Bishop Emeritus Slattery: God rejoices in showing his mercy to us sinners

The wayward and lost son returning to his forgiving father, is a good image of the sacrament of confession

The first words of the Entrance Antiphon sets the tone for the message of today’s Mass:  “The Lord is kind and full of compassion”. This is the image of God strongly emphasized throughout the Lenten season and it is especially stressed in today’s readings. As in all relationships, our image of the other person – in this case our image of God – is very important in determining how we relate to him. Today’s readings leave us in no doubt how the Lord wants us to see him – a merciful, understanding, compassionate and forgiving God. This is his way of presenting himself to us in order to attract and draw us into an ever deepening personal relationship with himself.

In the first Reading (Mi 7: 14-15 ,18-20 ) the Prophet Micah gives us the beautiful saying that God “delights in mercy”. He is not just merciful but actually rejoices in showing his mercy to us sinners. The writer goes on to say that God “will tread our iniquities under foot … will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”. This sounds almost too good to be true but the Gospel (Lk 15:1-3,11-32 ) goes further in teaching about God’s mercy, through the powerful story about the merciful father and the wayward son.

The wayward son represents very many young people who are over eager and not sufficiently prepared to leave home and look after themselves. It is understandable that young people growing up, look forward to leaving home and having an independent life. But they need to be prepared for this exciting challenge and this young man obviously wasn’t. He couldn’t cope and got himself into serious trouble “having squandered his property in loose living”. The young man eventually found himself working for someone in a foreign country who “sent him into his field to feed swine” – something utterly abhorrent to any Jew. He had hit rock bottom! But it caused him to “come to himself”, to look deeply into his life, and to do something about getting out of his dire situation.

The young man was very aware that he had disappointed his father very much, but yet he was humble enough to make the brave decision “Iwill arise and go to him and say to him ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants”. But one can say that the real hero of the parable is the father as we see his response. He saw his son coming at a distance and probably many times in the past, he had also looked down that road hoping to see his son returning. This time it was

really happening and “while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him”. But he was hardly listening to his son’s confession of sorrow, as he was planning a big celebration for his safe return. He killed the “fatted calf” and had a big feast because he said “this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found”. This wonderful showing of mercy and forgiveness by the father was completely lost on his eldest son, who in his jealousy and anger, resented what the father had done and boycotted the celebration.

This parable is a beautiful illustration of the meaning of the Lenten season. It is a period of special grace and blessing for the whole Church, as we heed the call to repent and believe the Gospel. The wayward and lost son returning to his forgiving father, is a good image of the sacrament of confession. In this sacrament the merciful Lord invites us to come to him, with all our baggage of sin and shame and guilt in order to get rid of them. This is where we really experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. And we get the grace and help we need to grow in our faith, rejoice in it  and bear witness to it in the different areas of life.



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