4th Sunday of Lent (Fr. Francis)
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
This Sunday is known as Laetare Sunday and is a Sunday of joy. This is the halfway mark of Lent, and Easter is enticingly near. Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts.”
Living with his parents for the boy was never easy. So often he dreamed of moving out; of going to live with his grandparents. He wouldn’t exactly say that he hated them, but he thought it often. Now, 40 years later, he knew that this was part of growing up. No family is perfect. Most of his friends had problems and conflicts with their parents. But at the time he thought he was the only one. After all, no one went around telling their friends how crummy their life was at home. Friends’ lives and families always looked so much better than one’s own—from a distance.
He thought of running away. “If I run away, they will realize how much they miss me and what kind of parents they are.” But he was too chicken to actually do it. He was afraid that if he did, they would find him and his dad would probably kill him. He doesn’t know why or what gave him the idea, but he wrote them a letter. It was a long and convoluted letter: “You never tell me that you love me,” was the gist of it.
His mom responded. “We show you that we love you. You’ve never gone hungry; you’ve had so many opportunities. We go on summer vacations together. We’ve never missed any of your concerts or sporting events. Everything we have is yours. We may not say that we love you, but we do, and what’s more, we show you.” And it was true. The reason he didn’t run away was that his life was not perfect but pretty darn good. His parents gave everything for their children. Now, 40 years later and himself a father, he understands the challenges they faced, and he is grateful for them.
All three readings create a confluent theme: be reconciled to God. Lent is a joyful season in which to renew our relationship with God, to understand that we are sinners, and to know that His zeal for us is infinitely greater than our charged zeal for Him.
The Book of Joshua narrates the Chosen People entering the Promised Land. As Israel prepared for battle, Joshua had all the men of military age circumcised in keeping with the covenant. They could then celebrate the Passover for the first time in the Promised Land. The gift of Manna ends for them and they begin to eat the food of the land. The Chosen People have been reconciled to God and do not need a special food any longer. This reconciliation preceded the military attacks on Jericho; Jericho fell not from the military tactics but through an act of God with the obedient cooperation of his people: a fruit of reconciliation. God invited the Israelites (and now us) to be reconciled to Him.
The second reading tells us that Jesus Himself is pleading with us to be reconciled to God. Always it should strike us that God wants us and yet so often we do not want God. God is always willing to forgive and yet we want to continue in our sinfulness. Christ was sent by the Father to reconcile us to him. Christ took on our humanity and became the victim in a sacrificial act to enable us to be reconciled to the Father. To share in the bounty of Christ’s sacrifice, each individual must exhibit contrition and desire for interior and moral reform. May this time of Lent bring about a true change within us, as we witness with the parable of the prodigal son.
The Gospel today, from Saint Luke, is one of the most touching teachings of the New Testament. We can imagine the painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt van Rijn, perhaps one of the most recognizable works of art in the modern age, to help us visualize and internalize the story. The characters are strong and clear: a loving father who always forgives and shows love and never holds sins again his children; a son who doesn’t care about anything except himself and takes his inheritance and wastes it and then comes home; the older brother who has always been faithful but is now filled with resentment because the father loves his son who wasted everything.
When we hear this teaching, it is not meant so that we can judge others. We see in action an infrequently used word: compunction. Just as the root of the word suggests, it is a puncture, a prick of sorrow. Essentially, compunction is contrition. And, contrition is a step along the process of reconciliation. The beautiful and intelligent Abigail, King David’s first wife, models for us the way to be reconciled with God. “She fell at his feet and said, ‘Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your handmaid speak in your hearing, and hear the words of your handmaid’” (1 Sm 25:24). The Lord will not spurn a contrite heart. A heart that has been softened and simultaneously punctured with the Word of God is precious in the sight of the Lord.
Like Abigail, let us acknowledge our sinfulness, our turning away from God. Compunction is a joyful sorrow that opens the floodgates of petitions for forgiveness, mercy and love. Let us be reconciled to God this Lent.
Fr. A. Francis HGN