CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Last week I began a reflection on the Sacrament of Confession.  Lent provides an excellent opportunity for everyone to return to the regular use of the Sacrament where we experience God's mercy and forgiveness.  

Let us continue by taking a close look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is by far one of the most beautiful narratives of the Holy Bible and it will help us understand the Sacrament of Confession.

The conduct of the father in the parable reveals to us the love and mercy of God.  The father not only welcomes his prodigal son, but also celebrates his return with immense joy.  

The prodigal son's decision to leave his father's house and to immerse himself into a life of rebellion, clearly illustrates the nature of sin.  Every sin is an abuse of human freedom.  When we sin, we defy God who loves us unconditionally.  The consequences of sin are always disastrous.  

The hunger that the prodigal son experiences parallels the anxiety and emptiness that we feel when we are far from God due to sin.  We can never be ourselves when we sin.  Sin will always bring us to our lowest state and cause us to even become perverted if we were ever to persist in a life of sinfulness.  

The prodigal son experiences the profound sadness that sin causes. He turns away from his attachments to the things of this world and looks within himself.  His introspection allows him to make a vital decision:  "I shall get up and go to my father." (Luke 15: 18).

Like the father of the parable, God is always waiting for our return.  We are filled with profound emotion as God always runs to us in order to forgive, heal and sustain us.  As we experience the embrace of the unconditional love of God, we cry out with immense joy and gratitude: Abba, Father!  

The robe, ring, sandals and the celebration are all symbols that Jesus brilliantly uses to explain the reality of our union with God through sanctifying grace.  Sin is the separation from the father's house. 

Adam and Eve realized that they were naked when they had sinned.  Joseph's coat was removed when he was sold into slavery. The wedding guest in the gospel parable of the wedding feast was expelled from the wedding feast because "he was not wearing a wedding garment" (Matthew 22: 11). 

The prodigal son was dressed with the finest robe when he was restored to his father's house.   Biblically, a ring is always a symbol of union, covenant, love and commitment.  Just as marriage joins a man and a woman, and they become one, sanctifying grace joins us to God and we become one with him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:  "Grace is a participation in the life of God.  It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life.  By baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body.  As an adopted son he can henceforth call God 'Father,' in union with the only Son.  He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes clarity into him and who forms the Church" (#1997).

During the time of Jesus, slaves and servants never wore footwear.  Their relationship was essentially different to the household that they served.  Only members of the family wore sandals. The prodigal son is given sandals because through his conversion, he is no longer a slave to sin.   The celebration takes place because of the immense joy that the father experiences due to the return of his son.  At the same time, our union with God is the only source of true and lasting joy. 

Augustine famously wrote: "You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace" (Confessions, Book 7).
What can we say about the older brother?  His response to the father's mercy indicates that his years of obedience have been years of duty and not filial service.  Perhaps he was simply going through the motions, remaining at home simply to enjoy the benefits of a comfortable life.

Like the Pharisees, he is self-righteous, incapable of love and therefore, incapable of forgiving anyone.   His mind is dark and calculating.  It is possible that his anger is rooted in the fact that he too would like to leave the father's house and live a life of sin.  His life may be pure and noble, but his heart is attached to things that he would like to do, but avoids them because of his vanity and superiority complex.

God's love is far greater than man's capacity to love.  God can forgive what man refuses to forgive. The love, mercy and compassion of God can overcome the rebellion of the human heart. Nevertheless, there are many who refuse his love and prefer to live far from the father's house.  

God patiently seeks the conversion of every person.  God will do everything that he can do to save us.  We are objects of God's infinite love and can personally experience his love.  However, God's infinite wisdom respects our freedom.  We can accept or reject God's invitation to experience eternal joy and peace.

It is through the Sacrament of Confession that we experience true joy and peace.   God restores our dignity and our freedom and we experience his unconditional love.    As we humbly kneel and recognize our sin, God celebrates our repentance and dresses us with the finest robe, a beautiful ring and lovely sandals.