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The story of the prodigal son is one of the longest in the gospel and it’s also one of the most important. It’s not just about a boy who goes astray, of course, it’s about the human race gone wrong.
“Give me what’s mine,” the son says boldly to his father. We all tend to say that. And he takes off for a faraway country, a permissive paradise that promises power and pleasure, in fact, it promises him everything, where he can do anything he wants.
But they’re empty promises, and soon the boy who had so much has nothing and ends up in a pigsty feeding pigs, who eat better than he does.
Then, he takes his first step back. He “comes to himself,” our story says; he realizes what he has done. “I have sinned.”
How straightforward his reaction! Not blaming anybody else for the mess he is in: not his father, or the prostitutes he spent so much of his money on, or society that fooled him. No, he takes responsibility. That “coming to himself” was the first gift of God’s mercy.
He doesn’t wallow in his sin and what it’s brought him, either. He doesn’t let it trap him. He looks beyond it to the place where he belongs, to his father’s house. It wont be an easy road, but he keeps his eyes on it and starts back home.
There he’s surprised by the welcome he receives. More than he ever expected. The father takes into his arms and calls for feast.
His story is our story too.
In these days of Lent, many of us approach the sacrament of reconciliation. That sacrament is very much like the journey the son takes back to his father. First of all, we look for the mercy of God to come to ourselves, to know our sins and to look for our place in our Father’s house.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. we say beginning our confession. The prayer of the son has become our prayer. We acknowledge our sins.
Then the priest who represents Jesus, who speaks for his Father in heaven, says.
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of our sins.
Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We receive pardon and peace, the gift of God’s mercy.
How easily we leave your side,
for a place far away.
Send light into our darkness,
and open our eyes to our sins.
Unless you give us new hearts and strong spirits,
we cannot make the journey home,
to your welcoming arms and the music and the dancing.
Father of mercies and giver of all gifts,
guide us home
and lead us back to you.