Summary: The Parable of the Prodigal Son has a happy ending only because the prodigal remembered the kindness and love of his Father.
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Course 2013
Sinners Forgiving Sinners
Of all the parables of Jesus, this one of St. Luke’s is the favorite among God’s people, because we are a Church of prodigals, an assembly of sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. It is His Precious Blood and Body that bring us forgiveness of our venial sins each time we approach the altar of sacrifice. It is our communion in Christ that sustains us in our daily struggle to avoid sin and grow in virtue.
The parable has a happy ending only because the Prodigal Son remembered the love and mercy of his father. He knew as he starved to death while slopping the hogs that he had a real shot at getting a minimum-wage job in dad’s farm, because–you know it’s true–this was not the first time he asked forgiveness for some huge personal blunder.
(If, on the other hand, the boy had never known kindness and forgiveness from his father, maybe he would have tried to solve his problems by joining together with all his prodigal friends, taking over the government and eventually, if not stopped, perverting the whole culture.)
Let’s admit it. Sin is attractive. It is an appealing short-term fix to a deep personal problem that we all have. That problem is our incompleteness. Pascal describes it well. We are born with a huge hole in our personality. When we are young and our minds are ruled by our passions, we may try to fill that hole with video games or hours on our i-pads, or even by bullying others and sassing our parents. But none of these actions can fill the hole, and some of them will even corrupt our minds and hearts from the inside.
No, the hole in our heart is God-shaped and God-sized, and only God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, can fill it and heal it. St. Augustine put it perfectly when he prayed in his Confessions, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” That is why no earthly pleasure can satisfy us very long. It is also why if we keep trying to find satisfaction in some earthly good, we end up debasing that good and corrupting our minds and hearts until even the initial pleasure turns to disgust. Only Ultimate Good can satisfy. Only Divine Grace can still our restless hearts.
We see this phenomenon playing out today in our political process, and to many of us it is profoundly disturbing. Genesis teaches us: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” Jesus blessed marriage, affirming the words of Genesis that the man and woman forsake all others and cleave to each other, becoming one flesh. Chesterton says that the natural state of humans is as a quadruped. The Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, in a beautiful letter, tells us that “Human beings. . .are nothing less than the work of God himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other.” (Letter, par 6)
But “ this truth about persons being an image of God has been obscured by original sin. There inevitably follows a loss of awareness of the covenantal character of the union these persons had with God and with each other. The human body retains its ‘spousal significance’ but this is now clouded by sin. Thus, [later in Genesis], the deterioration due to sin continues in the story of the men of Sodom. There can be no doubt of the moral judgement made there against homosexual relations.” (Ibid.) Any use of our generative faculties outside marriage between one man and one woman is abusive and self-destructive. Those actions are gravely sinful.
The teaching continues: “As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.” I urge you to read the entire letter to the bishops on the pastoral care of those with same-sex inclinations. The bottom-line is this: God loves everyone. God loves sinners–after all, he loves me, and I have failed Him badly many times. God loves those with homosexual tendencies, and loves them way too much to let them engage in self-destructive homosexual acts without telling them in their minds and hearts that they are hurting themselves and others gravely. Finally, the Church teaches–today at our risk–the same message. Moreover, as Archbishop Gustavo recently reminded all of us, the Catholic Church is in the business of forgiveness of sin. Anyone who repents of sin, no matter how serious, as long as they have a sincere desire to stop sinning, will be welcome in the confessional just like the Prodigal Son, and will be absolved. Nobody is outside the circle of divine love and forgiveness. Nobody.