Towards the end of the fantasy movie, the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy taps her feet three times and joyfully exclaims, “There’s no place like home.” The dictionary definition of home is that it is a place of residence or domicile. But there is more to that definition. Home is a place that offers safety, peace of mind, acceptance, compassion, shelter, and genuine love. Home is a place that pulls you when you are away, a place with a strong attraction. This must have been the experience of the prodigal son on his return from his self-inflicted exile. He is the one who treats the father badly. Asking the father for a share of his inheritance is like telling the father that his time with him is up. The father does not count all that. It’s the father’s compassionate embrace, the kisses, putting the ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet that make the prodigal son’s story compelling each time it is told. Enjoying the feast and being a part of the party would have been a profound homecoming experience. God’s plan is to restore us to his love as St. Paul writes, “the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” In Christ we are truly safe, cherished, appreciated, and celebrated. Yes, there is no place like home.
Each time I read the story of the prodigal son, the powerful song by Cece Winans comes into my head, "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. 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." That’s the prodigal son’s story. It starts in a very pathetic way, a negative plot which gradually opens and exposes the dangers of addiction to sensual things, selfishness, and greed of the younger son. His situation further degenerates into misery, isolation, distancing from family, and then shame. The weaker side of the prodigal son takes over him. His vision is messed up and he ends up in a life of dissipation. Scripture says, he "had freely spent everything." The prodigal son is sadly away from home.
This story brings up the question of mortal sin in the Catholic teaching. Yes, sin can be mortal or venial. Mark the word, “freely” in the prodigal son’s story. He makes a bad choice and willingly consents to his action. To categorize a sin as mortal involves a grave matter, full knowledge, and consent of the will. The word mortal means deadly, as Saint John explains, such a sin leads to death (1 Jn.5:16). The prodigal son willingly offends the father in grave manner -wastes his hard earned property, sleeps with prostitutes, drinks excessively, indulges in laziness, and exhibits selfishness. He finds himself in a big mess. But the message in this story is mostly about the father’s love. In spite of the prodigal son’s mistakes, he is welcomed back home into a loving embrace of his father. God is able to forgive all sins. God wants us to be reconciled to him, to be restored back to grace.
What is special about the prodigal son? 1). He comes back to his senses. 2). He expresses deep sorrow for his sins. 3). He makes a firm decision to go back to his father. 4). He confesses his sins. But what if the father has refused to accept him back? What if the father has decided to cut him off? Home would not be home for him anymore. In this story is the great image of forgiveness and mercy from God who is our Father. We experience this love in the sacrament of reconciliation. We encounter our Father. Every priest must represent this image of the Father who cherishes the penitent with a compassionate embrace. We must make confession an experience of homecoming for the penitent. We must help the penitent look forward to celebrating the most beautiful feast, to eat the most fattened calf in the holy sacrifice of the Blessed Eucharist. We must lead those who come to confession joyfully to the love of the Father.
On Friday, March 25 (Feast of Annunciation), the Pope invited the whole world to join in prayer for the Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. A profound moment was the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation where priests heard confessions and absolved the penitents at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Before starting to hear confessions, Pope Francis removed his vestment and asked another priest to hear his confession. Watching the Holy Father kneel beside the confessional as a penitent was humbling. The pope helped us to appreciate the love of God the Father in this sacrament. The prodigal father in today’s gospel says to his older son, “‘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; he was lost and has been found.’” That means, let’s celebrate with your brother because there is no place like home.
My friends, God is always searching for us even in our sinful state. His mercy is strong that it says no to our being lost in sin. God is not letting you slip away notwithstanding how bad your situation may look. Have you seen yourself in the position of the lost son? Have you been taken over by your addiction, weighed down by your weakness, encumbered by shame and flooded with guilt? Have you felt miserable, angry, frustrated because of things you did wrong? Have you been tormented by your past that sometimes you feel ashamed of yourself? Have you been afraid to go to confession? Are you wondering what the priest would say or think about you? The good news is that God's mercy is searching for you. The Father is ready to embrace you. The great Eucharistic feast is waiting for you. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, tap your feet three times, get back to your senses and reassure yourself, “There’s no place like home.”
Readings: 1st- Josh. 5:9, 10-12; 2nd- 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Gospel- Lk. 15:1-3, 11-32