March 10, 2013 –– Fourth Sunday of Lent
No matter how we may interpret the three main readings for this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we cannot fail to realize that the theme of all three deals with reconciliation and forgiveness. There is a strong suggestion relating to our Sacrament of Penance (Confession, Reconciliation).
An important characteristic of stewardship is to faithfully follow our beliefs. As Catholics we are called to Confession at a minimum annually, and in reality more than that. Canon 989 states “All the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year.”
Reconciliation/Confession is one of the least understood of the Sacraments of our Catholic Church. In reconciling us to God, it is a great source of grace, and we are encouraged to take advantage of it often. The Church strongly recommends that, in preparation for fulfilling our Easter Duty to receive Communion, we go to Confession.
The first reading shows God speaking to Joshua to inform him that He has forgiven the Israelites. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, speaks of reconciling and reconciliation. He not only implies that we must be reconciled with God, but he goes a step farther declaring, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” Just as the Lord forgives, we are to forgive. This concept is reinforced in the Gospel.
The Gospel from Luke, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is filled with forgiveness and reconciliation. The word “prodigal” means “wastefully extravagant,” which perfectly describes the younger of the two sons in this parable. His “inheritance” for which he asks his father, is normally not available until the father dies, but he wants it now. His loving father grants it to him, but he squanders and exhausts it.
His return to his father to be reconciled follows the three requirements each of us must follow for our own reconciliation/confession to be valid. The three elements of confession for the penitent are contrition, confession and satisfaction/act of penance. While the Sacrament of Penance has three parts regarding the penitent, there is also a fourth part, absolution, required by the priest administering the sacrament. In the parable, the son repents his actions, his sins; he literally rehearses what he is going to say to his father (“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.”) And, then, the father offers the fourth part of reconciliation — absolution and forgiveness. The celebration begins.
There are two important elements of this parable which we as good Catholic stewards need to note. First is the reaction of the older son who resents his father forgiving his brother and then defies his father. We must strive not to be self righteous in response to those who sin around us. If we are truly to be Christ-like, we must endeavor to achieve the second element, which is forgiveness itself. We are called to be a forgiving people. Just as the father in the parable, who, of course, represents our own Heavenly Father, completely forgives his son and welcomes him and celebrates his return (…”this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again.”), we must reach out to those around us — perhaps family or friends with whom we have some dispute, and forgive and seek reconciliation. Lent is a perfect time to do that.