Lent 4 (C) 2019

Today we feature a guest post by Fr John Corrigan of Blog of a Country Priest.

The parable of the prodigal son is so familiar — and so long — that it’s worth considering only a few verses. Let’s jump to the chase and consider the younger son’s conversion.

“When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch.”

“Feeling the pinch” evokes the anxiety and emptiness which we experience when we are far from God.

When we sin, we lose our freedom. We’re enslaved to appetites and habits.

“Then he came to his senses.”

Literally, the prodigal son “came to himself.” This is a critical moment — and it is far from guaranteed.

Our propensity to sin? That is guaranteed. The desolation which sin reaps? That is guaranteed. But the recognition of “coming to one’s self” — recognising we’re in need of help? That’s not guaranteed.

Pride can blind us. Or at least make us indifferent. Self-knowledge is painful. Contrition is fragile.

We can be overcome with contrition one moment, and indifferent to our sin the next.

That’s why the saints counsel regular confession. The Holy Spirit gives us “windows,” during which we are stirred to make a good confession and receive absolution. But the urge to go to confession passes.

The remedy is to go to confession at fixed times. Once every Advent and Lent. Or once a month. Or once a week. Whatever is helpful to us.

When we do that, we spare ourselves the massive effort of lifting ourselves out of the mud unaided. It’s as though the father in this parable travels to the distant country, and helps lift his son out of the mud.

Which brings us to the remarkable compassion of the father. The Divine Mercy of God.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly.”

The boy stunk of swine. He was both literally and ritually unclean. But his father embraces him, and kisses him.

This is like God, but in fact, God goes even further.

St Paul tells us just how far God went in the Second Reading.

“For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.”

It’s worth meditating on that. “For our sake, God made the sinless one into sin.”

On the cross, Christ bore in his body our sins. He experienced all the anxiety and loneliness that sin brings us.

Within the terms of today’s parable, it’s as though the father travelled to the distant country and not only helped his son out of the mud, but did so by getting into the filthy pig sty himself, eating the pig’s food himself, and revealing to his son how desperate the situation is.

We should approach the sacrament of reconciliation with great confidence. We might relate to the prodigal son, rehearsing lines about disinheritance, and unworthiness, and becoming a paid servant.

But we must not dialogue with shame. None of us are defined by our sins. We’re defined by our Father in Heaven. We are children of God, and we’re destined for much more. Christ “became sin,” so that we might become the goodness of God.