The Catholic Liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Lent, March 31, 2019. Readings: 2 Cor 517-21; Luke 15:1-32. Theme: Out with the Old…In With the New!
Today is Laetare Sunday, which means “Rejoice” and it comes midway in Lent to remind us not to give up the hope we have of a brand-new life that in Jesus Christ. This is why we are wearing vestments that are rose, the color of joy, as we give praise to God who wipes the slate of our lives clean when we return to him with repentant hearts and have the good intention to make amends.
Now, some people find our Christian message of a new life for anyone who desires it too good to be true. Maybe it’s because they have a hard time forgiving themselves for things they have done. Or maybe it’s because they have never experienced real forgiveness from others. But the reality and awesomeness of God’s forgiving love reminds me of something astounding I learned when I was a college student.
I attended a Jesuit University and there was a priest there who had been appointed as the official exorcist for the diocese. He had quite a lot of experience in that ministry. He would always take a group of Catholics with him as a prayer-team during an exorcism and he had two non-negotiable requirements for those who accompanied him. First, they must fast for a couple of days before the exorcism. Second, they had to make a thorough honest confession.
He said that fasting was required because Jesus Himself taught the apostles that demons are driven by the spiritual power of prayer combined with fasting. And he had a very interesting explanation for the non-negotiable of an honest confession. It seems that during an exorcism, the demon tries with all his might to get that prayer-team out of the room because they are, after all, his powerful opposition. And so, the evil spirit will start picking off people in the team by calling out their most private embarrassing sins!
And so, to take away any fear of this happening and to encourage everyone to truly make good confession, he shared with us an experience from a recent exorcism. When the time came for the demon to try and accuse and scatter the team, he remained silent. No one had fingers pointed at them; no one had sins called out. When the priest demanded that the demon tell him why this was so, he got this defeated reply: “No one here has sinned! There is nothing I can accuse them of having done!”
Well, the team-members were astounded because they knew very well they had sinned. They knew that others in the group had sinned. That’s not much of a secret when you’re college kids living and socializing together. So, what was up?
The priest explained that this shows the power and the mercy of the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Jesus gave us. When our sins are honestly and humbly confessed with repentant hearts, and we receive sacramental absolution from the priest, they are not just forgiven, but completely annihilated…totally obliterated. It is as if they were never even committed in the first place. This truth is 100% solid teaching of both the Bible and the Catholic Church.
We come out of the confessional with a totally clean slate, with yet another chance for a fresh new start. It’s just like St. Paul says in today’s second reading: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. "The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:17-19)
We also see this total forgiveness and a fresh start in life in today’s Gospel of the Prodigal Son. The father in the parable represents God and the prodigal son is each one of us who sin. Notice that when the son returns home with a contrite heart, his father eagerly runs out to embrace him, not even making the slightest mention of his past, of how he has hurt the family or of what he has done. It is all forgiven and forgotten and a new life begins. The son is fully restored to the family and given all the signs of belonging: sandals, a fine robe, a ring.
So, it seems to me that through today’s readings, God’s Word is calling us to be truly free of those things that still weigh us down in conscience and hold us back from enjoying real freedom in Christ. Let’s each ask ourselves: How long has it been since I have made a really good, honest and sincere confession? What better way to prepare for Easter than by throwing ourselves into the loving embrace of God and receiving a fresh new start through the Sacrament of Reconciliation!