This evening we gather here for the purpose of celebrating and receiving God’s bountiful mercy. I thank Fr. Bill for inviting me back. I think this is my 4th straight year of coming to St. Pius for these talks, so you haven’t gotten sick of me yet! Thanks.
What a crazy couple of weeks this has been. I for one was somewhat saddened by the news that Pope Benedict was going to resign. But, recently we have been quite energized along with Catholics throughout the world: habemus Papam, we have a pope, and what a pope we have too. I don’t know if you are like me, but I have been on the Vatican’s multiple websites every day reading whatever I can about the words and activities of the pope. In fact, I got up at 3:30 this morning so I could watch the Pope’s Mass of inauguration on TV. Francis is a compassionate and simple man who speaks with a kind of directness I find very appealing. As I was composing my thoughts for this penance service today, I thought the best thing I could do would be to share with you a couple of things the Pope has said in recent days.
Tonight we just heard the story of the Prodigal Son, or, as it can be called, the parable of the Older Son. I don’t think anyone is exempt from the parable. We are all sinners, we all need God’s mercy. We are like one of the two sons, or sometimes a combination. Maybe we have wandered far from God in our sinfulness, maybe we have squandered what God has given us by our sins and selfish choices. God is looking for us and ready to run out to meet us. Perhaps we don’t see ourselves in the Prodigal Son, but one pitfall of being a disciple of Jesus is that it is quite easy to become that Older Son. It is quite easy to forget just how much God loves us, it is easy for us to think we somehow deserve God’s love, his gifts. Sunday morning, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at a small parish church in the Vatican. His homily that day touched on mercy. He said something quite profound: “he has come for us when we recognize we are sinners; mercy is the Lord’s most powerful message.” How beautiful: he has come for us, but we have to recognize we are sinners. We all need God’s mercy. Christ cannot be our savior unless we recognize that we are in need of saving. The prodigal son certainly recognized this, he found that his life of sin left him totally miserable, so he decided to return to his Father: he has come for us when we recognize we are sinners.
Maybe some of us have experienced this profound conversion experience. We find ourselves, like the prodigal son, fed up with our sins and we can only turn to God for help. Maybe that is what is bringing some of us here tonight, and that is great and wonderful. God rejoices to welcome us back. But, for most of us conversion is an ongoing process. I don’t know if you are like me, but I really do get sick and tired of confessing the same things over and over again. Believe me, I know my sins, I struggle against them, but I also find myself falling. It can get quite discouraging. How many times can we find ourselves in the pig slop, how many times must we slog our way back to the father’s house? Again, Francis said something about this that was quite beautiful. Sunday during his angelus message he said: “let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us, but we sometimes tire of asking him to forgive us: Let us never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.” No matter how often we find ourselves in the pig slop, God never tires of forgiving us, of welcoming us back. It is we who sometimes tire of asking.
My friends we are here to encounter our merciful God in the sacrament of confession. Let me leave you with some final words from Pope Francis that he spoke to the people of Argentina this morning that I think apply quite well to confession: “draw near to God. God is good. He always forgives and understands. Do not be afraid of him. Draw near to him.” This is precisely what happens in confession, we draw near to God, who never tires of forgiving us.