4th Sunday of Lent, Year C
First Reading: Josh 5:9a, 10-12 
Second Reading: 2 Cor 5:17-21
Gospel Reading: Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

“Only the heart of Christ, Who knows the depths of his Father’s love, could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way” as the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

First, there is the sin: “the fascination of illusory freedom” and “the abandonment of the father’s house.”

Then comes remorse: “the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate”; and “his reflection on all he has lost.”

Finally, there is “his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father, the journey back, the father’s generous welcome,” and “the father’s joy.”

“The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life – pure, worthy, and joyful – of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church,” says the Catechism.

“Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt,” God says. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” St. Paul says.

There are two common errors about God’s forgiveness. One is presumption, something we often apply to our own sins. In practice, it usually entails a belief that God forgives us because our sins are not really that bad – and therefore we can continue to sin.

The other is despair, something we apply more often to the sins of others. In practice, it usually entails ceasing to believe that God will forgive those whose sins are too great – say, abortionists.

Both presumption and despair confuse forgiving with excusing. It is true that when God forgives us, he brushes away our offences like a cloud, our sins like a mist; he rolls our disgrace away from us.

God “reconciled us to himself through Christ,” St. Paul says. But he did not do it by excusing what we had done. Rather, he “made Christ to be sin,” St. Paul says, and when Christ took on our sins, he suffered what our sins had deserved: torture and an ignominious death by crucifixion. That suffering is the truest measure we have of our sins.

There is no sin so small that God will overlook it. There is no sin so small that we can retain it in heaven. We cannot enter heaven clinging to even one of them.

But there is no sin so great that he will not forgive it. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow,” he said; “though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.”

Whether, by our standards, our sins be small or great, God’s forgiveness is available through “the ministry of reconciliation” that Christ has “entrusted” to his Church.

The sacrament of penance, administered by the Church, “requires the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction,” says the Catechism. The prodigal son is our example.

For most of us, it is perhaps confession “with the lips” that is the most difficult. However, “contrition of heart” is not enough, for we are body as well as soul.

As priests, we try to make confession as easy as possible. But even if it is difficult, surely it is worth it to hear those consoling words: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent his Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace; and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”