‘your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
Prayer of Reconciliation
God of compassion, You sent Jesus to proclaim a time of mercy reaching out to those who had no voice, releasing those trapped by their own shame, and welcoming those scorned by society.
Make us ambassadors of reconciliation. Open our ears that we may listen with respect and understanding. Touch our lips that we may speak your words of peace and forgiveness. Warm our hearts that we may bring wholeness to the broken-hearted and dissolve the barriers of division.
Guide the work of your Church and renew us with the Spirit of your love. Help us and all people to shape a world where all will have a place, where the flames of hatred are quenched, and where all can grow together as one.
Forgive, restore and strengthen us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way,
grant, we pray,
that with prompt devotion and eager faith
the Christian people may hasten
toward the solemn celebrations to come.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Jos 5:9a, 10-12
The LORD said to Joshua,
“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”
While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho,
they celebrated the Passover
on the evening of the fourteenth of the month.
On the day after the Passover,
they ate of the produce of the land
in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain.
On that same day after the Passover,
on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased.
No longer was there manna for the Israelites,
who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.
The Pharao of Egypt refused to listen to the pleas of Moses to let the Israelites go. The first nine plagues left him still stubborn. God therefore sent the final plague. The first-born male of man and beast was to be struck dead on the fourteenth night of the first month. On that night the Israelites were to sacrifice an unspotted lamb, smearing their door posts with its blood, so that the avenging angel would pass over their homes and strike death in the homes of the Egyptians. The whole lamb was to be eaten, without breaking any of its bones. It was to be eaten by the family, or by two or more families if the members of one family were not numerous enough to eat it all. They were to eat the lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (a reminder of their slavery) whilst standing, ready to get on their way.
This final plague of death frightened the Pharao and the Jews were given their liberty. Our interest as Christians in this is more than historical. It happened for us. The Israelites were set free so that from them would come the One who was to set all mankind free. The Paschal Lamb and the liberation from Egypt were a foreshadowing of our liberation from sin and our change from slavery to this world into the freedom of the sons of God.
Because Christ was our Pascal Lamb –“Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed,” St. Paul says (1 Cor. 5: 7) – he chose to die for us in the Jewish feast of Passover, and to be raised again on the third day to prove our true liberation. Thus the religion of the Israelites and all their festivals were brought to fruition, and fulfilled for all mankind in our Christian Passover, in Christ’s death and resurrection.
This is why we are reminded today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, of the paschal feast we shall celebrate with joy and gratitude at the end of this holy season of preparation. God’s love for us and his interest in our true welfare dates back to eternity. Before he created all things his plan was to give man, his highest earthly creature, a share in his own divinity. With the call of Abraham, his interest in us was his motive. The liberation from Egypt was a prelude to his plan of redemption for us. The first Good Friday and Easter morning were the culmination of this divine love for mankind. It went to such lengths–the sacrifice of Christ the Son of God – so that we could share in the eternal happiness of heaven.
Cold is the human heart that fails to react to such proofs of true, unselfish love. Weak indeed is the faith of the Christian who can look on the scene enacted on Calvary while throwing his own mean little cross on the ground. Foolish beyond belief is the man who would let the passing things of this world so engage him that he has no time to earn the everlasting life that God’s infinite love has planned for him from all eternity.
Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
2 Cor 5:17-21
Brothers and sisters:
Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.
And all this is from God,
who has reconciled us to himself through Christ
and given us the ministry of reconciliation,
namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
not counting their trespasses against them
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
So we are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 433 The name of the Savior God was invoked only once in the year by the high priest in atonement for the sins of Israel, after he had sprinkled the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies with the sacrificial blood. The mercy seat was the place of God’s presence.1 When St. Paul speaks of Jesus whom “God put forward as an expiation by his blood”, he means that in Christ’s humanity “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”2
CCC 602 Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. .. with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.”3 Man’s sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death.4 By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”5
CCC 827 “Christ, ‘holy, innocent, and undefiled,’ knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.”6 All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners.7 In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time.8 Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s salvation but still on the way to holiness:
The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.9
CCC 859 Jesus unites them to the mission he received from the Father. As “the Son can do nothing of his own accord,” but receives everything from the Father who sent him, so those whom Jesus sends can do nothing apart from him,10 from whom they received both the mandate for their mission and the power to carry it out. Christ’s apostles knew that they were called by God as “ministers of a new covenant,” “servants of God,” “ambassadors for Christ,” “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”11
CCC 981 After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles “so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.”12 The apostles and their successors carry out this “ministry of reconciliation,” not only by announcing to men God’s forgiveness merited for us by Christ, and calling them to conversion and faith; but also by communicating to them the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, and reconciling them with God and with the Church through the power of the keys, received from Christ:13
[The Church] has received the keys of the Kingdom of heaven so that, in her, sins may be forgiven through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit’s action. In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us.14
CCC 1214 This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to “plunge” or “immerse”; the “plunge” into the water symbolizes the catechumen’s burial into Christ’s death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as “a new creature.”15
CCC 1265 Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,”16 member of Christ and co-heir with him,17 and a temple of the Holy Spirit.18
CCC 1424 It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a “confession” – acknowledgment and praise – of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.
It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”19
It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the live of God who reconciles: “Be reconciled to God.”20 He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: “Go; first be reconciled to your brother.”21
CCC 1442 Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood. But he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the “ministry of reconciliation.”22 The apostle is sent out “on behalf of Christ” with “God making his appeal” through him and pleading: “Be reconciled to God.”23
CCC 1461 Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation,24 bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
CCC 1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification:25
Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.26
CCC 2844 Christian prayer extends to the forgiveness of enemies,27 transfiguring the disciple by configuring him to his Master. Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus. Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another.28
1 Cf. Ex 25:22; Lev 16:2,15-16; Num 7:89; Sir 50:20; Heb 9:5,7.
2 Rom 3:25; 2 Cor 5:19.
3 I Pt 1:18-20.
4 Cf. Rom 5:12; I Cor 15:56.
5 2 Cor 5:21; cf. Phil 2:7; Rom 8:3.
6 LG 8 § 3; Cf. UR 3; 6; Heb 2:17; 726; 2 Cor 5:21.
7 Cf. 1 Jn 1:8-10.
8 Cf. Mt 13:24-30.
9 Paul VI, CPG § 19.
10 Jn 5:19, 30; cf. Jn 15:5.
11 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4; 5:20; 1 Cor 4:1.
12 Lk 24:47.
13 2 Cor 5:18.
14 St. Augustine, Sermo 214,11:PL 38,1071-1072.
15 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Cf. Rom 6:34; Col 2:12.
16 2 Cor 5:17; 2 Pet 1:4; cf. Gal 4:5-7.
17 Cf. l Cor 6:15; 12:27; Rom 8:17.
18 Cf. l Cor 6:19.
19 OP 46 formula of absolution.
20 2 Cor 5:20.
21 MT 5:24.
22 2 Cor 5:18.
23 2 Cor 5:20.
24 Cf. In 20:23; 2 Cor 5:18.
25 Cf. Jn 4:14; 7:38-39.
26 2 Cor 5:17-18.
27 Cf. Mt 5:43-44.
28 Cf. 2 Cor 5:18-21; John Paul II, DM 14.
We are Christians. To many perhaps this statement is about as important as if we say we are Americans, we are Germans, we are Irish, we are Italians. But as every sincere Christian knows, and as St. Paul has reminded us today, to be a Christian means something different. It means that our relationship with God and the whole meaning of life has been radically changed. The divine plan of the Incarnation reached its climax in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. As a result of this plan we are no longer mere human beings. We have been raised up to adopted sonship by God. We are already by baptism citizens of God’s earthly kingdom, and we are legal heirs of his eternal kingdom in heaven. These are not empty words, nor empty titles. Because the Son of God became a man, and one of us, we have been made brothers of his and sons of God. Because we are sons of God we are heirs to heaven, and have a legal right – through the sheer gift of God’s infinite love for us, not through any merit whatsoever of our own – to eternal happiness.
The plan for our eternal happiness was made by God before creation began. It was signed and sealed by the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. At baptism each Christian is handed his bill of rights, his guarantee of eternal citizenship, together with the map which shows him the road he must travel to attain his kingdom.
But reading and following the road map is for many of us the part we like least. We are all thankful to God and to his divine Son for all he has done for us. We are all delighted with the privilege of divine sonship and the promise of a part in the eternal kingdom of God in heaven. But many of us get sleepy and faint-hearted when it comes to following the road mapped out for us. We know that we have been raised above our mere human nature and given a new status in relation to God. We also know and feel that we are still very human, very earthly beings, naturally attracted to the things of this world.
But we can and we must overcome this attraction. This is what St. Paul is exhorting us to do today. “Be reconciled to God,” he says. Repent of past faults, of past sins, he tells us. If we turn to God with a sincere heart, he will accept us back once more into the divine family of which baptism made us members. We are the chosen children of God, not in any metaphorical or figurative sense, but in the true sense of the words. Heaven is the eternal home earned for us by our true brother Christ. Could we be so foolish as to let some earthly passing pleasure or possession deprive us of that everlasting reward?
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable:
“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;
CCC 589 Jesus gave scandal above all when he identified his merciful conduct toward sinners with God’s own attitude toward them.1 He went so far as to hint that by sharing the table of sinners he was admitting them to the messianic banquet.2 But it was most especially by forgiving sins that Jesus placed the religious authorities of Israel on the horns of a dilemma. Were they not entitled to demand in consternation, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”3 By forgiving sins Jesus either is blaspheming as a man who made himself God’s equal, or is speaking the truth and his person really does make present and reveal God’s name.4
CCC 1423 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father5 from whom one has strayed by sin.
It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.
CCC 1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father:6 the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy – all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life – pure worthy, and joyful – of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart Of Christ Who knows the depths of his Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.
CCC 1443 During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God’s forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God.7
CCC 1468 “The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.”8 Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.”9 Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.10
CCC 1700 The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son11 to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity.
CCC 1846 The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners.12 The angel announced to Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”13 The same is true of the Eucharist, the sacrament of redemption: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”14
CCC 2795 The symbol of the heavens refers us back to the mystery of the covenant we are living when we pray to our Father. He is in heaven, his dwelling place; the Father’s house is our homeland. Sin has exiled us from the land of the covenant,15 but conversion of heart enables us to return to the Father, to heaven.16 In Christ, then, heaven and earth are reconciled,17 for the Son alone “descended from heaven” and causes us to ascend there with him, by his Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension.18
CCC 2839 With bold confidence, we began praying to our Father. In begging him that his name be hallowed, we were in fact asking him that we ourselves might be always made more holy. But though we are clothed with the baptismal garment, we do not cease to sin, to turn away from God. Now, in this new petition, we return to him like the prodigal son and, like the tax collector, recognize that we are sinners before him.19 Our petition begins with a “confession” of our wretchedness and his mercy. Our hope is firm because, in his Son, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”20 We find the efficacious and undoubted sign of his forgiveness in the sacraments of his Church.21
This parable or story refuted the Pharisees’ objection to Christ’s friendliness with sinners very effectively. The infinite mercy of God, the Father of saint and sinner, is brought out very clearly in the story of the younger son. Even though he abandoned his father, the father did not abandon him. The father’s mercy was big enough and generous enough to forgive and forget. His love for his son was strong enough to smother any feelings of personal resentment. His son’s return, humble and chastened, blotted out all his past faults and failures. It was surely an occasion for general rejoicing.
Could the Pharisees fail to see that the father in that story was God and the wayward son the sinners with whom Christ was associating? That the elder son who had stayed with his father looking after the part of the property given to him represented themselves, must have been evident to them too. They were faithful to God and to his law in most ways even if not from completely unselfish motives. But their lack of charity, especially their lack of interest in their fellow-men and the pride they took in their own strict observance, made imperfect all their otherwise good deeds. They were the elder sons, they were still nominally God’s chosen people. But their place was about to be taken by the younger son, by the sinners and publicans, by the Gentiles they so despised.
They must have seen the point of the story and the message Christ had in it for them. Yet they failed to learn its lesson. They remained stubborn in their pride and refused to accept Christ and his salvation.
For the vast majority of us, Christians, our message of consolation and hope is in the first part of today’s parable. All of us have, many a time, been prodigal, ungrateful, selfish sons of our loving Father. But he is still a Father of infinite love, of boundless mercy. He is not only waiting for us to return, like the human father in the story. He is continually sending out messengers to recall us and to help us on the return journey. Like the prodigal in the story, we may have squandered the gifts that our heavenly father gave us. We may have abused our freedom and broken his laws. We may have descended to the deepest depths of degradation (to a Jew to become a swine-herd was the last step in human debasement). We may now feel torn and tattered but, never forget it, our loving, merciful Father is waiting for us with open arms to welcome us back the moment we come to ourselves and decide to return. Until we have drawn our last breath on earth, the mercy of God and his pardon, are there for our asking.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission of Franciscan Press.
Love and Correction
Anger is not necessarily always in contradiction with love. A father, for instance, sometimes has to speak crossly to his son so as to prick his conscience, just because he loves him. And he would fall short of his loving obligation and his will to love if, in order to make things easier for the other person, and also for himself, he avoided the task of putting him right sometimes by making a critical intervention in his life. We know that spoiled children, to whom everything has been permitted, are often in the end quite unable to come to terms with life, because later on life treats them quite differently, and because they have never learned to discipline themselves, to get themselves on the right track. Or if, for instance, because I want to be nice to him, I give to an addict the drugs he wants instead of weaning him off them (which would seem to him very hard treatment), then in that case you cannot talk of real love. To put it another way: love, in the true sense, is not always a matter of giving way, being soft, and just acting nice. In that sense, a sugar-costed Jesus or a God who agrees to everything and is never anything but nice and friendly is no more than a caricature of real love. Because God loves us, because he wants us to grow into truth, he must necessarily make demands on us and must also correct us. God has to do those things we refer to in the image of “the wrath of God,” that is, he has to resist us in our attempts to fall from our own best selves and when we pose a threat to ourselves.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Dear Lord, you have witnessed the rebelliousness of youth since the very beginnings of time. You understand a parent’s anguish and helplessness over the actions of his child. Please help us to transform our anger and frustration into loving care for our child who has gone astray. Help us begin to mend our broken fences and heal our broken hearts. Bless our child and also help him to mend the error of his ways. Help and bless us all to do right in Your name and restore us to peace and tranquility. We ask this and all things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let Us Bless The Lord - A weekly study of the Catholic Church's Sunday Sacred Liturgy. I hope that families and friends will benefit from this as a prayerful way to prepare and actively participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.