08 March 2013

'And he arose and came to his father.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Lent Year C

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable:

"There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 

Departure of the Prodigal Son, Stained Glass Window, Bourges Cathedral, c.1210 (Web Gallery of Art)

"And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.

"But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."'

"And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

"But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.'

"But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"


A friend who is a priest told me a story about three priests whom he knew in his own country. I'll call them Father Andy, Father Bert and Father Chris. Father Chris, younger than the other two who were quite well on in years, no longer used the title 'Father' as he had left the priesthood.

Father Andy was in hospital and knew he was nearing death. Father Bert went to visit him. The dying man asked his friend for his blessing. But he got a response that he had never expected. 'When you forgive Chris, then I will bless you'. Father Bert knew that his dying friend had been deeply hurt when Father Chris had left the priesthood. He also knew that he still carried resentment in his heart towards the younger man.

The tears welled up in Father Andy's eyes and he asked his friend to invite Chris to visit him. He let go of his hurt and resentment, was fully reconciled with Chris - and received from Father Bert the blessing he had asked for, a blessing far greater than he ever could have imagined.

Part of the genius of this parable of Jesus is that it doesn't have an ending, but an invitation. We don't know whether or not the older, dutiful son joined the celebration. He can  only see at this moment the wasted life of his younger brother and the immense suffering this had brought to their father, suffering that Rembrandt captures so movingly. 

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt , c.1669 (detail) (Web Gallery of Art)

The father doesn't argue with his older son. He is well aware of that son's sense of responsibility. The father also hears his angry and dismissive 'this son of yours'. He gently points out, Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.

The invitation in the parable is not only to the older son. It is to me. Is the Father inviting me to let go of sins that have separated me from him, a separation that he doesn't want, by asking his pardon, especially in the sacrament of confession? Or is the Father inviting me to let go of my self-righteousness, my lack of humility, my lack of gratitude for daily blessings, even though I am conscientious in doing what is right?

The Father has reserved a place for each of us at the celebration.

Introit. Cf Isaiah 66:10-11.

Laetáre, Ierúsalem, et convéntum fácite, omnes qui dilígitis eam
gaudéte cum laetítia, qui in tristítia fuístis, 
ut exsultétis, et satiémini ab ubéribus consolatiónis vestrae.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is known as 'Laetare Sunday' from the first word of the Introit (Entrance Antiphon) in Latin, a word that means 'Rejoice', since we are now in the middle of Lent and Easter is approaching.

Entrance Antiphon. Cf Isaiah 66:10-11.

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.
Be joyful, all who were in mourning;
exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.

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