SUNDAY HOMILY: The Happy Priest - Lent and Our Return to the Father
The parable of the prodigal son is by far one of the most beautiful narratives of the Holy Bible.
The prodigal son's decision to leave the father's house and to immerse himself into a life of rebellion, clearly illustrates the nature of sin. Every sin is an abuse of human freedom. When we sin, we defy God who loves us unconditionally. The consequences of sin are always disastrous. Every sinner always experiences profound sadness. "So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine" (Luke 15: 15).
The hunger that the prodigal sin experiences indicates the anxiety and emptiness that we feel when we are far from God due to sin. We can never be ourselves when we sin. Sin will always bring us to our lowest state and cause us to even become perverted if we were ever to persist in a life of sinfulness.
The prodigal son experiences the profound sadness that sin causes. He turns away from his attachments to the things of this world and looks inward. His introspection allows him to make a vital decision: "I will arise and go to my father..." (Luke 15: 18).
Like the father of the parable, God is always waiting for our return. We are filled with profound emotion as God always runs to us in order to forgive, heal and sustain us. As we experience the embrace of the unconditional love of God, we cry out with immense joy and gratitude: Abba, Father! "But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15: 20).
The robe, ring, sandals and the celebration are all symbols that Jesus brilliantly uses to explain the reality of our union with God through sanctifying grace.
Sin is the separation from the father's house.
Adam and Eve realize that they are naked when they are expelled from Eden. Joseph's coat is removed when he is sold into slavery. The prodigal son is dressed with the finest robe when he is restored to his father's house.
Biblically, a ring is always a symbol of union, covenant, love and commitment. Just as marriage joins a man and a woman and they become one, sanctifying grace joins us to God and we become one with him.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life. By Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an adopted son he can henceforth call God 'Father', in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes clarity into him and who forms the Church."
During the time of Jesus, slaves and servants never wore footwear. The roads and the paths were difficult to travel on without sandals. The fear was that with sandals, a slave or a servant could leave the house. Their relationship was essentially different to the household that they served. Only members of the family wore sandals. The prodigal son is given sandals because through his conversion, he is no longer a slave to sin. Moreover, the father's forgiveness is filled with paternal trust. He respects the son's freedom, knowing full well that he could abuse his freedom and leave home again.
The celebration takes place because of the immense joy that the father experiences due to the return of his son. Our union with God is the only source of true and lasting joy.
What can we say about the older brother? His response to the father's mercy indicates that his years of obedience had been years of duty and not filial service. Perhaps he was simply going through the motions, remaining at home simply to enjoy the benefits of a comfortable life.
Like the Pharisees, he is self-righteous, incapable of love and forgiving anyone. His mind is dark and calculating. It is quite possible that his anger is rooted in the fact that he too would like to leave the father's house and live a life of sin. His life may be pure and noble, but his heart is attached to things that he would like to do, but does not do them because of his vanity and superiority complex.
God's love is far greater than man's capacity to love. God can forgive what man refuses to forgive. The love, mercy and compassion of God can overcome the rebellion of the human heart. Nevertheless, there are many who refuse his love and prefer to live far from the father's house.
God patiently seeks the conversion of every person. God will do everything that he can do to save us. We are objects of God's infinite love and can personally experience his love. However, God's infinite wisdom respects our freedom. We can accept or reject God's invitation to experience eternal joy and peace.
Father James Farfaglia is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org and listen to the audio podcast of this Sunday homily. Apps for Father James' homilies are now available for Android and iPhone.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: year of faith, lent, Father James Farfaglia, Sunday homily, Sacrament of Confession, prodigal son, conversion
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