Today’s homily is for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 27, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here.
Today’s readings tightly link the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. Together they are both an efficacious sign of communion. In the Eucharist we enjoy the Father’s generosity as we receive the bread from heaven, as our Lord said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (JN 6:47-51) What a beautiful meal the Lord has prepared for us–but first, we must be reconciled with him.
The Catechism reads, “Anyone who desires to receive Christ in the Eucharist must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.” (1415) Of course, all sin is wrongdoing, but not all sin breaks communion with the Lord and with our neighbor. 1JN makes it quite clear that some sin causes death to the love between neighbor and God, and for that degree of sin a different response is required. “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” (5:16-17) The word that we use for that less-than-deadly sin, is venial, which has its roots in Late Latin, venialis, meaning “pardonable.”
For deadly sin (a.k.a. mortal sin), which is not “venial” we lean on St. Paul’s teaching to the community of believers in Corinth. He says, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2COR 5:18-20) To be clear, priests do not in themselves forgive sins and reconcile believers, but rather it is God who reconciles us to himself, God forgives sins, and God appeals through his ministers both for us to be reconciled, and to give us the message of reconciliation.
In the Gospel today, one of the man’s two sons left for a distant land. He was separated from his home and his father’s love. There was indeed restoration, celebration, and feasting that awaited him in his father’s house, but to enjoy the father’s favor and the feast, he had to first return home! He was not in communion with his father, quite the contrary, he was in a distant land, that promised life, and happiness, and every good thing–which is always the promise the devil makes us if we would just leave the Father’s house. But the devil and sin has not, cannot, nor ever will bring life and happiness because Satan does not possess those things to give! He promises but he cannot produce what he does not possess, which to every man’s despair is plainly revealed just as soon as the money runs out, and we find ourselves in a wretched, pitiable state, living in a way that is far beneath our dignity. And that is when we “come to our senses,” when we finally hear the call to conversion and humbly begin the journey home. We leave rich and proud, we return poor and broken.
We cannot even imagine a full embrace by the father–we’ve gone too far, we’ve asked too much, and we’d be content only with being treated as nothing more than a servant. But to our great surprise, our Father has been waiting for our return all along! We confess our wrongdoing, he wraps his loving arms around us, places sandals on our tattered and bruised feet, clothing over our bony shoulders, a ring upon our finger, and not once mentions the wrong we have done. We recall Isaiah, “Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.” (1:18) The loving Father is just glad we have returned, that we are safe, that we have returned home. And for those who return, a feast awaits.
So, although there may be no assurance of salvation, there is always assurance that the Father’s grace conquers sin and death, removes all guilt, and restores us to right-relationship with God and neighbor. There is always assurance that the Lord bids us come home and welcomes us and sits us down at the Table of the Lord where we receive Communion because we are indeed back in communion. Little wonder Reconciliation must precede Eucharist. The feast awaits, but we must come home–we must be in communion to receive it in truth.