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“Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Six Sundays ago, the Gospel lesson included the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.  Those two, along with today’s Parable of the Prodigal Son, form the entirety of the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke.  Lost sheep, lost coin, lost son:  These form one common theme of joy in finding that which was lost.

The first parable is the lost sheep.  Hear this:  “And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.  I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

The second is the lost coin.  “And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.  Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

The third is the lost son.  “But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

These three parables show the joy of God when he finds one of his lost ones.

 

Although we call this the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the central figure is the father, who is a type for God.  He loves unconditionally and shows true mercy when it is not deserved.  He opens his arms both to the repentant sinner and the hard-hearted older brother.  The father loved both his sons even when they strayed from his love.  Indeed, it is the unconditional love of the father for the sinful son that allows the son to return home, to repent and be restored.

The younger brother felt hungry and ashamed when feeding the swine.  We ought not to absolve people of their shame.  It is uncomfortable to let people feel ashamed at their misbehavior, but to talk them out of it in order to reduce our anxiety over it might rob them of the spur needed for repentance.  Papering over conflict does not actually reconcile folks; we as Catholic and traditional Christians ought especially to respect that saving souls is more important than explaining away misbehavior, whether in ourselves or others.  If everything is going to be better soon, then we have no need to actually address the root of our problem – living for ourselves instead of God.

When we sin, we blame our alienation on God instead of on ourselves.  “God hates me.  Why has God rejected me?”  Or worse still, “God would not reject me just because of such-and-so”, with such-and-so meaning following your bliss.  If you put your favorite before God, then God is not your favorite.  You have excommunicated yourself, placed yourself under judgement, and damned yourself.  Do not blame God for your bad behavior.  Do not presume to tell God what he does or does not hold true.  Hearken to Scripture and the Church, for they will teach you about God.

The father’s welcome is immediate and overpowering.  It is not a pardon of offences past; it is an acceptance and welcome into the father’s home and family.  The father committed a positive act, not a negative one.  He did not cancel a debt; he restored a relationship.

 

The lost son’s realization of the disparity between his current misery and his former life on the farm are the beginning of his repentance.  This turning begins selfishly – his current life disgusts him and he grieves the loss of the life he once led.  From this urge he considers the facts and sees that he has hurt his father, and he regrets his treatment of him.  Without a doubt, the Holy Ghost can prompt the sinner’s conscience so that even selfish thoughts lead to holy thoughts.  God takes us where we are and works to make us right with him.  He knows that we cannot do it ourselves, because to convert and repent requires looking at oneself in a realistic and unflattering light.  This is a tall order, and we need God’s help to do it.  We must be able to criticize ourselves; otherwise we will always blame our moral failures on external sources and eagerly excuse ourselves.

St. Ambrose of Milan encourages us:  “How merciful! He, though offended, disdains not to hear the name of Father. I have sinned; this is the first confession of sin to the Author of nature, the Ruler of mercy, the Judge of faith. But though God knows all things, He yet waits for the voice of your confession….In vain would you hide from Him whom nothing escapes; and you may safely discover what you know to be already known. Confess the rather that Christ may intercede for thee, the Church plead for you, the people weep over you: nor fear that you will not obtain; your Advocate promises pardon, your Patron favor, your Deliverer promises you the reconciliation of your Father’s affection.”

We do not need first feel sorry for our sins to confess them to God, but we must acknowledge them and turn away from them.  After all, we can have most peculiar relationships with our most difficult and fatal sins.  Sometimes we can plainly look at the facts and know that we have to change, that we have to pry ourselves loose from this deadly sin that almost seems like it is a part of us.  Drunkenness can be like this.  Unchaste sexual behavior can be like this.  And those are just two examples:  I cannot peep into your soul and see what your most difficult sin is.  But when we can catch a bit of breathing space and plainly look at our sin, we know that we do not want to live that life anymore; we understand that we are squeezing something unholy between God and us; we understand that we cannot participate in the eternal and boundless love of God if we insist upon keeping this obstacle between him and us.  It just can’t go on.

And so we acknowledge our tough sin before God and turn away from it.  That is repentance.  We turn from our sin, we let go of our sin, we drop our sin, we pry ourselves loose from our sin.  Here we are, grabbing this awful thing tight with our arms, and we are so tired, we are so weary.  Without relief, it will drag us down to Hell.  But with the power of the Holy Ghost, we loosen up our cramped arms just barely enough to drop this awful heavy load so that we can turn from where we dropped it and reach out those aching limbs for our loving Heavenly Father to scoop us up in his loving arms.

This is the toughest battle we will ever fight:  Tougher than the Bulge, tougher than Khe Sanh, tougher than Fallujah.  This is tougher than giving birth, than standing trial, than losing your loved one.  This is so tough that the toughest of us can’t do it alone – and even though our Lord the Holy Ghost does the heavy lifting, even though our Lord Christ does the heavy reconciling, even though our Lord the Father does the heavy forgiving, it is enough to make the strongest of us weak in the knees.  But this is the way to forgiveness, the way to peace.  We have to fight the good fight to win the crown.

We are used to working.  We work and we earn our living.  Read it right there in Genesis; there it is:  “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”  But this is a different kind of work.  Indeed, this is our life’s work.  I don’t care if you are a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker:  Your real job on earth is to get right with God.  He wants you back.  He loves you.  He created you!  Throughout all of history God the Father has been creating and preparing you to come home to him so he can throw you a bigger feast than you can imagine.  He does not throw the feast to woo you back – he throws the feast because he is so glad that you are back safe and sound in his house.  He has missed you in all your wandering.  He wants to run across the fields and hug your neck as you both cry for joy.  Coming to terms with your sins was awful, but this homecoming makes it all worthwhile.  The choicest robe; a ring for your finger.  Man, will he be glad when you finally come home!

We must heed the call of repentance.  One of the six Duties of Churchmen is to keep a clean conscience.  We must examine ourselves for sin, and not just the quick and easy stuff either.  Lurking inside our as-yet-not-completely-sanctified selves is firmly rooted sin which cleverly disguises itself to look like virtue or something inoffensive.  But it stinks to Heaven where God hates it and hates how it is fooling us, using us, and abusing us.  We must carefully and prayerfully expose our souls to God with or without the aid of a priest and acknowledge our sins and turn away from them.  We must do this for the salvation and sanctification of our souls.  We must be ever vigilant to catch creeping sins before they take root in our souls, and when we do find sin, whether habitual or new, we root it out pronto.

 

Two things to sum up:

First:  Everyone, no matter how proud, lustful, greedy, glutinous, angry, envious, or indolent, who repents is welcomed with open arms by God, and everyone with a soul, however holy or wicked, will be welcomed with open arms here at St. Luke Church.

Second:  We need to turn away from our sins and return to God.  Our Heavenly Father will take care of the rest of it.  He will welcome us in his heavenly home.  The future with the fullness of God awaits us.  But we must repent and return to God.  Repent.  Return.

 

“Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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