Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trust in God's mercy; not in your sin


After reading the story of the Prodigal Son, a Sunday school teacher asked her kids, “At the end of the story who ended up in the worst situation? The younger or the older brother?” One of the kids shot up his hand and answered, “Neither one. It was the fattened calf.”

We heard in our Gospel today, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance.” Has anyone noticed that no one sins any more? Do you know many people who would call themselves a sinner? Acknowledge the place of sin in their lives and the need for God’s mercy? It really seems to have gone out of style. We’re all now “good people” who do “good things.” “I haven’t killed anyone,” they say, as though that were the only standard. Thirty years ago, confession lines were very long every Saturday as people had a clearer understanding of their need to be reconciled to God through Confession, and wouldn’t imagine receiving the Eucharist without having first asked God for the forgiveness of their sins. Today, confessions are more likely to last about 30 minutes each week and most priests bring a book with them to stay occupied for that half hour.

And yet, our Scriptures speak so profoundly about the central reason for Jesus’ coming to us – to save sinners, to reconcile us. The prayer of absolution that the priest says during confession begins with those very words, “God, the Father of mercies…has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” And, the whole parable of the Prodigal Son that we have before us today is Jesus telling us of our need for repentance and reconciliation and God’s mercy to us when we seek it. And yet, so many of us today do not seek out this gift of healing and wholeness.

Why? My experience tells me that we are, as a whole, afraid of this sacrament. We’re afraid because of bad past experiences; we’re afraid because we don’t know what to say; we’re afraid because we don’t know what the priest will say to us. Confession is today perhaps the most misunderstood and under -utilized sacrament in the Church.

I invite you today to cast away all of your prior misconceptions about Confession and think about this sacrament in a new light. What is reconciliation really about? First of all, it is actually less about you and your sin and more about God and His mercy. Our fears are often about our sins and about what we will say, or what the priest will say to us. The reality is that reconciliation is really about God and about how loving and forgiving and merciful He is. It is about a forgiving Father who can’t wait to offer His mercy to His children who come and ask for it – like the Prodigal Son. God wants to offer to us love and forgiveness, healing and joy. God can’t wait to forgive us, to free us from sin.

Part of the problem is that we’ve come to accept the world as it is. We live today in a world of broken relationships. There isn’t one among us here who hasn’t been touched by divorce, for example – whether directly in our own families, or extended family or friends. There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t have a broken relationship somewhere in our lives – a friendship destroyed, a misunderstanding overblown, regretted words spoken and never taken back. The myth of the world is that we have to accept that brokenness and can never achieve healing. Jesus tells us something different and gives us the opportunity – in a grace-filled encounter with him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to restore, heal and reconcile the broken relationships in our lives.

And that is what the parable of the Prodigal Son is all about. It is a story of broken relationships. The younger son has severed the relationship with his father in the worst way. He comes to recognize his wrong actions and wants nothing more than to be accepted again into his father’s household – not in the status he had before, but even just as a lowly servant. That’s supposed to be us – recognizing our sin, approaching our God asking to simply be allowed to remain a member of His household; of His family. And, what is the father’s reaction to the younger son? He is overjoyed at the son’s return. He says, “Now we must celebrate…your brother was…lost and has been found.” And the real power is that Jesus tells us that God will deal with us in the same way.

The merciful, loving heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the merciful, loving heart of God our heavenly Father. His mercy tirelessly seeks out each sinner and when we respond there is happiness and rejoicing in heaven. To every sinner, in other words, to all of us, I say as simply as I can: Your sin is not the big deal you think it is; the big deal is your return to the merciful love of God. Trust in His mercy, not in your sin.

As we heard from St. Paul, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Let us approach Him and ask that He take away all that is keeping us from the grace of forgiveness.

May God give you peace.

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