First Reconciliation experiences are unforgettable. Remember how nervous you felt? You knew while waiting in line to see the priest that if you tried swallowing to moisten your parched throat, you might dry-heave the void in the pit of your stomach.
Today’s children are a bit more bold. At a recent First Reconciliation service, I saw children confidently approach the confessional box or the sanctuary where the priest was seated at a cushioned chair.
One curly haired boy wanted nothing to do with confessing his sins for the first time. He defiantly remained in the pew with his arms crossed over his chest. His teacher tried cajoling him to the back of the line. He shook his head adamantly and fought back tears.
The boy’s mother tried, too. She stood in the pew behind her son, and placed a hand on the small of his back and kissed him on the crown of his head. That was all it took. The boy joined his classmates in line.
When that boy grows older, he will learn that he cannot change his sinful behavior unless he is first aware of what needs to be changed.
Christianity begins with a sense of sin. It begins with the sudden realization that life as you are living it will not do. The prodigal son’s conversion experience began with being compelled to look at himself and to see himself as he really was.
Once you are aware of the areas of your life which are ruled by anger, jealousy, lust, hate, resentment, greed, vindictiveness, injustice or violence – you need to repent. “Repent” in the Gospel calls not only for expressions of regret and sorrow; it also demands a radical change in your future behavior, a real turning around of your life, a real conversion.
If you do not repent, you will perish. This is what the prodigal son realizes in the most desperate moment of his life.
Part of the renewal experience of Lent is to try to become more truly disciples of Jesus, to imitate his life, to be more like him.
The youngest son in Sunday’s Gospel put distance between he and his father.
Jesus believed that being away from our Father in heaven prevented people from being truly themselves – we are never essentially ourselves until we come home to God.
And the good news for those who can admit their sinfulness is the sacrament of Reconciliation – our coming home to God.
Reconciliation is the most challenging and difficult of the sacraments. It’s where we bare our souls, our weaknesses, our deepest shames. We do this to another human being, a priest who, we know in faith, takes the place of God. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest takes the role of father, spiritual guide, and teacher. He carries out a particular service “in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ.
Admittedly, Reconciliation can be very humiliating. And yet, this sacrament provides us with a countless number of benefits, like freedom, forgiveness, peace, healing and strength, a “spiritual resurrection,” if you will.
The principal purpose of this sacrament is reconciliation with God. Anyone who makes a good confession with contrite heart and firm purpose of amendment is sure that God has erased the sin that weighed on his or her conscience. That person is certain of having been restored to God’s friendship.
The more we go to confession, the more we grow in holiness. We are less absorbed in material things. We see the world with new eyes and act differently.
If this is true, and it is, then why do so many people avoid the sacrament of Reconciliation? People stay away from confession because they are ashamed or they’re afraid to tell the priest about their failings and weaknesses. Maybe they don’t believe sin is real or that they are a sinner. Maybe they lost their sense of forgiveness.
They’ve forgotten that confession isn’t a conversation with a priest; it’s a dialogue with God.
There is nothing to fear. In the confessional, there is no anger, no condemnation. There is only pardon and peace.
Many of our saints were persecuted yet they were able to forgive and pardon their persecutors. Where did they get this kind of strength? From the grace that comes from the sacrament of Reconciliation. And we can have that grace, too.
In Sunday’s Gospel, the father runs to the son when he is a long way off. The father’s running to his son signifies our heavenly Father’s desire to be reconciled with us at all costs. In Sunday’s Gospel, the father embraces his son. The father’s embrace of the son signifies our heavenly Father’s desire to have us back. And the kiss in Sunday’s Gospel communicates to us a sharing in our heavenly Father’s own life and being. This is a perfect description of the Reconciliation experience. God runs to us in the confessional because he desires to be reconciled with us at all costs. He embraces us because he desires to have us back. And He gives us a spiritual kiss so that we might share in his divine life.