God’s boundless mercy
Fourth Sunday Of Lent – Year C
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: March 31, 2019
”This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” This is probably not a passage of scripture you have prayed with before. But, I say it would be a good one for us to spend some time reflecting upon.
This was an accusation against Jesus, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” When someone says they do not go to Mass because there are hypocrites there, or when someone says these people should not be at church because they are bad sinners, this line about Jesus stands out for me. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
What was Jesus like? What image of God did he reveal? What about us Catholics today, what about our parish? It should be a compliment if someone accuses us of welcoming sinners and eating with them! In fact, that is what we are doing right now.
During this time of Lent throughout the world and in our parish, there are many adults who are preparing to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. Well, what should someone know to become Catholic?
Perhaps they should know certain common prayers, know about the sacraments, Catholic moral teachings, the bible, key doctrines such as the Trinity, Jesus and so on.
I would say that knowing all of these things are useless unless they know one key thing in their heart. That they are loved by God, that they are a beloved child of God. Have they embraced the vision of God that Jesus reveals in this parable of the Prodigal Son? Jesus is saying that God is like the loving, merciful father in this parable who is always ready to receive us.
A person could study theology, know the Catechism of the Catholic Church by heart, memorize the Bible, but if they do not know in their heart this God of mercy then it falls short.
Do you know that you are the beloved child of God, are you able to accept all others as sons and daughters of God? The failure of the older son in the parable is revealed in the end when he says to the Father, “when this son of yours returns… “ He no longer is accepting the son as his brother.
A Catholic is not just someone who believes in God, but someone who believes in this God of boundless mercy.
What do you think is the hardest part about being a priest? In my experience, the most difficult thing about being a priest is to help people to believe that they are loved by God, a son or daughter of God, that God is ready to receive them with open arms. Like the lost son, many of us feel we are not worthy, surely God could not receive us back.
The second hardest thing about being a priest is to help people to believe that all others are loved by God! Like the elder son many of us are not able to recognize a brother or sister in certain people.
How many in our world are starving, longing for true love, to be understood, so many are empty inside. Like the son who left who was in a foreign land, hungry, alone. No one cared about him. We can always turn back, to be received by God, to our true home.
St. Paul says we are Ministers of Reconciliation. We are to help others to know the God of Mercy. Which God do others see and experience in us? God needs us to show the face of the loving father, the God of Mercy, help make the loving God of mercy known.
My father’s only advice and last advice to me before his death about the priesthood. “Be kind to the people.” Why? Probably he experienced a priest who was not kind to him. How many are not Catholic, have left the church, because they experienced a priest or a Catholic who did not reveal the face of the loving God of mercy?
So, it is a good thing if people were to say about you as a Catholic or about our parish, “They welcome sinners and eat with them.”