In the 1929 Rose Bowl, California’s Roy Riegels recovered a Georgia Tech fumble and ran 65 yards the wrong way, eventually costing his team the game. At halftime Roy expected Coach Clarence Price to tear him apart, but Price merely put a gentle hand on Roy’s shoulder and said, “The game’s only have over. Give it your all!”
In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear what many believe to be Jesus’ most moving parable. It has been given many names: the prodigal son, the forgiving father, and the Father with two sons. It’s a story that expresses the heart of the good news, namely, that God is love and mercy.
Most of us know the parable well. The son asks his father for his share of the inheritance, basically treating the father as if he were dead. The son goes on to live a self-indulgent, sinful life, one that leads him to deep sadness. He is suffering from his sinful choices (sin is its own punishment). Finally, he comes to his senses because he’s in pain and he makes his journey back to his father, carrying his sin and shame with him.
But what is the father’s response? He’s not angry; he’s waiting for his son, happily anticipating his return. His arms and his heart are open. He not only welcomes him back, but he celebrates his return with a feast. He doesn’t reprimand him; he embraces him.
This parable should give us great consolation, for each of us is like the prodigal son. Each of us has turned away from God. There have been times, maybe even now, when we have felt like the prodigal son: we feel unforgivable; we feel that God will turn us away. No sin, however, is greater than God’s mercy. The only unforgivable sin is when we believe we can’t be forgiven.
When we sin, God treats us, in a sense, as Coach Price treated Roy Riegels. God, our loving Father, puts a gentle hand on our shoulder and says, “The game’s not over! Give it your all!”
In the second reading this Sunday St. Paul tells us, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” We’re all called to daily conversion. This is why the sacrament of reconciliation needs to be an integral part of our lives, for it is in that sacrament that we are made new in Christ. Following Christ means that we need to be willing to begin again and again; it’s about developing the habit of conversion.
Lent is more than halfway over, and if you haven’t been as faithful as you wanted to be there’s still time to give it your all. God is waiting for you. Run to his arms and enter his embrace.
Father Michael Najim is Spiritual Director of Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Providence, as well as Catholic Chaplain at LaSalle Academy, Providence.