4th Sunday of Lent
March 31, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today’s Gospel story is usually referred to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”
But the story isn’t just about the one prodigal son;
it’s actually about a father and his three sons.
So let’s look at each of these, one at a time.
Let’s begin with the so called “prodigal son”—the youngest brother.
Jesus firsts tells us he goes to his father and says:
“give me the share of your estate that should come to me.”
As if he can’t wait for His father to die.
As if he’s entitled to his father’s generosity, as if a gift is really a debt.
We do the same thing everyday.
We all want what belongs to God
—in particular, we want His power
and especially His authority to say this is right, or this is wrong.
To say, “I know what God says, but this is the way I think it should me.”
And we all treat the gifts God gives us as if they are owed to us,
as if the creator of the universe must give us whatever we want.
O sure, we pray: “please Lord,” and “thy will be done,”
but in our heart of hearts all too often we mean “give me what I want.”
And even if we do get what we want, we quickly forget that He gave it to us.
We don’t bother to thank Him, or tell others how generous He’s been.
We even think it a burden to spend an hour once a week
thanking Him publicly at Mass for His generosity.
We’re especially ungrateful for the gifts He gives us most personally,
like a strong intellect or good health or courage:
we say things like “I worked for everything I have.”
I understand the importance of hard work, but think about:
how did you work to be naturally smart?
And all too often, having received all these gifts,
how many of us fall into the sins of greed, avarice and envy
—we can never get enough.
Jesus tells us the youngest son “set off to a distant country”
Notice, he not only takes what belongs to his father,
but now he abandons his father.
He doesn’t even talk or listen to him anymore.
How many of people today do the same thing to God.
He gives us everything, and we abandon Him, and neither talk or listen to Him.
And I’m not just talking about atheists.
Think of all the people, including us sometimes, who believe in God,
but neglect praying to Him or listening to His word,
at least until they want something from Him again.
Think of all those who go to church every Sunday,
but abandon God for the other 6 days of the week,
never mentioning His name in the world they live in.
And then Jesus says the youngest son:
“squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”
In one way or another, isn’t this the way with most of us.
All the gifts God gives us, and then so often we waste or abuse them.
Think of the great intellectual gifts God gives us.
But instead of using those gifts to give glory to God and serve mankind
all too often we squander them on foolish and even evil pursuits.
Science has done many wonderful things,
but it’s also given us sex-change operations,
and the ability for strangers to stalk and abuse our kids online.
Think of all the intelligence wasted on philosophies that shun the notion of truth.
Think of all the talented artists who waste their gifts producing
books, movies, plays and music
that wallow in senseless violence, lust and perversion.
And think about all the times you participate in these abuses, even if indirectly:
how many senseless movies or videos you watch?
Or how you personally waste your God-given reason and imagination
in the selfish pursuit of greed, lust or revenge.
Jesus goes on to say that the prodigal son
“swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”
This reminds us that nowadays, there is no greater gift wasted
than the gift of sexuality.
What phenomenal gift
—it not only expresses the total self-gift between husband and wife
but also contains in it the very gift of human life.
And yet we so often treat it as a way to control or demean others,
or simply to satisfy our most venal desires.
And wedded with the gift of technology, internet pornography
wastes the self-gift of sexuality by turning it toward radical selfishness.
I could go on and on.
Jesus tells us: “he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”
This is the life of the prodigal son,
but it is also all too often, in large ways or small, our lives as well.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jesus tells us that eventually the prodigal son “[came] to his senses”
and went back to his father’s house confessing and repenting
his wasteful life, his sins,
and begging forgiveness.
Lent is a time when we should do the same.
And we can do that in most wonderful way, again,
through one of our Father’s most generous gifts:
the sacrament of confession,
There, like the father in today’s story, our heavenly Father
meets us, listens to our confession and sorrow for our sins,
and them embraces us with His grace, and restores us to His household.
—if only we are truly sorry and desire to leave our sins behind
and come back into His home.
What a fantastic gift
—but how often it’s wasted by his children who refuse to go to confession.
Some think, well confession’s only for really terrible sinners
—and I haven’t done anything that bad.
This reminds me of the 2nd son in today’s story
—the older brother who stays behind.
The son who “became angry, and …refused to enter the house”
because his father was throwing a banquet for his bad brother!
But the thing is, the banquet wasn’t just for the younger son
—it was for the whole household, including this older son.
And he refused the gift.
The sacrament of penance is also for everyone
who lives in the household of God,
even the ones who seem to the most faithful.
How can apparently steadfast sons and daughters reject such a gift?
Sometimes it’s simply because they think they don’t need that gift.
But by saying “no” to God’s generosity they waste the gift
of His divine power to be even better sons and daughters,
to be stronger, braver, happier and closer to Our Father.
Also, sometimes the most faithful Catholics set themselves up for big trouble,
because they become complacent and prideful:
like the prodigal’s brother, they take their father’s gifts for granted.
And that complacency led this “good son” to fall into the terrible sin of jealousy
and then separating himself from his father by refusing to enter his house
–just like the prodigal son had done earlier.
No friends, confession is for all of us
—just as God the Father’s gift of love and mercy is for all of us.
Others reject the gift of confession because they say:
I don’t have to go to confession:
I go straight to God and He forgives my sins?
There they go again, being just like the prodigal.
Jesus gives us this phenomenal gift of the forgiveness of sins,
and they say, I like the gift, but not the way you give it.
And they want not only the forgiveness,
but also the authority of their heavenly Father.
They know Jesus established the sacrament of penance
when He told the apostles:
“receive the holy spirit…who’s sins you forgive are forgiven”
yet still they say, “but I want to do it my way, not Jesus’ way.”
And finally, they presume that they somehow
have a right to the gift of forgiveness:
you ask for it, and God automatically has to give it to you.
But that’s not what Jesus taught, as He went on to tell His apostles:
“and who’s sins you hold bound are held bound.”
Now, I don’t know if you noticed it,
but I mentioned earlier that this is a story of a father and three sons.
Yet, in the story, Jesus only mentions two sons.
But reading between the lines we see that in telling the story, Jesus,
shows Himself to be the 3rd Son, humbly pointing to His father’s mercy,
even as He tells the story in response to Pharisees’ anger
with Him, Jesus, for showing mercy to sinners:
He is saying, “like Father, like Son—me!”
So Jesus is the oldest Son, the first born of the Father,
who is all-loving and truly faithful like His Father,
never betraying His Father like the other sons.
He is the Son who eternally reminds the Father
what a perfectly loving Son is,
so that even when His other sons waste His gifts,
the Father always sees them in the light of the love of His perfect first born.
And He is the brother who,
gives His whole life, holding nothing back,
to His father and to his brothers,
by dying on the cross for his brothers’ sins.
And if we look very closely, with the 20/20 hindsight of faith,
we see that Jesus is actually mentioned, in the story;
in fact He’s the crescendo of the story:
he is the brother who reconciles Father and sons,
in the Banquet, HE is the Banquet, the Eucharistic Feast,
that seals and strengthens the unity, the Communion, of God’s family.
And so we read that the father not only invited his sons
but he “pleaded with” them,
to come to the banquet—the Eucharist, Christ Himself.
Today, we sons and daughters of the Most High God
should feel the most profound sorrow
for our ungrateful squandering of the gifts our Father has given us.
And we should feel heartrending grief for the price our brother Jesus
paid for our sins.
And yet we should also feel overpowering joy
that we have a Father who forgives us so easily
and a Brother who would die so willingly for our sins.
So let us now go to the heavenly banquet that Jesus has prepared for
and let our Divine Brother lead us home to the mercy and joy
of Communion with our Heavenly Father.