30th/31st March 2019

posted 1 Apr 2019, 02:42 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (“Laetare”), Year C (30 & 31/1/19)


The parable of the prodigal son.  The parable of someone who decides to waste his family inheritance, throw away his family and turn his back on his country and his religion.  He thinks he knows best.  And he’s going to show everyone else.  But thankfully, it doesn’t end that way.


It just goes to show that despite people could say that everything has changed over two thousand years, in some ways, nothing has changed.  Today we still have people wanting to leave family and/or religion behind and “prove themselves”.  In a certain sense, back in the first century, moving country could mean leaving religion behind, mingling with pagans and learning to live as they do, whilst today the Catholic faith is found all over the globe, although in some places it is smaller and/or heavily restricted.


But just as with the prophet Jonah, it’s farcical if you try to run away from God.  It’s just like trying to run away from your shadow.    But you can try to block Him out – with work, entertainment, sin, anything just to stop you having time to think and reflect and be alone with God.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why some people in hospital and prison turn to God – everything else has been stripped away, and now they begin to think what is really and truly important.  But perhaps then, the devil still tries to hold them back.  “You can’t possible think you can be forgiven now, do you, after all you have done?”  When the prodigal son decided to return to his father, it says that he was going to say that he didn’t deserve to be treated as a son anymore, and he would just ask to have the status of a paid servant.  Whether it was that he didn’t believe he could be totally forgiven, or he thought he would be pushing his luck to ask for everything in one go, we don’t know.  But sometimes people think that there is a limit to the forgiveness of God, or that they can’t be forgiven for what they have done.  Not true!  If Saul could be forgiven for actively working against the Church, rounding up Christians and wanting to wipe Christianity and all memory of Christ off the face of the earth, then there is forgiveness for us, too.


In the second reading, St Paul gives us a message which is, in many ways, the message of Lent:  “be reconciled to God”.  If we are to be true followers of the Lord, we have to look at the plank in our own eye before we look at the splinter in our brother’s eye.  That means that we have to repent, and it would also be good if we went to confession.


St Paul tells us, “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here”.  Confession is one of the seven sacraments, and all of the sacraments are more than just words and nice ceremonies – they change us from the inside.  Just the same as we emphasise receiving Holy Communion  because it unites us with the Lord, so confession also unites us closer to the Lord.  It heals us and helps us to begin to change our lives.  For that reason, it’s good to receive it regularly, rather than once or twice in a lifetime.


It is true to say that the Church’s practice with regard to confession has developed over the years.  In the early Church, confession was only used for mortal sins, such as idolatry, murder or adultery.  It was only received once or twice in a lifetime, and absolution was preceded by sometimes years of penance.  You didn’t take being forgiven lightly.  That’s part of the reason why some people delayed baptism until they were on their deathbed – baptism takes away all sins, so that’s one way of avoiding having to go to confession and do years of penance.  But what if you got run over by a horse and cart before you had chance to think about being baptised?  And it goes without saying that if you were not baptised, there was no way you could receive Holy Communion.


Christ told Peter to forgive his brother, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, i.e. to always forgive, no matter how many times.  And that reflects the mercy of God.  In the seventh century, Irish missionaries, inspired by the practice of the monks in the Eastern Church, brought to continental Europe the idea of confession as we know it today.  Confession would be celebrated in secret between priest and penitent, there would be no long and lengthy penance before absolution and it would be used frequently, involving the confession of both mortal and venial sins.  Rather than being a sacrament just practised in extreme situations, it is now a regular celebration to help with spiritual growth in holiness.  If we are serious about our growth in holiness and about our faith, how can we stay away?


But perhaps we are still a bit uneasy about revealing what we have done, especially to a priest who might already know us.  For this reason, in the mid 1500s, St Charles Borromeo came up with the confessional box.  Previously, confession would have taken place in the body of the church.  With the confessional, it was possible to go to confession and for the priest not to see who you are.  (I’ve heard in the past of a child talking about disguising his voice when he goes to confession as well.)  Whatever your worries, there are options.  The important thing is to go.


So there we have it.  Some things never change – our need for forgiveness, and the mercy of our heavenly Father.  Make your Lent a good Lent by unloading yourself of your sins in the confessional – it could be the best decision you ever make.