Saints have a Past and Sinners have a Future

Homily for Reconciliation Service

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Saints have a past and sinners have a future. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son the prodigal son has a past. But what a great person he becomes as he returns to his father asking for mercy. Saints have a past and sinners have a future. We really don’t have an idea of how great God’s mercy is. It is so difficult for us - who often find it so difficult to forgive - to understand that God can forgive us so easily and so totally. When the prodigal son came to his senses with the pigs and decided to return to his father he did not expect his father to treat him again as his son. So he made up his mind that he would ask to become one of his servants. (Luke 15:19) He could not imagine that his father would want him back as his son again. He had a warped understanding of his father’s forgiveness. We have a warped understanding of God’s mercy for us. We make the mistake of thinking that God is like us and so we cannot understand God’s mercy. God made us in his image and likeness (Gen 1:29) and ever since then we are making God in our image and likeness!

When the younger son was on the way back home his father was outside waiting for him. His father ran to him, clasped him in his arms and kissed him. That is what God is like, always longing and waiting for our love. That love and care and concern of God for us is expressed beautifully in Ps 139,

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
You know my resting and my rising,
You discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
All my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue
You know it, O Lord, through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
Your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
Too high, beyond my reach.

O where can I go from your spirit,
Or where can I flee from your face,
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn
And dwell at the sea’s furthest end,
Even there your hand would lead me,
Your right hand would hold me fast.”

The son had made up his mind to say three things to his father upon his return (Luke 15;18-19),

  1. he had sinned against heaven and his father,

  2. he no longer deserved to be called his son,

  3. and finally to treat him as one of his paid servants.

But he did not get the opportunity to say to his father that he would become a paid servant, his father did not give him the opportunity to ask to be treated as a paid servant but immediately gave the order to bring the robe, the ring, the sandals and kill the fatted calf for a celebration (Luke 15:21-22). Why? The younger son had a warped notion of his father’s forgiveness. He had no understanding of what mercy really means. But now he had just learned.

It wasn’t just the younger son who had a warped notion of his father’s forgiveness. The elder son also had a warped notion of forgiveness. He did not forgive his younger brother his misdeeds. (Luke 15:28-30) If the elder son had his way there would be no celebration for the return of the younger son. The elder son knew nothing of mercy. The younger son had a warped notion of his father’s forgiveness and the elder son also had a warped notion of his father’s forgiveness, and we too have a warped notion of God’s forgiveness but in this parable Jesus teaches us the generosity of God’s mercy.

In the movie The Passion of the Christ, Peter goes to Mary after he denies Jesus and confesses to Mary. Judas does not. Not everything we believe is in the Bible as I have told you before, only half the Word of God is in the Bible, the other half is Tradition which is the preaching handed down over the centuries from the apostles. And in at least one strand of Tradition Peter goes to Mary and confesses his sin. Why? Because he loved Jesus so much and after denying Jesus he was so sorry. The more we love the more we are sorry for our sins. Judas was too proud to go to Mary to confess after he betrayed Jesus. But how differently his life would have been if he left his pride behind and confessed. We have come here tonight to confess. We love Jesus and we are sorry for our sins and so we confess. Our pride would have us conceal our sins like Judas but we remember that saints have a past, sinners have a future.

Rembrandt - The Return of the Prodigal SonOn the sanctuary tonight you can see a copy of Rembrandt’s painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son. You can see the state the younger son is in after having his fling, his head is shaved. You can see the great love of the father for the son. You can see that the father gently put his hands around his son and as the son knelt down his head leaned on his father’s chest. You can see the father’s two hands are different, one is the hand of a man (the right hand) while the other is the hand of a woman (the left hand). That was Rembrandt’s way of saying that God’s love for us is not just like the love of a father, but it is also like the love of a mother. God is both Father and Mother to us. Come to the Father in the sacrament of reconciliation tonight and like the prodigal son in the painting, kneel before him. Rest your head on his chest and allow the Father to embrace you, with the love of a father and mother. Come to the Father to receive his forgiveness. That moment when the Father embraces you tonight is when the priest recites the words of absolution over you and absolves your sins. Saints have a past, sinners have a future.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for a Penance Service / Reconciliation Service

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We wash spiritually in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and are filled with Jesus’ Light

Let Jesus dispose of the garbage caused by sin

Why confess sins to a priest?

Related Homilies: The Woman caught in Adultery - “Go and do not sin any more”

Jesus forgives Peter and restores him

The Passion of Jesus moves us to Repentance

Decide to Overcome Sin

If you love me you will keep my Commandments

Like Isaiah, Paul and Peter we want to rid ourselves of sin to follow the Lord in Peace

God’s Mercy looks not at our past but to our future and potential 2007

The Prodigal and his brother did not know their father. Do we know God? 2010

stories about God’s Mercy

stories about confession of sin

stories about sin