FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT – CYCLE C
Today the Church throughout the world celebrates “Latare Sunday” (which means) “Rejoice Sunday”. The opening Prayer of today’s Mass speaks of this joy.
The readings chosen for today’s Mass have a common thread. We should be filled with joy because of the love and forgiveness of God our Father. The first reading describes the joy of the Israelite people as they prepare to enter into and take possession of the Promised Land.
God the Father cared for His people. He brought them out of the Land of Egypt. He fed them in the desert and put up with their complaints. He forgave them for their lack of trust and for their disloyalty. They did absolutely nothing to deserve God’s forgiveness, but it was given to them just the same.
In the second reading, we are reminded by St. Paul of the joy of being a new Creation in Christ. We did nothing to deserve it, but God loves us as we are and He has reconciled us to His Father.
The Gospel recounts the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a story about how God reacts to our sinfulness. As we approach the Season of the Passion, we need to take a long serious look at our spiritual life and our relationship with God our real father. The story of the Prodigal Son is really about the Father who is always ready to forgive. In our lives, we have all been prodigal sons and daughters. This parable is our parable. It is our story from the time of Adam and Eve turning away from God – to the Apostles running away from the Cross – to people today who walk away from the Church and
from Jesus Christ Himself.
We have all done what the younger son did – so many times and in so many ways. We want to be independent from God like the Prodigal Son, but the more independent we become, the more empty we become; and hopefully like the Prodigal son, we begin to realize how much we need Jesus Christ in our lives and how much we need the forgiveness of our Father.
Like the Prodigal Son, we must see again – the face of the Father upon Whom we have turned our backs, and with whom we have broken-off relations in order to sin and squander the goods we have received from Him. We must come face to face with the Father, realizing, like the young man in the parable, that he had lost the dignity of a son, that he does not deserve a welcome in his Father’s house.
At the same time, we must long to return as the Prodigal son did. As the story unfolds, the older son is just as bad (if not worse) than his brother. He refuses to join his father in welcoming his brother home. He even uses the occasion to accuse his father of favoritism. He aims his anger not against his waistful brother but rather against his father who could be so unfair as to forgive his son.
The key to understanding this parable is to comprehend the inability of both sons to understand their father. They simply could not trust or understand their father’s kind of love, his kind of patience, his kind of unconditional welcome and forgiveness.
In our imaginations, we may find it easy to identify with the prodigal son – that fun–loving guy who, after all, did repent. But maybe we are picking the wrong guy. Maybe it’s big brother who has the message for us. Maybe we’re more like the older son – the hard-working, righteous one. But the problem with him is that there’s not the slightest speck of love and generosity. Forgiveness is in short supply. Resentment grows into hate and the possibility of reconciliation remains closed.
HOW ABOUT US? What did we ever do to deserve so loving a Father? When we choose a life of independence from God, God our Father is always looking for us to return to Him. And when we come to our senses and desire to return to Him, God will run to greet us, to embrace us in His arms, and call for a celebration with all the angels and saints.
But now let me propose a different scenario. The Prodigal son doesn’t return home. The older son remains in his state of hate and anger against the Father and brother. The father dies of a broken heart. How sad! We don’t like to hear stories with sad endings like that! But so it is and will be with God our Father when we refuse to turn from sin and go home to Him. He will be waiting forever. There will be no alleluias, no celebrations, no feast. But there will be a broken heart – the heart of our Father, and it will be you or me who breaks it!
I hope and pray that no one you love ever runs away from you. I pray that they always come home to you. How terrible when they do not! Though God is happy forever with all of us who come home to Him, His tears are eternal for those who don’t return! PLEASE, PLEASE, never let one of them be you!