Sunday March 25, 2001 Fourth Sunday in Lent
Reading I (2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16)
Reading II (Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22)
Gospel (St. Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a)
"Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation." Those are the words of Saint Paul in the second reading today. You are a new creation. Have you ever stopped to really think of what that means? The dignity, the love God has for you; how important you are in the eyes of almighty God that He has made you a new creation. It was not enough just for Him to create you, He has re-created you. In order to understand this fully, Saint Paul puts it into the context of reconciliation. "God," he says, "was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them. Now he has made us ambassadors for Christ." God is at work, appealing through us, "Be reconciled to God." That is what the Lord is asking for: to be reconciled.
Every single time that you go to confession you are re-created. A miracle takes place every single time. You were created the first time in the womb of your mother. You were re-created, reborn at the moment of Baptism, and now every time that God absolves your sins you are re-created. I remind you of the words of Saint Augustine: "It takes more divine power to forgive one sin than it did to create the entire universe." That is how much God loves you. We might sit back and say, "Well, if that is the case, I donít want to tax God so I shouldnít go to confession because I donít want to make things difficult for Him." It doesnít tax God at all. Godís power is infinite so it is not a problem for Him. But it is Saint Augustineís way of showing how important you are to God.
Think of the wonder of creation when you look at a beautiful little baby. We all are in awe of a baby. We glow when we look at a baby. We praise God when we look at a baby. We talk about what a miracle this beautiful little child is. And indeed it is. But a far greater miracle happens every single time that you go to confession: God takes the soul that He created on the day of your conception and He removes the stain of sin entirely from your soul. The temporal punishment may remain; the effects of the sin may remain; the weaknesses that are there may remain. But, nonetheless, the sin itself is gone. The stain has been removed. Your soul is made radiant and purified. Indeed, all things have been made new in Christ.
This is precisely what we see in the Gospel reading today. We see the story of the Prodigal Son that we have heard many times. And the problem with hearing things over and over again is that sometimes we ignore it. We donít recognize the importance of it because it is commonplace to us. But think about what that story is really relating: Here you have a son from a good Jewish family who had followed the Law of God but there was this temptation. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Israel, the place where Jesus was speaking was down in the valley where the Jewish farms were. And right up on top of the mountain, up on the hills, just off to the side, were ten Roman cities. The Roman cities were filled with things like gymnasiums, theaters, and stadiums. All kinds of extravagant, external things that attract people. No doubt, this young man down in his farm day after day would hear the sound from the city. It was a pagan city. It was unclean and it was forbidden for Jews to go there. Yet, it was an allurement to a young man to hear those sounds and dream about what it was like. Not unlike any of us who have looked at sin and thought it looked pretty good. The draw that we feel to say, "Oh, compared to what I have, that seems so wonderful. That will fulfill me; that will be wonderful. Look at what fun I can have! This will be so enjoyable and exciting!" I think we have probably all said that. Probably many more times than once.
So he is drawn up the mountain. He squanders everything on the pleasures of the flesh. He thinks that he is happy because some immediate desires are being fulfilled. Then when things become difficult, not only does he realize that he is miserable but he has nothing. Everything that he had, that had been given to him by his father, he had squandered. We have been given sanctifying grace. We have been given the very life of God in our soul. We have been given the Sacraments; we have been given the Faith; we have been given the Truth; we have been given Jesus Christ. When we go out and commit a mortal sin, we squander it all. So we are no different from that young man in the Gospel. Notice what Our Lord says in that parable. He says, "When he came to his senses..." The interesting thing is that all he had been doing while he squandered his money was to take care of his senses, to do anything that his senses told him: This will taste good, this will feel good, this will look good. Itís all about the senses. Itís taking care of the body. Itís looking for pleasures. Then the Lord says, "Finally, when he came to his senses...", when he stopped allowing his body to rule the mind, when his mind and his will finally took over the way that we are created to be as human persons. Then things turned around. He said, "Iím going to go back to my father and say, ĎIíve sinned against God and against youí."
So off he went. Look at what the father does: He races out to meet his son. Thatís what God does for us. Long before we think, "I need to go to confession," it is God who has given us the grace to turn around, putting that idea into our mind that maybe we need to go to confession. He has already come out to meet us even before we turned around. And before we can get to the confessional, God is there giving us the courage, the grace, the strength to actually get into the box. How many times have I heard people telling me, "Father, Iíve been here three or four times. Iíve stood in line but I never got to the confessional. I turned around and left before I got there because I didnít have the courage." It is Godís grace that gives us the courage to actually make it to the front of the line and have the humility to kneel down before the priest and say, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned." That requires the grace of God. Notice that even though the father does all these things, he allows the son the dignity of saying, "Father, I have sinned against God and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son." Notice that the father allowed the son to say that. He didnít automatically start out by saying, "Quick! Bring out a robe and kill the fatted calf!" He allowed the son to make a confession of his sins. In fact, it was necessary for the son to do that. But then notice the response of the father, it is almost as if he didnít hear the son say that. He automatically turns to his servants and says, "Quickly now! Go kill the fatted calf." It was not until after the confession of his sin that the father could say, "This son of mine was lost and has been found. He was dead and has come back to life."
The same is true with us. Even though the father has already come out to meet us with His grace, even though He has already embraced us, the life is not restored until we actually make our confession. So it is part of our dignity. We must make a confession of our sins. When we do that, the Father restores us to His family. If we look at the first reading, we can say that every time we walk out of the confessional, God will look at us and say, "Now the reproach of Egypt has been removed from you." Our forty years of wandering in the desert is over. We no longer eat the manna, but now we will eat the produce of the Promised Land. We can once again receive the Holy Eucharist. We once again can feast on the love of God. Just think about that. Most of us in our sense nature, what we think of when we think of a feast is what tastes good: steak, lobster, caviar and extravagant things on a beautifully set table with candles, flowers, and all sorts of things. We say, "Wow! What a feast!"
The greatest feast is Jesus Christ, the Banquet of the Lamb to which you are called. If we think of the feast of our senses as a wonderful thing, what about the feast of our soul? We have almighty God, the love of God, the grace of God, the life of God, God Himself in our souls. We canít feel it, we canít taste it, we canít smell it, we canít see it, but He is there filling our souls to overflowing with an abundance of love because the reproach has been removed and now we have entered the Promised Land. That is what God has done for each and every one of us. That is what it means to be a new creation. We can see that dichotomy. Right from the beginning we know that when a baby is born, that baby has life, that baby is a physical creation. Now God re-creates the baby to be a new spiritual creation. But something far greater happens in our souls when our sins are removed: we are truly a new creation in Jesus Christ. When we feast our senses and destroy our soul, God re-creates us with the feast of the soul, pumping new life into us. When we look at the miracles the doctors perform: when somebody is dead and they resuscitate the person and bring them back to life, think how much greater is the miracle when your soul is dead in mortal sin and God removes the sin and restores you, not to natural life but to divine life. He reunites you with the family. He once again calls you His son or His daughter. You are once again a member of Jesus Christ, sharing His life and His love. That is the miracle that God works. That is what it means that all things are made new in Jesus Christ. And you are a new creation in Christ.
God loves you. He loves you so much that He calls you individually. He calls all of us collectively, but He calls each one of us by name. He calls you by name and says, "Please be reconciled with God in Jesus Christ." So with Saint Paul God has given to us as priests the ministry of reconciliation, to be in the confession and to have the absolute privilege to reconcile sinners to God. Think of the privilege; think of the dignity. If you could sit in that spot for even one sinner to come in and you could say, "I absolve you from your sins." Think of the joy that would be in your soul to be able to do that. Think of the rejoicing in Heaven, of the angels, of the saints, and of Our Lord Himself, that one repentant sinner is reconciled to God. You can provide that joy for all of Heaven and for that priest. So with Saint Paul as a priest of Jesus Christ, I now, as an ambassador of Christ, appeal to you, for the love of almighty God: Be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.