26 March 2019

'I will get up and go to my father.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year C

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable:
‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”’

The Gospel in Filipino Sign Language

A priest-friend, now deceased, told me a story about three priests whom he knew in his own country. I'll call them Father Andy, Father Bert and Father Chris. Father Chris, younger than the other two who were quite well on in years, no longer used the title 'Father' as he had left the priesthood.

Father Andy was in hospital and knew he was nearing death. Father Bert went to visit him. The dying man asked his friend for his blessing. But he got a response that he had never expected. 'When you forgive Chris, then I will bless you'. Father Bert knew that his dying friend had been deeply hurt when Father Chris had left the priesthood. He also knew that he still carried resentment in his heart towards the younger man.

The tears welled up in Father Andy's eyes and he asked his friend to invite Chris to visit him. He let go of his hurt and resentment, was fully reconciled with Chris - and received from Father Bert the blessing he had asked for, a blessing far greater than he ever could have imagined.

Part of the genius of this parable of Jesus is that it doesn't have an ending, but an invitation. We don't know whether or not the older, dutiful son joined the celebration. He can  only see at this moment the wasted life of his younger brother and the immense suffering this had brought to their father, suffering that Rembrandt captures so movingly

The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail)
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

The father doesn't argue with his older son. He is well aware of that son's sense of responsibility. The father also hears his angry and dismissive 'this son of yours'. He gently points out, Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.

The invitation in the parable is not only to the older son. It is to me. Is the Father inviting me to let go of sins that have separated me from him, a separation that he doesn't want, by asking his pardon, especially in the sacrament of confession? Or is the Father inviting me to let go of my self-righteousness, my lack of humility, my lack of gratitude for daily blessings, even though I am conscientious in doing what is right?

The Father has reserved a place for each of us at the celebration.

Pope Francis on the Sacrament of Confession

St John Paul II on the Sacrament of Confession

Reconciliation and Penance, No 31, IV and V

First of all, it must be emphasized that nothing is more personal and intimate that this sacrament, in which the sinner stands alone before God with his sin, repentance and trust. No one can repent in his place or ask forgiveness in his name. There is a certain solitude of the sinner in his sin, and this can be seen dramatically represented in Cain with sin "crouching at his door," as the Book of Genesis says so effectively, and with the distinctive mark on his forehead; in David, admonished by the prophet Nathan; or in the prodigal son when he realizes the condition to which he has reduced himself by staying away from his father and decides to return to him.

Everything takes place between the individual alone and God. But at the same time one cannot deny the social nature of this sacrament, in which the whole church-militant, suffering and glorious in heaven- comes to the aid of the penitent and welcomes him again into her bosom, especially as it was the whole church which had been offended and wounded by his sin. As the minister of penance, the priest by virtue of his sacred office appears as the witness and representative of this ecclesial nature of the sacrament. The individual nature and ecclesial nature are two complementary aspects of the sacrament which the progressive reform of the Rite of Penance, especially that contained in the Ordo Paenitentiae promulgated by Paul VI, has sought to emphasize and to make more meaningful in its celebration.

Second, it must be emphasized that the most precious result of the forgiveness obtained in the sacrament of penance consists in reconciliation with God, which takes place in the inmost heart of the son who was lost and found again, which every penitent is. But it has to be added that this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations which repair the breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his own true identity. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way attacked and wounded. He is reconciled with the church. He is reconciled with all creation.

As a result of an awareness of this, at the end of the celebration there arises in the penitent a sense of gratitude to God for the gift of divine mercy received, and the church invites the penitent to have this sense of gratitude.

Every confessional is a special and blessed place from which, with divisions wiped away, there is born new and uncontaminated a reconciled individual-a reconciled world!

St John Paul II [Wikipedia]

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