by Michael Podrebarac
If we really understood the parable of the prodigal son, we would understand the nature of our sin, the process of reconciliation and God’s unfailing love for us.
We would then see the sacrament of penance and reconciliation in an entirely new way, and the regular opportunity to confess our sins and know the Lord’s love would be irresistible to us. I am convinced of this.
We have often reflected on the father’s compassion in this parable and on how poorly the older brother reacts to the news of his brother’s return home. I believe it would do us well to reflect also on the first part of Jesus’ parable: the short illustration of the prodigal son’s decision to leave home.
To understand the nature of disobedience, the perpetual human desire for emancipation from God and the sheer pointlessness of sin is crucial in truly appreciating what the Lord offers us when we “come to our senses” (Lk 15:17).
Far from being a guilt trip, such a reflection can help us understand the roots of our sins so that we may eventually lose all desire to leave our Father’s house again.
The words of Jesus become a springboard for us in understanding even that which happens after the parable concludes. Remember, Jesus stops short of offering us the older brother’s final reaction. And he does not tell us how (or even if) the younger son mends his ways. And mending one’s ways seems to be a point which many land on when discussing the theme of God’s mercy.
From Jesus’ revelations on the Father’s compassion, we can venture out to the sometimes-forgotten nature of our sins and the often-dreaded practice of doing penance. In other words, we can come to grasp the whole cycle, if you will, of how we: sin, recognize sin, react to sin, confess our sin, experience forgiveness, celebrate recovery, overcome scandal and finally embark upon the path of freedom.
Like all of us, I am one who has lived out this parable in my own life, and from each of its many angles. And I ardently desire to share what I have so far concluded, and with as many as possible.
And so, I invite you to join me for a reflection on this beautiful synthesis of reconciliation and penance. For starters, we have the following times scheduled: on March 8 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Mother Teresa Church in Topeka, and on March 15 from 7-8:30 p.m. at St. Patrick Church in Kansas City, Kansas. All are most welcome.
In addition, I will be happy to come to your parish and share this reflection. Contact me at the archdiocesan office for liturgy and sacramental life for how we can make that happen.