Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Father is not angry; but He is looking for us (Sunday homily)

What do the Scriptures today teach us about God?
He welcomes us back; yet the false god must be destroyed.

God is merciful—but also just.

The readings raise the question: is God angry?
From the first reading, it seems so.
But that’s not really what’s going on.

God did not need Moses to explain mercy to him.
See, what’s really happening is that
Moses needs to have the insight—to plead for mercy.
That’s why it happens this way.

Look at the Parable:
The Father is not angry; but he is filled with longing.
He “caught sight” of the boy while “still a long way off.”

When do you usually notice a speck on the horizon—
is it not when you’re out there, searching and hoping?

Jesus tells us: if we are away from the Father,

we may happily forget all about Him—
but He never forgets about us!

The lost son came back to re-earn his Father’s favor.
But notice: the Father ran to him, embracing him!
God’s Favor is a gift: we respond to it—it changes us;
but we never earn it!

Parents: this sort of embrace
may be the easiest gift you’ll give your children—
all it costs is your pride.

If we have bad memories, we can’t go back,
but we can be compassionate now.

This is a great time to talk about
the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Will the priest be angry or think less of you? No.

Like the Father in parable, when a parent welcomes back a child,
friends or siblings embrace again—
in what way is that awful or demeaning—it’s wonderful!

For the priest, that’s what the confessional is.
It’s one of the best experiences of being a priest.

Some will say, it’s been too long—I don’t know how.
Don’t worry about it.

I’m going to take a couple minutes to review how;
there’s a handout, at the doors, that will help;
but in any case, just ask the priest!

Here’s how you do it.
First, pray and reflect on your life.
If we do this frequently, we won’t have
dark corners in our lives we’re afraid to face.

This handout gives questions you can use,
and the basic form of confession.

When you come to the priest, you choose:
face-to-face or anonymously.

Make the sign of the cross.
After the priest says “welcome,” or a prayer,
you say, “Bless me father, for I have sinned.
It has been”—say how long—

“since my last confession. Here are my sins.”

No, you don’t have to do just that way,
but this helps get you started, so you don’t feel awkward.

Tell your sins, and only your sins—not the stories,
not what wrong things other people did!
It can be very easy to get off-track.

Don’t leave out any mortal sins—
mention them by type and number.
This can be awkward, but here’s why we do this:

Reconciliation requires a starting-point of honesty.
Sometimes we hedge or minimize.
If we go to a doctor, we don’t just say,
“I hurt somewhere” or “sometime,”
but we say, “I hurt here”—
“it hurts once a week” or “once a day.”

You don’t have to mention all venial sins.
But the confessional is the spiritual garbage dump—
Feel free to get rid of it all!

The priest may give advice or ask a question.
Don’t worry—we never repeat anything.
We prefer to forget everything we hear!
I pray to forget, and I do!

We will give you a penance, which is a prayer,
or something you do, as your part of the healing.

The priest will ask you—or help you—
to say an “Act of Sorrow.”
Most important, as part of a longer prayer,
the priest will say, “I absolve you”—this is when
the Father forgives and forgets your sins, forever,
and clothes you once again with a robe of salvation.

We do this every Saturday—9 am at St. Boniface,
3:30 pm at St. Mary—the priest is waiting for you.
Wednesday evenings, 5 pm, in St. Clare chapel.

If those times don’t work, call us.
All you have to say is,
“meet me in the confessional, so I can be anonymous.”
We’ll be waiting.

Every Mass we have a sacrificial feast—
not a calf, but the Lamb, the Son of God.
But we don’t come casually;
If we have been away from the Father,
if we need to be brought back to life,
that’s what the Sacrament of Penance is for.

Our Father is not angry—but He’s looking for us:
to welcome us back, to forget and heal,
and to give us back the dignity that belongs to us.


Anonymous said...

-Our Father is not angry—but He’s looking for us:
to welcome us back, to forget and heal,
and to give us back the dignity that belongs to us.

Im a divorced catholic/remarried

I feel that the Catholic Church is so hypocritical when it comes to forgiveness.

I have a hard time believing that he is forgiving, when I seem to be walking around with a scarlet letter.

If he is not angry and wants us to return then why does it take a piece of paper for me to return to the Sacraments? If he is forgiving why are divorced catholics treated like pariah? I carried my cross for seven years of physical and mental abuse, I had to divorce him.
My heart aches for the sacraments it is hard for me to even attend mass, I do pray the rosary daily and ask for forgiveness every moment of the day.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I'm sorry if anyone treated you badly because you were divorced civilly.

It happens to be the case that merely being divorced is not reason for anyone to be denied the sacraments. It also happens that many people say otherwise, and I wish people who repeat such things would stop doing that.

I repeat--merely being divorced does not make one unable to receive the sacraments. Now, for those who want to argue this point, I will add this: if someone sought a civil divorce without justification, yes, that is a sin, but it can be repented of, confessed and absolved. One is obliged to do what one can to put things right; but one cannot do the impossible.

Now, there is a separate issue, regarding remarriage.

You ask the question: "why does it take a piece of paper for me to return to the sacraments." I gather you are referring to the declaration of nullity.

Well, one might say also, how can "a piece of paper" --i.e., a decree of divorce, issued by a court -- dissolve a sacrament which is an act of God? Can a court undo what God does? Certainly not.

This is what Our Lord himself said about divorce. It certainly is a hard teaching, but it came from Jesus -- how can we be his followers when we set aside his own teaching?

The declaration of nullity is not merely a piece of paper -- it is a finding that what seemed to have been a valid sacrament, was not. If a priest used something other than bread and wine for Mass, perhaps accidentally, however good intentioned everyone was, the fact remains, it would not have been a valid Mass.

Likewise, if a party to a marriage should be found to have lacked something essential -- freedom, or sufficient understanding or maturity, or any number of other possible impediments; then, when this is discovered clearly to have happened, then that marriage -- like the Mass I described -- was not valid as a sacrament.

If you were "treated like a pariah," I'm sorry to hear that. I'm not sure what happened: were you asked not to come to Mass? Did people say hurtful things, or fail to welcome you, or avoid you?

It's hard to respond to your situation since I don't know the whole story. This is hardly the place to pursue it.

I can only suggest you have a conversation with a priest, or deacon or a parish worker, who is knowledgeable and may be able to clarify things and provide help, should you have reason to believe your first marriage was invalid as a sacrament -- in which case, you are entitled to ask the Church to declare it so, then your subsequent civil marriage could be recognized.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for taking the time to listen. I will try to be more patient.

Unknown said...


This is one of the best homilies on this gospel that I have read or even heard.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father.

On Sunday our priest made it sound as if Moses had to remind God of his promise to his Chosen people and be merciful.

Thanks for your homily, it is much clearer to me.

Anonymous said...

I am married to my original husband, therefore never divorced nor remarried, but some of my friends and acquaintances have been, and so have a couple of extended-family members. Nearly all of them have had experiences similar to those of Anonymous. Additionally, the stories of many in RCIA offer powerful witness to the pain and suffering the divorced/remarried endure because of attitudes within the church congregation.

The unfortunate attitudes toward the divorced and/or remarried may stem from a human desire to feel superior to someone else, or it may come from a misplaced loyalty to the church and the wish to show disapproval of a person who has "erred against church laws".

The fact remains that the person who is already injured by a broken marriage is once again harmed by the animosity of his/her fellow Catholics. This is not very Christian and certainly not helpful.


Fr Martin Fox said...


Your points are good ones, but we need to be clear about one thing.

Not being able to enter into a second valid marriage when the spouse from a prior valid marriage is still alive is not a "church law" but is Divine Law -- it came from Jesus Christ himself, and he astonished his hearers when he said it (see Matthew 19).

Anonymous said...

Well taken, Father Fox, and I appreciate the Scripture referance.

I think alot of the "people in the pews" fail to differentiate between church or Divine law, but feel such a fierce allegiance to the church that they are always trying to protect it from anyone threatening to break any kind of law. It's easy to forget that lovingkindness toward others is a big law too!

I have no argument aganst annulment, just against people being treated unkindly, esp. at a time when they are already greatly troubled and badly in need of encouragement rather than disapproval.

One day I looked back over a bunch of my posts and noticed that I get riled up any time people are not treated as well as they should be. Y'all will just have to put up with me on that, it seems to be firmly ingrained!

Thanks again for the response, Father. You're a nice guy!