March 4, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church observes Laetare Sunday. Its name is derived from the first word in the original Latin of the Mass’ entrance antiphon. “Laetare” in English means “rejoice.” The Church rejoices that salvation, finalized in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, is near.

Priests may wear rose vestments. Rose is violet with a tinge of gold, reminding us of the first rays of the sun as they creep across the horizon after a dark night. Christ, the light of the world, is coming.

The Book of Joshua, the first reading, looks far back into the history of God’s people, to the time when they had finished the long and threatening trip across the Sinai Peninsula after being freed from slavery in Egypt. Along the way, they had grumbled against God.

Sinai was then, as it is now, bleak in its sterility and lifelessness.

Into this situation came God with the gift of manna from the sky. Scientifically-speaking, what was manna? No one now can say, but it was real. It appeared unexpectedly. The people could not have created it. It was God’s gift. The people would have starved without manna.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians furnishes the second reading. Midway in the reading is Paul’s urgent appeal to the Corinthian Christians to be reconciled with God in Christ. It is not difficult to imagine Paul’s frustration as he saw the Corinthians toying with their old pagan ways. They were forsaking true life. Urgency literally flowed in his words.

It underscored his insistence that nothing else matters, but life truly with God. Thus so powerfully, he implored the people to return to God.

Live as “new creations” in Christ.

For its final reading on this weekend, the Church gives us, from St. Luke’s Gospel, the beautifully reassuring parable of the prodigal son.

Much of the parable is self-evident, even to us in the 21st century. Certainly quite clear is the unqualified, constant love of the father, who is a symbol of God.

Some powerful messages, however, may be lost until we consider the ancient context. For example, the prodigal son was not the older son. Therefore, he was not his father’s heir. The prodigal son had no right to an inheritance, whether he was good or bad. Then, the prodigal son deserted his father. This especially would have disgusted Jews at the time of Jesus, who prized loyalty to parents.

Next, the prodigal son rejected the privilege given him of being part of God’s people. He abandoned the primary obligation of this status, to bear witness to God. Finally, he consorted with prostitutes, scorning the sanctity of marriage, so precious to Jews, and risked defiling the pure stock of God’s people by begetting children who would be reared by pagan and unbelieving mothers.

His sins brought him no reward. He had to wait not just on animals, rather than on humans, but on pigs, the lowest of the low, in Jewish eyes.

Nevertheless, his father forgave all, and lavishly gave him an undeserved inheritance.

Reflection

The Church is joyful. Salvation is near. It calls us to salvation, to be with God in and through Jesus.

The Church wisely realizes that all its members, to some degree, at some time, have been prodigal children, wandering away as the Corinthians wandered.

Its message this weekend, however, is not of denunciation. Instead, in the reading from Joshua, precisely with its reference to the manna, and in the Gospel, with its thrilling story of the forgiving father, the Church calls us to God. God loves us. He is forever merciful, regardless of how far we have strayed.

In Jesus, the sacrificial victim of Calvary, God awaits us with the Eucharist, food for our starving souls, for which we can find no equal.

Lent is the time to turn back to God. †

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