The Prodigal Son deeply wounded his father’s heart when he asked to have the part of the inheritance that was due to him. He basically could not wait for his father’s death for him to receive his inheritance. He took all that he had and went far away from his father’s presence and influence. He then found himself starving in a foreign land after squandering his father’s wealth and facing a famine in which no one gave him anything, not even a share in the pigs’ trough.
Coming to his senses, he knew well that for him to get that much desired meal meant for the servants, he must first of all reconcile with his father. He knew that he could not just show up in the father’s house, walk into the kitchen, and proclaim, “Hey dad, I am home. I am starving. What’s for supper?” So he prepares a long speech that was meant to make his father allow him to at least get some food like the father’s servants, “I no longer deserve to be called your son, treat me as one of your hired workers.”
The father too reconciles with the prodigal son fully before he declares the beginning of the feast. He does not treat the prodigal son as a second class son or as a super – privileged servant but as a true son that he is. It is only when full reconciliation has been achieved and the rights of the son restored in the form of a ring, sandals, and robe, that the father declared the feast open, “Let us celebrate with a feast because this son of man was dead, and has come to life again…Then the celebration began.”
The elder son too has to learn the same lesson. He thinks that he has right to the feast simply because he is a good son who never left home but who has been working hard for the father. The father informs him that the feast is not just for those who work hard but for those who have reconciled with the father and with others who have been hurt by their sinful actions. The sole reason and condition for the joyful celebration is the full reconciliation of the prodigal son, “Let us celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to live again.”
This parable illustrates for us one of the facts that we seem to have forgotten today – full reconciliation with God and with others is necessary before we can enter into the feast of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the greatest of feasts because it is the feast of Christ the King, who offers Himself to sinners who have been reconciled with the Father and with others. The Eucharistic feast is neither a reward for the righteous nor is it a meal for those who choose to persist in grave sin and to take for granted the reconciliation that God offers to them through the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross.
In the case of mortal sins, especially those that are public in nature, there is need for full sacramental reconciliation with God and with those whom we have hurt by our sinful and scandalous acts. This full reconciliation is achieved in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the sacrament that prepares us for the full and fruitful reception of Jesus in the Eucharist meal.
One sign that we have lost this sense of reconciliation preceding the meal is the ongoing unfortunate debate in the Church on the issue of the civilly divorced and remarried Catholics being allowed to receive Holy Communion. The rather unclear and confusing wording and different possible interpretations of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia seem to have worsened the debate and created more confusion on this matter.
One side of the debate, based on scripture and Church tradition, holds that people in such unions cannot receive the Eucharist because, living with another person who is not their spouse, they are in mortal sin. Thus, they cannot be admitted to receive the Eucharist without repentance, reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and regularization of their marriage. This is respecting the inner logic that reconciliation must precede the meal.
The other side argues that, on the grounds of being merciful, the civilly re-married spouses’ intense desire for the Eucharist, their personal discernment, pastoral considerations, and our inability to judge for certain the true validity of their marital bond with their rightful living spouses at the present moment, they can be allowed to receive the Eucharist. This other side also argues that, since nobody is worthy in the first place to receive the Eucharist, the civilly re-married could not be definitely denied the reception of the Eucharist. This argument appears to be becoming more acceptable today amongst many of the faithful.
This debate has also deeply divided members of the Church’s hierarchy. Cardinal Muller rightly and clearly emphasized the view that reconciliation must precede the Eucharistic feast when he used both Scriptures and the Catechism to support this view in his Manifesto of the faith:
Therefore, the Holy Scripture admonishes with regard to the reception of the Holy Communion: “Whoever eats unworthily of the bread and drinks from the Lord’s cup makes himself guilty of profaning the body and of the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” (CCC 1385).
This clear teaching backed with scripture and the magisterium earned him the rebuke of some prelates, including his compatriot, Cardinal Walter Kasper.
What are faithful Catholics to do in the face of such confusion about the Eucharist for married and civilly divorced? We can glean a few points from this parable of the Prodigal Son from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself who truly reveals the Father’s love for us.
First of all, our God is a God who loves to feast. He offers us full communion with Him in the feast of the precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. But our God does not feast alone, but He invites His children constantly to draw closer and attend the feast of eternal life and experience the joyful hope of God’s beloved children in Christ.
Secondly, God puts the feasting on hold till we truly reconcile with Him. The same God who offers us full communion with Him in the blood of Jesus in the Eucharist first of all offers us full reconciliation with Him and with others in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He will surely not feast with obstinate rebels who take for granted the mercy and grace purchased for us by the blood that was shed on the cross by Jesus Christ and made present in these sacraments. These sacraments are both channels of divine mercy and we must not separate them but reverently and humbly accept the inner logic in these sacraments.
Holy Mother Church pauses in her Lenten journey to celebrate Laetare Sunday, emphasizing that, despite the penitential nature of Lent, we must be joyful because we are truly on a journey to full reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ at Easter. St. Paul asserts this in his letter to the Corinthians, “God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and given us a ministry of reconciliation…entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” The Church is a community that has been reconciled with God, finds its joy in being reconciled with God, and joyfully calls others to this same reconciliation.
Unlike the older brother in the parable, we cannot be indifferent about the plight of our brethren who have strayed from the faith or the pain of our Father who waits for their full reconciliation with Him. Having first been reconciled with Him, we too must go out with joyful hope in search of them, leading them first, not to the Eucharistic feast as if their reconciliation with God is automatic or merely assumed, but to the tribunal of divine mercy where they are reconciled with God as His sons and daughters in preparation for the feast. When we individually and communally seek for full reconciliation before the feast, our joy will surely be complete as we hear our feast-loving Father exclaim, “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!