TWENTY FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.
SIN MAY BE STRONG, GOD'S MERCY IS STRONGER
Let's start with the conversation between the father and his older son in the parable of the prodigal son. This older son comes in and sees the lavish party thrown in honor of his younger brother. He is uncomfortable. He says to his father, "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" (Lk.15:30). This son truly sounds embittered, but he is genuine. He is upset with what he sees. He expresses his feelings as would any other person in his shoes. He has been devoted and obedient. He imagines why his brother should receive the father's favors despite his profligacy. His prodigal brother is crowned after having messed up. No one would feel good in such situation. However, the father's response to this obedient son gives a bigger picture of the entire story, "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 back to life again; he was lost and has been found" (Lk.15:32). Today's theme is God's mercy and grace in the life of the sinner. The righteous is safe but the lost is sought for.
The theme of mercy begins from the first reading. The Israelites abandon God. They give in to idol worship. They get lost in sin. God threatens to deal with them, but Moses intervenes. Then God relents, the people are saved. In the second reading, Saint Paul chronicles the story of his life prior to his conversion. Paul is an epitome of God's grace made manifest in the repentant sinner. Paul says of himself, "But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life" (1Tim.1:16). As Saul, Paul was lost. He went about persecuting God's people. He didn't know God because of his unbelief. His sins were grave, but the mercy of God searched him out and found him. Paul's conversion is one of the greatest reasons for the Angels of God and the church to celebrate. Paul recognized that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners like himself. Christ came to seek out and search for the lost.
The three parables in the gospel illustrate God's mercy: the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son. In each of these parables, there is a strong emphasis on the search performed by the owner of the lost. The man who had a hundred sheep left the ninety nine in search of the one that was lost. The woman who had ten coins left the nine in search of the single lost coin. The father ran out to meet his prodigal son, and threw a party for him. His love went in search of the prodigal son. When the lost was found, great celebration followed. Here we face the danger of sin and the importance of God's love and mercy- "In just the same way, there will be rejoicing among the Angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Lk.15:10).
Each time I read the story of the prodigal son, I recall the powerful song by Cece Winans titled "Mercy Said No". The lyrics of the song go this way, "As I've come to see the weaker side of me I realize His grace is what I need when sin demanded justice for my soul... Mercy said no, I'm not gonna let you go. I'm not gonna let you slip away. You don't have to be afraid. Mercy said no, sin will never take control. Life and death stood face to face. Darkness tried to steal my heart away. Thank you Jesus, Mercy said no".
In the case of the prodigal son, the weaker side of him took control. His sinful urge imposed its desires and he couldn't resist that pressure. He placed the demand to have a share of his own inheritance. He said to the father, "Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me". As soon as he got that, he left. He disappeared with what he got. Perhaps he thought he got so much when he was leaving. His vision was blurred by his concupiscence. Down the road, he started a life of dissipation. Scriptures say, he "had freely spent everything". That means he willing chose it, he made the choice. Freewill is important in the church's evaluation of sin. The prodigal son knew that his choice was grave, it was a mortal. Then he freely consented to it. He let sin take control of him.
Let's just imagine that the prodigal son committed such a grave sin. He messed up totally, that's true. Did he need to make amends? We learn from his action a great lesson in dealing with sin. People ask questions regarding mortal sin. Can a sin be mortal? Yes, a sin can be either mortal or venial. Saint John explains that "There is a sin that is death" (1Jn.5:16). For example, if I work against God, if I work against truth, if I work against human life. If I work against my neighbor or my family. Sin is mortal if I willingly go against God's commandments. The prodigal son's sins were deadly. They were capable of killing him. What are those prodigal son's sins? He wasted his father's property. He slept with prostitutes, committed sexual impurity. He got drunk. He was lazy. He was selfish against his elder brother. The next question is, Can God forgive mortal sins? The answer is also yes. God has the capacity to forgive all sins. Another question could follow thus, Can the individual pray in a state of mortal sin? Or can prayers be heard in a state of mortal sin? The prodigal son prayed and the father heard him. So, the individual can pray in mortal sin, and his prayers can be heard. But another important question is, What necessary steps can the individual who commits mortal sin take to be in good spiritual shape? This is because mortal sin completely destroys the life of grace in the individual while venial sin diminishes the life of grace.
The prodigal son took the following steps and was restored to grace in his father's house: 1). He came back to his senses. 2). He was sorrowful for his sins. 3). He made a perfect act of contrition, he felt terribly sorry. 4). He went back to his father. 5). He confessed his sins, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you". Confession is a necessary step for the forgiveness of sins. In order to be in state of grace after committing mortal sin, we must take the steps taken by the prodigal son. We must recognize that sin deprives us of God's grace. We have to be really sorry for our sins. We have to search for a priest. Then we have to confess. We don't have to be Catholics who think we don't sin, and have no need for confession. Confession restores us to the Father. It improves our relationship with God.
On his part, God does not abandon us. He is always searching for us even in our sinful state. His mercy is so strong that it says no to our being lost in sin. In the words of Cece Winans, "Mercy is not gonna let you go. Mercy is not gonna let you slip away. You don't have to be afraid. Mercy said no, sin will never take control". We are like the lost coin when we sin. We are like the lost sheep. We are like the lost son, miserable, angry, frustrated, starving. But God's mercy keeps searching. It keeps pulling us back to the Father's love. God wants us to enjoy his embrace. He wants us to enjoy the great party, the feast prepared for us on our return. God wants the heavens to rejoice in celebration of our return. Know that God loves you despite that you are a sinner. He wants to hear you say, like the prodigal son today, "I will leave this place, this friendship, this habit, this website, that leads me to sin, and go back to my Father. I will confess and be in good relationship with my God". He is waiting not to scold you but to embrace you lovingly.