Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Prodigal Confession

Sitting in a muddy and stinking pig-sty, wasted with hunger, bowed down with shame, humiliated by the quick exit of his fair-weather friends, the prodigal son decided to make an examination of conscience. What were the events that led to this disastrous state of affairs, and how could he make things right again? He used to be rather well-off, but his youthful arrogance and urges toward forbidden horizons landed him in the mire of shame and the shame of mire. Time for a decision.

The Scripture says that he finally came to his senses. He must have really lost them, because even a child could have come to the same conclusion: at his father’s house the very servants had more than enough food, yet he, the son, had allowed himself to become the cell-mate of swine. Next step: arise and return to his father, confessing his sin, acknowledging his unworthiness, choosing the lowest place.

It was quite the wise choice, not only because it corresponded to the reality of the situation and the justice that should be done, but also because the actual outcome was far more glorious than he could ever have imagined. For he received not a just punishment and demotion but a merciful, loving, and joyful welcome fit for a king’s son!

Confession is an oft-neglected sacrament, but senselessly so. I have heard many confessions over the years, from people who have refused to repent and return to the Father’s house for two, four, ten, fifteen, twenty, or even forty years! What is the point of our pervicacious refusal to repent when the happy result is the open arms of the Father and the infilling of grace? Some have lost the sense of sin, some are too proud, some think that the disallowed “general absolution” suffices, others are too ashamed to confess the sins they weren’t too ashamed to commit, and some simply see it as a drudgery they’d just as soon forego. But none of these excuses hold up—either now or on judgment day. We ought to let the Lord be merciful to us while we still live in the time of mercy.

Fr. Jean d’ElbĂ©e, in I Believe in Love, writes: “Each time you pick yourself up after a fall, the feast of the prodigal son is renewed. Your Father in Heaven clothes you again in His most beautiful cloak, puts a ring on your finger, and tells you to dance with joy. In a living faith, you will not approach the confessional with dragging feet, but as if you were going to a feast, even if you have to make a great effort each time to humble yourself and to conquer the monotony of the routine. After the absolution, you should dance like the prodigal son did at the request and for the joy of his father. We do not dance enough in the spiritual life.”

So if you are still stuck in the mud of sin and haven’t yet decided to arise and return to the Father, now is the moment. Come to your senses and go to Him who sees you from afar and runs to meet and embrace you, welcoming you to the banquet He has prepared: the sacrificed Body and Blood of his only-begotten Son, who has loved you and given Himself for you. Examine your conscience, understand the decisions and choices that led you away from home, and make a new decision, a new choice: I shall arise and return. What’s wrong with—that you would delay it—the healing of your soul, the removal of your spiritual burdens, the liberation from sin, the restoration of grace and peace, and the joy of the angels over one more repentant prodigal?

Filthy sties are for pigs, and bright banquet halls for the children of kings. Let us neglect the confessional no longer, for it is the anteroom of blessed peace.