The Prodigal Son is one of the most familiar Gospel parables. The younger of two sons collects his inheritance from his father and leaves home to make his way in the world. Perhaps the popular adage about “the grass being greener” beyond the confines of the familiar prompted his desire to leave home. Whatever his motive, the son goes off to a “distant land and squanders his wealth in dissolute living.” Over time, the son realizes that home was not so bad. Hardship and the realization that the servants in his father’s household were better off than he prompted the son to return home.

Although this wayward son often gets a bad rap, it is worth noting that he recognized the truth about his situation — “my father’s servants are better off than I am” — knows where he needs to go to find relief, and humbly sets off for home expecting nothing more than to be treated as a servant.

What a surprise awaits him! His father catches sight of him “while he is still a far way off,” runs to meet him, throws his arms around him, rejoices at his return, and throws a party! There are no words of recrimination; no “I told you so” remarks; no expectation that the son had to apologize — only the warm embrace of love accompanied by joy “because my son who was lost has returned.”

All of us from time to time “stray” from our father’s house. We go about our lives often losing sight of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes that mark the path on which we journey. The penitential practices of Lent refine our Christian sensibilities and help us to examine our actions and motives. If we discover that we have strayed from the father’s house we can return through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Unfortunately, fear or embarrassment keep many from approaching the confessional. “There are people who are afraid to go to confession,” Pope Francis tells us, “forgetting that they will not encounter a severe judge there, but the immensely merciful Father” (General Audience, August 3, 2015). If fear or embarrassment are keeping you away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spend some time reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32), noting especially the father. He is extravagant in his love for the son. Simply put, he is happy the son has returned.

God rejoices when we return to our true home. He is there waiting to embrace us with the warmth and comfort of His love. No matter what we have done we do not lose our dignity as His sons or daughters. God never tires of forgiving us. He is waiting to welcome us home.

On April 10 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. many of our parishes will be open to hear confessions, participating in “The Light is On for You” Campaign. Check your parish bulletin to see if your parish is offering confession at this time. If it is not, the bulletin will announce the times for confession. By participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation — whether your first time in days, weeks, months or years — you will experience God’s individual and unwavering love for you. It is never too late to return to Jesus and ask for forgiveness.

Keep in mind that forgiveness is not a magical result of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We must have a contrite heart, be sorry for our sins, and have a firm resolve to avoid sin in the future. The grace of the sacrament helps us to live the Gospel and continue on the path of discipleship.

God’s forgiveness is a wonderful gift. The pardon and peace extended in Christ’s name through the words of absolution bring comfort, relief, and joy. If you have not already done so during the Lenten season, open the door of your heart to the merciful love of God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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