Saint Augustine was drawn to God’s glory and holiness long before he took action to commit himself to the truth and to change his life. As a young man he heard God’s invitation to holiness and responded: “Yes Lord, but not just yet.” Later on, after overcoming his hesitancy, and of course aided by the prayers and encouragement of his mother Saint Monica, he embarked upon an adventure with God that led him to become one of the greatest saints and wisest men the world has ever known. Saint Augustine was a prolific writer and preacher, but it is the holiness of his life which has drawn countless souls to Christ for more than 1600 years.
In the parable we have just heard, Our Lord teaches us about commitment to God and to His kingdom. The son who says “yes” when the father asks him to go out to the vineyard and begin the day’s work, loves his father only with his words, and not with his heart and actions as well. He is false to his father, for after saying “yes”, he really means “no” and he doesn’t go to the vineyard, and he doesn’t honour his word and his promise to the father. On the other hand, the other son, who initially says “no”, appears to be the worst of the two brothers, for by his word he denies his father to his face in a way that the first son did not. And yet, because he later repents of his words and obeys the will of the father, he is assured a place in the kingdom.
Our Lord came to fulfil the Jewish Law and the preaching of the Prophets, and he commanded the people to do as the Pharisees taught according to the Law. But he also warned against following their example, for he knew them to be hypocrites, preaching one thing and doing another. In this respect, we should be like the first son and say “yes” just as he did, but we must also be like the second son who obeyed the father, even though at first he refused.
Too many people today profess to be scandalized by the hypocrites, backbiters, gossips and slanderers who go to church each week, citing this as an excuse for their refusal to worship and participate in the life of the Church. After reading the newspapers this morning one can at least begin to understand their point of view. Such pharisaical scandal is what Our Lord attacks in his parable addressed to the chief priests, the Pharisees and the elders of the people. These men prided themselves on their strict observance of the external rubrics of the Law; they were puffed up with pride, as “whited sepulchres, full of dead men’s bones.” We are all sinners, and we must with humility recognize that it is God who justifies us, and the Law is his gift that we may live as members of the kingdom.
Anyone who professes to be a Catholic and yet does not practice their faith is on a par with the Pharisees. On the other hand someone who attends Mass faithfully and is honest about his or her sinfulness, and who perseveres in doing the Father’s will despite their shortcomings, is the one who will be invited to the eternal banquet in heaven. Those are the more pleasing to Christ, who though they are like the second son in the parable, and may very often say “no”, yet they share in the kingdom by means of repentance, conversion of heart and obedience.
We are the adopted children of a Father who is above all fathers, a Father who has adopted us in Christ so that we may share his life, and who likewise calls us to labour for him as loving sons and daughters. Many times we say “yes” to the Father’s will, but I dare say we do not as many times respond with commitment, love, and perseverance. Through selfishness, laziness and sin we tell the Father that we love him but we speak otherwise in our actions. What a great gift, then, is our repentance; a grace given to us by the Father which is always met by His abundant mercy.
Let us always be like that second son who, though he may have been false in his words, returned to love the father in his sorrow for sin and in his amended life. As we meet the Lord in the Sacrament of Confession we do just this. We examine our lives and we confess our sins. We also promise that, because we love the Father, we will in the future avoid the near occasions that led us to sin; saying “yes” with our voices, but saying “no” by our actions. This same sacrament was God’s instrument which transformed Saint Augustine from a sinner into a saint in whom many have and still do meet Jesus Christ our Lord.