09 March 2013

THE FATHER’S ROSES

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32 (Jos 5:9a, 10-12 / Ps 34 / 2 Cor 5:17-21)

       The Lord said in Mt 5:24, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  These words of the Lord we should reflect and live by not only during Lent but each time we go to Mass.  If not, what meaning does our worship of Him have?  What value does our offering to Him have?  Before we face God, let us first face our brethren and be reconciled with those we hurt. 
       The theme of the readings today, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, is reconciliation and the joy that comes from it.  How appropriate!  For today is Laetare Sunday or the “Sunday of Rejoicing” because Easter Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection is already near.  Thus, rose is the color of today’s liturgy because the color of joy is rose.
       Let us see the first reading today.  It is not difficult to imagine and understand how difficult life in the desert was for the Israelites as they sojourned to the Promised Land.  They were live, flesh and blood, human beings, each with his peculiarities and differences from the rest.  They had quarrels and some of their conflicts were really grave.  That they had to travel and live in the desert for forty years threw them in a situation that indeed tested how they dealt with one another.  But inspite of what they’ve gone through, of what they fought about, of what they debated on, we can feel their joy as Joshua instructed them, in the first reading, regarding details of the Passover meal which they were to partake of for the very first time already in the Promised Land and no more in the desert.
       In the second reading, great joy, too, for us, Christians, as the Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, declared that we are ambassadors for Christ.  Unworthy though we are, we are Christ’s emissaries to the world.  Thus, all the more should we heed the Apostle’s admonition: “We implore you,” St. Paul wrote, “on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  We cannot be God’s envoys and yet be at odds with Him, can we?
       And in the Gospel for today, we hear once again the famous and well-loved Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, re-institution to the former dignity, and joy – these lie under the various emotions at play in the parable.  Despite what he did to his father, if only to follow his inordinate desires, the youngest son was forgiven, re-instituted to his highly esteemed status as son, and given a lavish welcome party by no less than the same father.
       Before going any further, it is also good to reflect on the theme of reconciliation and joy as a reminder for all of us in this season of contrition and conversion.  And having reflected on it, may we be so moved so as to repent from our sins and trace the steps that lead to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I am sad when people call this sacrament as “Confession”.  I believe, the name “Confession” does not capture the very essence of the Sacrament.      “Reconciliation”, however, does!  This, of course, does not in any way devaluates the need to actually confess – that is, mention – our sins in this Sacrament.  But, we must understand that the very heart of this Sacrament is not what we say but what God does: He reconciles us to Himself by forgiving our sins – regardless of their gravity and frequency – through Jesus Christ and the Church whom the priest-confessor both represents.  Every experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation must always be an experience of the penitent’s friendship with God made whole again.  So, when was the last time you approached this Sacrament?  What is your experience whenever you are reconciled with God through this Sacrament?  Is it indeed an experience of a joyful celebration of your renewed friendship with God?  And how about us, your priests, as instruments of this very precious Sacrament?
       Like an episode of a soap opera on television, the parable in the Gospel today depicts our selves and how we stand before God.
       Sometimes, we are the younger son who, though his father was still very much alive, nonetheless, shamelessly required from his father his share of the inheritance.  Then, he left home, only to waste in vices and wayward living the fortune that was hard-earned by his father.  But when his stomach grumbles, in the midst of a severe famine, he suddenly remembers not so much his offended father but the house he left behind: “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.”  How lower could he get, most especially for a Jew who considered pigs as unclean?  For he even “longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.”  How clearer could it be: he went home not because he was sorry for what he did but because he was hungry?  Indeed, he had no pity for his father who upon catching sight of him, the Gospel says, “was filled with compassion.”  Indeed, God uses even our impure motives, such as the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, to forgive us from our sins when we ask Him to.
       Sometimes, we are also the elder son.  Indeed, unlike his younger brother, the elder son did not leave the father’s side, but, in truth, his heart was not with him.  The elder son ran away from home without lifting a foot.  He left his father by considering himself a slave and not a son.  “Look,” he complained to his father, “all these years, I have slaved for you and not once did I disobey any of your orders; yet you never gave me even a kid goat to feast on with my friends.”  Now we know why this boy was hurting.  But we can hardly understand why he had to hurt himself that way and that much.  For before him was not a master but his very own father, not a slave-driver but a loving dad.  So, he wanted a kid goat, why did he not ask it from dad?  If the father was as generous as giving his younger son his part of the inheritance, would he not be even more willing and liberal in giving the elder a mere goat or even more than that?  Thus, the father reminded his elder son what he has been forgetting all along: “My son,” he said, “you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.  But we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
       In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we are sometimes the younger and sometimes the elder.  But whoever we are between the two, we still need to really repent from our sins and ask from God our Father the loving forgiveness He so easily grants.  And, most importantly, whether we are the younger son or the elder, the truth is God’s mercy is for all of us and His joy at our return to His love cannot be measured by anything.  Seems too easy a teaching for us to accept, but, no, it isn’t.  That is why Jesus, in the Gospel today, evidently needed to defend God’s compassionate love for sinners against the criticism of the scribes and the Pharisees.  Because they were self-righteous and looked down on others as more deserving of punishment for their sins, Jesus had to explain to the scribes and the Pharisees why God is prodigal with His love and why He makes equally available such love not only to the righteous but even more so to sinners.  For God, there are no younger and elder siblings, only children.  In the Father’s house, there are no slaves, only children.
       Today is Laetare Sunday.  This is the Sunday of Rejoicing because what we are expectantly preparing for, the Easter of the Lord’s Resurrection, is close at hand.  The theme of the readings for today – reconciliation and joy – heightens the joy of this Sunday.  The liturgical color for today is rose because rose is the color of joy.  And rose is the symbol of love that is the Father’s inheritance for us all.

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