Homily on the Gospel of The Prodigal Son by Archpriest Don Freude

A major league umpire was asked if he ever made mistakes in calling balls and strikes. He replied, “Of course, I make mistakes. My only trouble is I can’t admit it.” sunday of the prodigal son iconOur hope in life as Christians is to have the humility to admit to ourselves and to God, that not being infallible or perfect, we have made mistakes – and do make them every day. If you were asked what the hardest task in the world is, you might think of some muscular feat, some acrobatic challenge, or some act of bravery in a situation that might arise. Actually, however, there is nothing harder, nothing more arduous than to say these three words: “I was wrong.” It takes humility and self-effacement which too often we find that we are not capable of. Yet no three words are more needed in our life than the words, “I was wrong.” They are in a real sense magic words; words that reconcile; words that unite; words that heal wounds and bring peace. We hear the call of Christ especially during this period of Pre-Lent and Lent: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4:17) We heard this call to us three weeks ago.  But today the call is the same.  The question is how we relate to it. As to words alone? Or as to the great call of Christ’s Church, our Mother, who knows what is awaiting us, and therefore appeals to us, “Repent.” During the course of these three weeks, the Church has been convincing us that we must examine ourselves. If you will remember three Sundays ago, the Church gave us the Gospel reading about Zacchaeus the tax collector who desired to see Jesus. He climbed the sycamore tree and looking through the leaves he saw the eyes of mercy looking at him. Zachaeus repented paying back fourfold to anyone he had defrauded and half of what he owned he gave to the poor. In the words of our Lord: “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Through the grace of our Lord Jesus he was able to say “I was wrong.” And the Church gave us the image of this publican so that we could check ourselves. Then last Sunday, our holy mother, the Church, pulls back the curtain for us and allows us to listen in to the moment of prayer of the Pharisee who was boasting about how great he was and the Publican who was beating his breast and saying: “God, be merciful to me a sinner”  (Luke 18:13). A careless and sinful life was so enrooted in this publican’s consciousness that he did not know want to do. His desire was that from this moment on, his life would not be sinful. And he reached his state of despair and all he could say: “God be merciful to me a sinner.  I can do nothing. Thou art the Only Who by Thy divine strength and Thy Grace can help me get out of this difficult situation of a suffering conscience.”  “I was wrong.” The prodigal Son in today’s Gospel lesson was honest with himself with a frank and merciless honesty.  When he admitted the wrong in himself and said: “I have sinned.  I was wrong” then and only then he came to his true self. A new chapter of his life began that very day. A new chapter can begin for us if, bidding good-bye to self-excuse, self -pity, self-defense, we will face the facts about ourselves and say: “Yes, that’s the kind of person I am; that is the sort of thing I am capable of doing and have done, but, by the grace of God, I can be different, and I will be different.” When Judas, for example, saw that the innocent Jesus was condemned, he brought the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders and said: "I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood."  Then throwing the pieces of silver in the temple he went and hanged himself.  Judas was remorseful enough to admit his sin to himself and to the chief priests, but he just could not bring himself to face Jesus and say: “I am sorry. Forgive me. I was wrong.” Jesus, who forgave the penitent thief on the Cross, would have forgiven Judas, too, if he had come to the cross and confessed.  If only he could have realized that the reward for apology and confession far outweighs the momentary embarrassment of saying:                       “I am sorry.  I was wrong.” When the Prodigal Son said, “I have sinned,” he did not stop there. To have stopped there could have meant only self-pity.  He took then next step. He said “I will arise and go to my Father.” And this is what Jesus urges on us.  When we see ourselves for what we really are, are ashamed of ourselves, have difficulty accepting ourselves, we can be sure of one thing – God will accept us in the same manner as the Prodigal Son was accepted today’s Gospel: But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servant, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here 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.’  This is the way God welcomes us when, with deep repentance in our hearts, we come to Him with those magic words: “I was wrong.” - Three of the most difficult words to say to yourself, to others and to God. But to the person who musters enough courage to say them, there comes forgiveness, peace, new strength, and a new lease on life. The great days of the Christian spring are approaching – Great Lent – the days when the Church makes it possible for us to open ourselves up, to recognize our sinful condition, to cleanse ourselves with the Sacrament of Confession. This Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the Holy Church once again gives us a lesson for our conscience in order to resurrect us so that we come closer to the Father, in order to heal our heart. In our sinfulness: We are not at home. We are not where we belong. We are alienated and estranged. We are in exile. This message is at the very center of Christ’s teaching. Today the Church puts on our lips Psalm 137 which the Israelites prayed when they experienced exile from Jerusalem and were taking captive to Babylon: 1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the Lord’s  song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget wither! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! Spiritually we are all by the waters of Babylon. To forget God is the cause of all sin. Our true home is the New Jerusalem, not a place on the map but a spiritual reality – the Kingdom of God. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” is our Lord’s admonition to us today and every day and if we are willing He will give us he grace to say: “I was wrong.”