Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14
1Timothy 1: 12-17
Luke 15: 1-32
Here is a story of how I got in trouble by reading a story in my Catholic elementary school. As part of our reading lessons, we were reading a story about frontier settler children being friends with Native American children. One of the things they did together was to cook potatoes in an open fire. To me, that sounded neat. So during a summer day, I convinced some of my siblings and their friends to join me in making a fire, and cooking some potatoes. Unfortunately, I made this fire under a birch tree, to hide this activity from my parents; a tree with low hanging branches. Needless to say, we did hear the loud bellow of my father’s voice. My siblings froze in place; me, I took off for the fields, like I was shot out of a cannon. I was on a neighborhood street, when I came to realize that I had to face the music. My father pointed out the errors of my ways, and sent me to my bed with no TV for the rest of the day; which for me was hard time. But the experience was not as bad as I was afraid it would be.
It is a sad fact of life that all of us continually experience temptation; all of us have a weakness, or flaw in our character; which makes us susceptible to sin. Even St. Paul, in one of his letters, complained about a weakness he had, that continually plagued him. We are all prone to selfishness, anger, laziness, and greed. And we at times may commit sins. Most of us commit, what the Church calls venial sins, which are minor, but still wounds our relationship with the Father. Sadly, there are some who commit grave sins, mortal sin, which totally destroys the relationship with God.
In today’s Gospel, we read the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son, whom we could describe as being selfish, greedy and self centered. He wants his part of his father’s estate now, he wants to leave the farm and go to the big city, and have himself a good old time. He did not care about his father’s feelings; he just wanted to get the money and then hit the road. How many of us, on some level can identify with him. Of course we see what happened to him, he is soon broke, he is destitute; but instead of going home with his tail between his legs, he tries to tough it out, tries to find work. Perhaps his reason is that he cannot face his father, afraid of facing his father’s scorn. How many of us have been afraid of going to confession, afraid of the reaction of the confessor when he hears of what we have done. I think we American Catholics are also affected by the fire and brimstone preachers we may hear and see on the radio and television. Perhaps we are afraid of facing God the Father; sometimes we wonder, “are we forgiven?”
Then we hear St. Paul say: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” We hear Jesus Christ, the Word of God, tell us: “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” We see in the end of the parable of the prodigal son, the father welcoming his wayward son with love and joy.
And that is one of the reasons why the Sacrament of Reconciliation, of Penance is so important. Besides having the wound of sin healed, we experience in absolution the love, the joy, the forgiveness of God the Father. The experience is real.
In downtown Boston, there is St. Anthony Shrine, which is manned by the Franciscan Friars. In one of the Shrine’s chapels is a row of confessionals. On the wall where the confessionals are, is a print of Rembrandt’s painting, showing the encounter of the prodigal son with his father. The son is on his knees, being embraced by his father. God the Father is waiting for us to come to him, and his arms are wide open, ready to embrace us. Let us go to him.