We Prodigals

In 13 Today's Church on 2016/06/10 at 12:00 AM


  • In a homily several months ago I mentioned Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son, a copy of which can be found in our north confessional.
  • It’s truly one of my favorite paintings in the world, and I finally got to see it in person a few weeks ago while visiting the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
  • What I love most about this painting is that Rembrandt seems to capture so perfectly the intersection of sin and mercy in the faces of the father and the son.
  • As one looks at the father in this painting, one sees nothing but mercy and love in the father’s eyes. And in turn, the son’s face radiates this knowledge of his father’s mercy and love as he humbly leans into his father in an act of contrite supplication.
  • Indeed, this painting is a masterpiece precisely because of the very clear emotions that are so poignantly expressed in these two characters. Even someone unfamiliar with this parable can clearly see what is happening in this painting.
  • As we know from the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father in this story allegorically represents our Father in Heaven.
  • Just as the father of the prodigal son immediately extends his mercy and forgiveness to his son who has returned home to him, so too does our Heavenly Father rush to meet us with His forgiveness and mercy whenever we repent of our sins and turn back to Him.
  • What we learn from our first reading today is that we cannot exhaust the mercy of God. Our Lord is not a stern God seeking whom He may destroy.
  • To the contrary, He wants to give humanity every chance to repent of its sinfulness. Even when we abuse God’s love and mercy over and over again, our Lord is always ready and waiting to take us back the moment we return to Him.
  • But our first reading also makes it clear that our Lord is a God of justice, and the only thing that can save us from His justice is His mercy.
  • So like a good father, God waits for us, hoping to be able to extend His mercy to us. And His mercy never fails. Any and every time that we sincerely call upon Him, He answers us – regardless of how grave our sins may be.
  • There is great consolation in this knowledge: that no matter how far we fall from grace, no matter how wretched and evil our sins may be, we can never fall so far as to be out of God’s reach. There is no sin too great for God’s mercy.
  • As we consider this truth about God, sin begins to seem mysterious, does it not? Faced with this incredible and inexhaustible love that the Father showers upon us, how can any of us ever sin against Him?
  • And yet we do. That’s the mystery of sin. That’s the calamity of our human weakness. Even when we know better or desire not to sin, we still sin anyway. And despite our best efforts to repent, sometimes we fall right back into our old sins.
  • It is for this reason that we need Holy Mother Church. After His death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, our Lord needed some means of extending His ministry of healing and reconciliation to mankind.
  • So He gave this power to His apostles to exercise amongst their fellow men. And through our 2000 years of history, this power to forgive sins and reconcile people to God has been passed on to other men, like myself, through the laying on hands, which we recognize as the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
  • As such, the Church acts as a hospital for the spiritually sick. She is the home and refuge of sinners, for it is within the bosom of Holy Mother Church that sin and mercy meet.
  • It is within the bosom of Holy Mother Church that we find healing for our sins and the divine medicine that helps us to grow and flourish in holiness.
  • With that in mind, there is a place for everyone in the Church. But we must remember that we should enter the Church like we enter a hospital when we’re ill: i.e., with the intention of being healed.
  • When we come to Mass and participate in the life of the Church, we are expressing our intention to try to be freed from our sins so that we can live in newness of life.
  • Thus, there is an expectation placed upon us as Christians that we will do our best to live as God desires us to live, not to persist willfully in sin.
  • No one enters a hospital planning to remain in one’s illness. And therefore, none of us should enter the Church without the intention of ridding ourselves of our sins. So we must recognize our sins for what they are and do our best to repent of them.
  • This commitment to repent and seek out God’s healing forgiveness begins with baptism.
  • St. Paul reminds us today of the marvelous effects of baptism: of how we die to our sins and are buried with Christ so that we may be raised with Him, and how God forgives allour transgressions and nullifies the punishment due for our sins.
  • And of course we are reminded of our responsibility to repent whenever we come toMass, for one of the first things we do at Mass is to call to mind our sins and ask forGod’s mercy in the penitential rite.
  • Considering how wonderful God’s mercy is and how available it is to us, we must nevertake it for granted, nor should we ever presume on it. To the contrary, we mustconstantly humble ourselves before our Lord and ask for His mercy.
  • You see, all of us stand as beggars before our Lord. We must recognize that strugglingwith sin is part of the human condition, and that it is only by God’s grace that we willever be free of our sins.
  • While we know that God will forgive any offense, that does not give us a license to sin atwill. If we love God, we must try to live blameless and holy lives.
  • For while we can never fully repay our Lord for His mercy, living humble lives ofholiness is how we show Him our love. It is how we honor and glorify our Lord. Andrecognizing our sins and repenting of them is the first step in growing in holiness.
  • Our Gospel today reminds us of just how good God is. Jesus tells us of how ourHeavenly Father is waiting to give us every good gift that we need for the salvation ofour souls. There is nothing necessary for our salvation that He will ever deny us.
  • Of course, preeminent among our Lord’s gifts to us is His mercy and forgiveness. But toobtain His mercy and forgiveness, we must recognize our sins and confess them.
  • So my dear friends: what are your sins? What is the spiritual illness that you arefighting? In what areas does your life not correspond with the teachings of the Church?
  • Whatever your sin may be, do not despair – but have hope. In coming to the Church,you have come to the right place to find healing and forgiveness in the sacraments, mostespecially in Confession in the frequent and worthy reception of Holy Communion.
  • Here we find God’s grace that frees us from the bondage of us. Here in the Church, wefind His peace and consolation.

• Let us all take the time to examine our souls well and come to know sins. And once we do, let us be faithful in repenting and confident in asking our Lord for His mercy.

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio .
To enable the audio, please go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

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