our Lord Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the life of the faith of the Church. We’re gone! “Good bye, don’t worry, I’ll be back.” But, we’ve left just as selfishly and ungratefully as the Prodigal Son left his father and loving home. We are given this hymn which is to speak both to us, and for us:
The riches of grace, which Thou didst give me, O Savior, I spent vainly, wretched me, when I set out on a hapless journey. Living in extravagance with devils, I squandered it in an evil way. But, having returned, receive me, O compassionate Father, as the Prodigal Son, and save me.
When we return from our “journey” we’re all a little dirty, and we’re all a little poorer spiritually. And, just like the Prodigal Son of the parable, we have to be restored and cleansed. So, I come now to the subject of the sacrament of Confession. Many dread confession. They are nervous, ashamed, and seem to view this sacrament as punishment rather than a source of life and restoration. For some, Confession is something to be “checked off” twice a year to meet an obligation. This is hardly the purpose or reason of Confession. I am a priest, and I hear the confessions of many, and pronounce Christ’s words of forgiveness and restoration to all who confess:
May God who pardoned David through Nathan the Prophet when he confessed his sins, Peter who wept bitterly for his denial, the Harlot weeping at His feet, the Publican and the Prodigal, forgive you all things through me a sinner, both in this world and the world to come, and set you uncondemned before His terrible Judgment Seat. Now, having no further cares for the sins which you have confessed, depart in peace.
But, as a priest, I also make confession — I, too, am a sinner. In my confessions I have seen the power of God work in my life. By faithfully engaging this sacrament, not only have I returned to God, been cleansed and restored, I have seen my “travel itineraries” deleted and destroyed — I never left, and I no longer want to go there.
The Sunday of the Prodigal Son is given to us to reflect upon our own lives as we are about to enter Lent. We are to assess our own selfish and thankless moments where we despise and reject God’s love and ways, and leave for that “far country.” Lent is given to us to behave as the Prodigal Son when he comes to his senses. We are to know that we have a Father who longs for our return, to clothe us, and to feast us into his Church. We have the wonderful sacrament of Confession to restore us. Confession is the gateway to our return to the Feast of the Eucharist, and full restoration to the communal, and communing life of faith in the Church.