Homily Ė 4th Sunday of Lent (Year C)
The history of Man began as an act of love. God, out of his great goodness, created man. He didnít do it because he was lonely or because he needed to. He did it as an expression of his great love, for as scripture tells us God is Love. In his own image he created man, male and female he created them. Man was created to know, love and serve God and it is in this that each person finds their true fulfillment and happiness. Man, in the persons of Adam and Eve, rebelled and chose to seek their own happiness apart from Godís will. They disobeyed God and refused his friendship and thus pain and suffering entered the world.
Each and everyone of us has made the same choice in our lives. We were created by an infinitely loving God. We were recreated new in the waters of Baptism and washed pure of any stain of original sin. Then we too, chose at some point in our life, to seek our happiness outside the will of God. That is what we call sin. To sin is to choose against Godís will for us. But God created us out of love and his will for us is our perfect happiness. So when we choose to sin, we choose something that will not bring us perfect happiness. In fact it will bring us pain and suffering. Pain and suffering are the natural consequences of our sins. God does not inflict them upon us like a spoiled child. Rather he lets us get what we asked for. Thus the old adage, be careful what you ask for.
We see this very clearly illustrated in the Gospel today with the parable of the Prodigal Son. A son chooses to take his inheritance and squander it on a life of licentiousness. He chooses to seek his own happiness apart from the Fatherís will. The consequences are that he leads a life of misery. One in which he envies the pigs and the food they eat. He experiences the consequences of living life apart from the Father and he finds it miserable. Only when he as hit the bottom does he decide to return to the Father. And when he returns home he expects to find a Father angry and that is not an unreasonable expectation for someone who has taken such advantage of his fathers graces. But instead he finds a Father waiting expectantly. A Father constantly looking for his Sonís return. A father who doesnít wait but rather runs to greet his son filled with joy. He doesnít take him into his house as a servant but welcomes him as a son. He kills the fatted calf and celebrates the return of his son from death to life.
This is the reality of our relationship with our heavenly Father every time we go to confession. We do sin. We do turn away from God. We squander the divine inheritance we received in baptism on meaningless and base things. We seek our happiness apart from God. But does God reject us? No. He is anxiously awaiting our return. He seeks the lost sheep. He goes to meet you as you return to him. And when you do you receive the welcome of a child not of a servant. A Father overjoyed that his child has returned from Death to life. What earthly Father wouldnít celebrate. Can we expect less of our heavenly Father?
The normal way we do this is through the sacrament of Confession. It is a sacrament established by Christ himself when he gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins in John 20. God doesnít do things without a reason. It is his will that our sins be forgiven normally through one of his Ambassadors. It has been with the Church since the earliest days of Christian History. It isnít until the last 500 years or so that people who call themselves Christians have started to argue against it. Even after Martin Luther broke away from the Church he still went to confession.
Recently you will even hear of Catholics who say they donít believe they need to go to a priest for confession. They think, like the protestants, that is sufficient to confess their sins to God. How many really do I wonder? I think it is just a convenient phrase some use to avoid having to admit their sins to another human being. In reality it is pride and fear that keeps people away. They do not want to humble themselves. They would rather keep eating the slop of pigs than return and admit that they have sinned against heaven and another human. No matter what the reason you cannot find any evidence of this in Scripture or any other teaching of the Church. In fact it contradicts both Scripture and the teaching of the Church. It is a belief that people make up to fit their own desires.
Look to the scriptures today. When the Son returns he confesses that he has sinned against his Father and against heaven. The Father in the parable represents not only God the Father but also our fellow human beings that we have sinned against. True reconciliation demands that we ask forgiveness of those we have sinned against as well as of God. For sin is an offense against God as well as another human being. If I slapped someone across the face and then went and asked forgiveness from God would you say that I was truly reconciled with God and that person. I doubt it. True reconciliation demands we do both.
For the Catholic we do that through the priest. The priest stands in place of God and of the community. When we ask forgiveness of our sins from a priest we are asking him as a ambassador of God as well as an ambassador of the community. It really is quite a deal. Imagine if you had to go to every person and tell them what you did and ask their forgiveness as well as that of God. You canít just ask God. He would tell you, as he did in scripture, if you approach the altar with your gift and remember that your brother has something against you, go first and be reconciled with your brother and then bring your gift to the altar.
True reconciliation demands we ask forgiveness of God and of those we have sinned against. Jesus Christ established confession and gave his apostles the power to forgive sins in order to do this. We on our part must humble ourselves, leave our sins, and ask forgiveness of the community and of God. If you to try to do anything else you would go against scripture and the teachings of the Church.
As we draw close to the end of Lent we draw closer to the observance of the consequences of our sin. Christís Passion, Death and resurrection are the consequences of our sin. God loves us so much that he was willing to send his only son to die to pay the price of our sins. It seems a small thing to ask us to go to confession in light of the great price that was paid for our redemption. I encourage you to cast away the slop of pigs, turn away from pride, and do not be afraid to return to the sacraments. They are there because God knows they will bring you peace and happiness. Put your faith in God and trust him to fulfill his promises. The communal penance services are an ideal opportunity to do so. You can go to confession, completely anonymously, with priests who have no idea who you are. We canít make it any easier for you than this. You can choose to take the opportunity and be reconciled. You can choose to act according to Godís word in scripture and the teachings of his Church. To experience the joy of the Father as he celebrates your return. Or you can choose to squander your opportunity and inheritance. You can choose to live apart from the Fatherís will and pursue your own course of action. The choice is yours. Choose well.