When a new friend or coworker asks, what are you doing this weekend, how many of us think to say, “I’m going to Church” as the first thing. It’s the most important thing we do all week, but for some reason, we may not always share that truth about ourselves as often as we could. It may be that we are hesitant to admit our need for God. But we do have a great need for God and also for his grace. The grace of God is like food. We hunger for it in our lives. It is also an inheritance, like the prodigal son who received an inheritance from his father.
In the first reading we hear of life before a person has come to know Christ. First God calls people to leave Egypt, the slavery of sin, and he feeds them along their jouney through the desert with a special gift of his grace, the mannah. But once a person has reached the promised land as the 1st Reading says, or has become a new creation as St. Paul says; new food is available. “The manna ceases and we eat of the produce of the land.” The grace of Christ’s work becomes available to us: Baptism, Eucharist; Confession; Confirmation; Matrimony; Anointing of the Sick; the “fullness of the means of salvation” as the Church likes to say. These sacraments are God’s intended grace for us; grace to heal; grace to grow in wisdom; grace to live free in love. As long as we dwell in the land and eat of its yield, we continue to grow in grace.
Now let us consider the parable of the prodigal son. The son dwelt in the house of his father, but he was tempted to leave. When we are tempted to leave the life of grace; the good habits that we have developed; the wisdom; the inheritance of grace; they go with us. And for some time, we can appear to be even more free. No longer are we being challenged to grow; to come to Mass; to respect God’s design for our lives. For a time we may like this; but little by little the inheritance of grace we have received; the good habits, the wisdom of love and life are being squandered. One day the inheritance of grace that we received will run out; we will recognize our need for God again. The parable of the prodigal son reveals this happens when there is a famine. When we have lost a loved one; when we become ill; when we have lost a job; or when our marriage is in peril. This is when we recognize our need for God again.
When we do come back home, God is not only willing to forgive, he runs out to greet us. As the parable says, “He sees us from afar and runs out to greet us.” Even before we have been reconciled by the Sacrament of Confession, we begin to experience the joy and excitement of our forthcoming return. We are experiencing God’s own joy and excitement. In the parable there is one who is not experiencing joy and excitement; it is the older son who never left the Father’s house. He grumbles over the gift of grace being given to the one who had left. What this shows is that each of us; whether we have stayed with the Father or have left, each of us are still in the process of becoming like the Father, and in need of his grace for doing so.
Lent is a time to deepen our appreciation and acceptance of the grace which God is giving us. This parable is a great reminder of the wonder and beauty of forgiveness which God makes available to us all through confession; and which the Church asks us to receive every year. Our bulletin contains information of three opportunities where multiple priests will be waiting to give us the experience of the Father’s embrace. Let us accept our need for God and his grace, not only through the sacrament of the Eucharist which we celebrate today, but through all the sacraments of his grace which are offered to all of his land and in his home.