The following is an adapted version of a talk I gave on a youth lock-in back in February of 2019 and will serve as Part 1 in my series on the Sacrament of Confession. I began the talk with the reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of St. Luke, which I have included here as well.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” – St. Luke 15:11-32 (NABRE)
In order to understand this story, or at least the part that I want to focus on, we first have to understand who the people are in this parable that Jesus is talking about. In it, we see three figures: an elderly father, the younger son who leaves and squanders his inheritance, known as the Prodigal, and the older son. To understand this very meaningful and impactful message that our Lord had for us in this story, we must identify who the three men are as Jesus meant them to be. The first figure is the elderly father. Who does the elderly father represent in the story? God. Well, Who is God? God is our Father, He is our Creator, the Creator of the universe, but He is more, far more. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in its section on the Apostles Creed and its 12 articles of faith, begins of course with our basic and biggest statement of faith, Credo in Deum. I believe in God. The Catechism states that God IS. Not just God is this or God is that, but God IS. He is the supreme eternal being, existing outside of time (time is a creation of God), He always Is, never having a beginning or an end. God is the Creator of all things. God created the world for His glory and creation is the work of the Trinity. God lives in perfect Trinity and eternal unity as three divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father creates through the Son, the Word, in the Holy Spirit. Each Person is distinct from the other, but each is Fully God in substance. God created the world completely out of nothing. God transcends creation in that He is not limited to it, but He is still present to it. He upholds and sustains His creation at all times and carries out His divine providence and will through it which is always perfect good.
Now, there’s a word that I’ve been intentionally not using in my description of God, just yet, that we’ve already heard many times, and the reason that I haven’t used it yet will become clear in a moment. Now, in the story, after the son realizes that he’s screwed up, he runs to the father’s house. And what stands out to you in that next part of the story? The Scriptures tell us in verse 20 that, while he was still a long way off, the father saw him. The father ran to him and embraced him. Now, what’s curious about that passage? The father was waiting. And why was the father waiting? Love. The father waited out of love. My friends, one of the most powerful statements of our faith, one that separates us from every single other faith, is three simple words from the first letter of St. John 4:8, “Deus caritas est. God is love”. That’s what separates us. Because for us Catholics, for us Christians, love just isn’t something God does as our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters believe. It isn’t just an attribute of God, but it’s His very self. God IS love. The entire relationship of the Trinity is love. The Father loves His begotten Son and the Son loves His eternal Father and the Holy Spirit is that love that proceeds from them both. That love that they share in their eternal unity and in their oneness is creative. And I’ll get to that in a second, but, what is love? We know that God is love, but what is love? St. Thomas Aquinas defined love as this: willing the good of the other. That is love. Willing the good of another person. So love, by its very definition, cannot be kept just to ourselves, but it must be given away. That is why Jesus says that the greatest commandments are these: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Dr. Tom Neal, an professor of spiritual theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans recounted that his professor, when he was in moral theology class, said this the first time he was taught about this definition of love, “To love neighbor as self means seeing their sharing in the good as constitutive of your own sharing in the good. To love God, Whose good we cannot will strictly speaking — as He is purely actualized good itself — is to love what God loves, which, of course, is the neighbor’s good. So we come full circle”. So, God is love. God wills the good of the other. So, who is the other? Us. And who is the Prodigal in the story? Us. My friends in Christ, let me tell you one of, if not the most important things you will ever hear in your life: God loves YOU!!! He loves YOU!!!!! God loves you, He desires you, He wants your eternal good. Before time began, God loved you. God loved the very thought of you, the very thought of your existence, and so He in His infinite power willed you into being. God will never stop loving you, no matter who has said they don’t love you, or you aren’t loved, or no one loves you. DON’T BELIEVE THEM!!! GOD LOVES YOU!!! My friends if God ever stopped loving you, even for a single instant, we would cease to even exist. Forget about, just death, we would cease to even exist. God always loves us. He loves us at our best, He loves us at our worst, and He continues to call us back to Himself the one true good. And because of God’s love for us, that means that He wants to have a relationship with us. God made us out of love for three reasons: 1. To know God. 2. To love God. 3. To be happy with Him in Heaven for all eternity. That is the ultimate good, to know and love God so we can be with Him forever in perfect adoration and love of Him.
So, let’s get back to the parable. Who is the prodigal in the story again? Us. But first, who are we? We are God’s beloved sons and daughters. At the moment of our Baptism, we were adopted into God’s family, the Church. God claimed us forever as His son or daughter. In Confirmation, we ourselves responded to God’s call and choose to be open to His Holy Spirit and gaining that closer relationship with God. How many of you have heard that song by Matthew West, Hello My Name Is? How does the chorus start out? “Hello, my name is child of the one true King”. In Genesis it says that God made us in His very own image. God made us to look and be like Himself. God created us, like our first parents, with free will. Now, why did He do that? God gave us the gift to choose, not so we could choose against God, but to freely and willingly love God in return, Who so freely loves us. And our first parents, Adam and Eve, turned from that. Tricked and deceived by Satan In the form of a serpent, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin was brought into the world. We broke that relationship with God and turned away from Him. We are the prodigal, because each and everyone one of us, has another thing in common, besides being loved by God, and that is that we are all sinners. We have sinned. We have broken that relationship that God wants to have with us, freely by our own choice. In the story, the prodigal son, realizing his mistakes, repents and returns home to the father. How did he return home? He walked down the road most likely. But, how do we return to God, how is that relationship mended? That relationship has both been mended and is being mended. How? From the moment that sin entered the world, actually before the beginning of creation, God knew that sin would enter the world. And so, He had a plan. But, it wasn’t a backup plan. It wasn’t plan B, it was plan A. The eternal Father out of pure love for us, from the moment of our fall in the garden and the original sin, planned from all eternity to send His only-begotten Son, the eternal Word, through Whom all things were made, to save us. God planned from all eternity to become man, for us! This is seen throughout the entire Old Testament, the prophets telling the people that their Messiah was coming, their Savior. But unlike the Israelites who thought that the Messiah was coming to save them from their political and foreign enemies, the Messiah was coming to save us from our true enemies: sin and death. Man, in our finite being, cannot make perfect atonement to God for our offenses against His goodness. Only God can do that. And God did. God Who took on human nature, Who became one of us, Who shared in our being in all things except sin, took our place. St. Paul says in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. The Son of the Father, the Son of God came down from Heaven at the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s fiat, her yes, and was conceived in her pure and immaculate womb. He took on human flesh and nine months later was born as a man in Bethlehem and named Jesus, which means God saves. He grew up, preached, taught, healed, and ministered throughout all of Galilee for three years and then at the end of His life, stood in between the Father and the human race as the one perfect and only acceptable sacrifice for our sins and died on the cross, beaten, battered, and bloody in our place out of love for YOU! Everything that Jesus went through in His Passion was meant for us. But He took it all upon Himself. He accepted it as the will of the Father. In the garden, we see Jesus’ humanity when He asks that if the Father will, that this chalice, this suffering, pass Him by, BUT, He says right after, what words? “Not my will, but Yours be done”. He was innocent, He had no sin, but He endured the lash and the beatings, He endured the scourging. He endured the mockery and crown of thorns in silence. He carried that cross to Calvary, the Cross that was the weight of our sins, and He was nailed upon it and hung up high and as He hung there, He thought of each and every one of us by name! He proclaimed the great act of our salvation finished and died, and at that moment the veil in the Temple, separating the holy of holies where the ark was kept, from the people was torn in two from top to bottom. We could now return to God. Forgiveness and freedom, salvation and eternal life, were once again ours as they were meant to be in the beginning. But it didn’t end there, oh no. That isn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead. He arose and is living today. He is the firstborn from the dead and we shall also be like Him when we are resurrected on the last day to eternal life. When He ascended and sent the Holy Spirit, He promised to remain with us forever and He does that in the Eucharist. Jesus dwells with us in every Catholic Church Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the tabernacle FOR YOU!! He wants to remain close to you, He wants to come to you, He wants you to receive Him into your own body. He makes Himself available to you in that way because that is the type of relationship He wants with you. That is the closest that we can get to Heaven here on earth, is receiving Jesus in the Eucharist and making Him a part of our lives because He gave His life for yours. THAT is how much God loves you!!! God came and died for you. He sent His only begotten Son because He wants you to live with Him forever in Heaven and be happy for all eternity, worshiping Him and singing His praises without end. That is the road in which we, the prodigals, return to the Father and that is the love in which the Father waits for us. He will never stop waiting. He’s there waiting for you right now. So how do we walk that road, how do we get started? Has Jesus, perhaps, given us a way? What is it? Confession.
The Sacrament of Confession, Penance, or Reconciliation, however you call it, there is God’s mercy opened up wide for you. The oceans of love and mercy from the Heart of Jesus Who loves you so much is ready to be washed over you and to make you clean. It is there that God wishes for us to be put right with Him, there where He waits and calls us back to Himself. Don’t be afraid to go! Pope Saint John Paul II said, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God”. Don’t let fear keep you from confession. It’s the devil that wants to keep you away from confession, he wants you to feel embarrassed so that way you don’t confess everything, because if you don’t, he still has a grip on you. Don’t believe his lies. Satan, a murderer and liar from the beginning wants to keep you as far away from God’s mercy and forgiveness as possible, because in confession he has lost his grip on you completely and you are free and restored to your baptismal beauty and grace. The most peaceful words that we can hear this side of Heaven are this: I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So, what is keeping you from Confession? Is it a hurt from years gone by? Is it a sin we are too embarrassed of? Is it a sin we secretly love? No matter the reason, no matter the sin, God wants to take it from you. God wants to be reconciled to you. When we keep ourselves from His mercy we basically tell God that we don’t need Him, that we don’t want Him. And why would we do that? After all that God has done for us, why would we reject that love and peace and mercy He offers us? Why would we willingly choose an eternity without Him when He died to offer us eternal life? So, I ask you, even if you have not been to confession in a long time, or even if you go frequently, if you have something on your heart right now that you want to give to Jesus, go and give it to Him now. God is waiting for you. The Father is waiting. He is looking down the road and waiting to see you coming so He can run and embrace you, His beloved child. So, the only question left is this: will you give Him that chance?
This was the talk I gave on that youth lock in. After I finished, I played this song for them that has had such deep meaning for me for so many years, a song that has always been a help in bringing me back to God and reminding me of how much I really need Him.