Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
In announcing the International Bishops Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Benedict XVI said that the proclamation of the Gospel constitutes her reason for being and her mission.
(Luke 15:11-32) We can well imagine the sorrow of the father, as he reluctantly gives his son his inheritance. And so the young man sets out on his way to the big city. A country boy with a lot of money does not have a hard time finding friends who will help him spend this money. So he begins to “live it up.”
He soon learns what could be called the “law of diminishing returns” in this pleasure business. As time goes on, the same stimulus brings less pleasure. So he begins to “step up the pace.” Before too long his money runs out. But he is not worried. He has many good friends now. He has been picking up the tab all this time, now let them pick it up. He soon discovers that with his money go his friends. He’s not the big hero anymore he is just another bum.
At this time a famine hits the country and he finds himself in want. Knowing nothing but farming, he hires himself out to one of the farmers of the place, who puts him out in the pig-sty to feed the pigs. There are not many visitors to a pig sty, so he has a lot of time to think. His thoughts go back to his home, his father, his brother, the happiness he once had. He begins to contrast his present misery with his former happiness. “How many hired servants there are in my father’s house who have more bread than they can eat, and here am I without anything to eat?”
Touched by grace, he says, “I will arise and go to my father, and say to him, ‘I have sinned against God and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son, just make me as one of the hired servants.’” So he begins the long, sorrowful journey back home. Picture this young man walking along the road, his chin hanging on his chest, kicking up the dust with his feet, trying to make up a story to tell his father. What should he say? That he was robbed, that he lost the money, that he made a bad business deal?
As he turns the last bend in the road, the father who has been waiting all this time for him, sees him coming down the road. He runs down the road, embraces his son and kisses him. The young man all embarrassed now, begins his little story. “Father, I have sinned...”
But before he can get it out, the father shouts orders to the servants. “Bring out the best robe and clothe him with it, put a ring on his hand, shoes on his feet, kill the fatted calf. Let us celebrate, for this my son was dead and has come back to life again, was lost and is found.”
I was taught in our Moral Theology class (1953) that the confessor is a judge and therefore has to get a clear classification of the sin from the penitent. Did you say intercourse? Was it fornication, adultery or incest? And how many times was it committed? This was necessary because the penance had to be in proportion to the gravity of the sin. After I had spent an hour in the confessional I would be worn out
Now, as I near the end of my life, I realize that the confessor is not a judge but a loving father and the penitent is not a criminal but a prodigal son. And what a joy it is to hear confessions and to realize that the absolution I give is not the verdict of a judge but the loving embrace of a father.
father runs down the road, embraces his son
and kisses him. The young man all embarrassed
now, begins his little story. “Father,
I have sinned...” Before he can get it out,
the father shouts orders to the servants.
“Bring out the best robe and clothe him with it,
put a ring on his hand, shoes on his
feet, kill the fatted calf. Let us celebrate,
for this my son was dead and has come back to
life again, was lost and is found.”
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