Friday, March 16, 2007

Be reconciled to God

Fourth Sunday of Lent – 18 March 2007

“So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God.”
(from II Reading: 2 Cor. 5: 17-21)

Jesus’ teaching in Luke’s Gospel Chapter 15, which centers around the powerful and beautiful story he told his listeners and which comes down to us through the Church is the one we popularly refer to as the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal son is the younger son of two working on the farm with his father; he gets restless for some reason, demands his share of the inheritance, takes it and goes off to the big city and blows it all partying. Misery helps him come to his senses. He heads home with his confession all rehearsed: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired hands.”
It’s a very happy story for the prodigal son and the way the story goes, we have to say with St. Paul that “it’s all God’s work”. As we learn from putting the three readings from this Sunday together, God, in Jesus, is the one who gives us the fruits of the Promised Land to eat; he prepares the banquet for us through no merit of our own, in fact just the opposite. Even though we have sinned against him, he takes away our shame, as Joshua said; he dresses us up in a festal garment, puts sandals on our feet and a ring on our finger! He doesn’t even let his son finish his confession of guilt. He was lost and now he is found; he was dead (to us anyway) and now he has come back to life.
It is a fabulous story and it is truly good news for us as well. What’s the special message for this Sunday then? I think it’s simply: Make your honest and complete confession of sin and then just enjoy the way God fusses over you! “…be reconciled to God.”
Whether we interpret Paul’s words to the Corinthians and to us using the words of the Psalm, “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” or whether we tell and retell the story of the father’s unbounded love for even his prodigal son, the bottom line is the same: “I will rise and go to my father and tell him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” The father does the rest.
We never get happy or totally at home with confessing our sins, with admitting guilt, with taking the responsibility for something we’ve done or we’ve failed to do, causing something to go wrong. I guess that’s human nature, that’s human pride. Swallowing that pride and confessing our sins are a very grown-up, a very mature kind of thing. A good example of regular confession on the part of parents is what makes all the difference in a child’s first confession, as well as every confession after that first one. As a child, I don’t need to know what mommy and daddy confess to the priest in private, but watching them stand in line for confession and watching them kneel down to say their penance and say thank you to God after confession shows a child what he or she needs to do. Young people, especially adolescents, have an even rougher struggle with pride, just because they are still maturing. That’s the lesson of the prodigal son: he had to end up indenturing himself to somebody as a swineherd and nearly starving before he came around and put things in his life right. He ultimately did humble himself and return home, choosing to live in the right world, the good world created by his father.
How is this right world of the Church supposed to be? How is a good family supposed to be? Love and mutual respect within a family really are priceless. We can get by without a lot of creature comforts if we have each other in that good sort of way. The same is true of life in the Church: our Church “family” doesn’t have to be all that flashy. It is the spoiled child, really, who complains about things being boring. If somebody balks at going to church on Sunday, because it’s boring, I know I’m faced with a maturity issue. Parents and parish priests who anxiously try to make Sunday Mass an experience, to make church entertaining, are missing the point. Beauty in worship has its place, but pageantry and the spectacular are just for entertainment, part of that which the younger son ran off to the big city for, only to find out that the real stuff of life was what he’d left behind at home with his father.
This is the Fourth Sunday of Lent already. We’re only two weeks from Palm Sunday. Use these two weeks yet to see how things are going in your life. Has pride the upper hand in your life? When was your last good confession? Are family, church and school the center of your life? Can you distinguish between celebration and partying? Recognize your dignity and your worth! Learn the lesson the prodigal son had to learn the hard way and which the older son never did quite learn!
“So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God.”

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