March 12, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church observes Laetare Sunday, the name being derived from the first word, in Latin, of the Entrance Antiphon.

The word is “laetare,” or “rejoice.” The Church rejoices that salvation, finalized in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, is near.

To underscore this theme, 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.

At the point of this story, they are almost finished with the long and threatening trip across the Sinai Peninsula after facing hunger—even starvation—and being tempted to forsake God. The Sinai desert is bleak and unforgiving in its sterility and deadliness.

Into this situation came God with the gift of manna from the sky. The manna sustained the people. They survived.

As they neared the Promised Land, the supply of manna stopped. But they had no need for it then because the Promised Land provided them with a steady, reliable source of food.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians furnishes the second reading.

Midway in the reading is an urgent appeal from Paul to the Corinthian Christians imploring them to be reconciled with God in Christ.

It is not difficult to imagine Paul’s frustration as he watched the tendencies of the Corinthians to yield to old pagan ways of behavior continue to unfold in their daily lives.

Urgency and appeal literally flow from his words. Urgency also underscores his insistence that nothing else matters but life truly with God.

Following Jesus makes a person a “new creation.” None of the things of Earth, including death, actually matters.

For its final reading on this weekend, the Church gives us a passage 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 uncompromised, constant love of the father, who is a symbol of God.

However, some powerful messages in this Scripture passage may be lost unless we consider the ancient context.

The Prodigal Son was not the older son. As such, he was not his father’s heir, with no right to an inheritance.

Then, of course, the Prodigal Son deserted his father. Jews at the time of Jesus, as always, prized loyalty to parents, expressed in loving care and attention.

Next, the Prodigal Son left the community of the People of God, abandoning the primary obligation of this community collectively to bear witness to God.

Then he consorted with prostitutes, scorning the sanctity of marriage and the family, and risking defilement of the pure stock of God’s people by begetting children of pagan and unbelieving mothers.

Finally, the Prodigal Son stooped so low that he waited not just on animals, rather than humans, but on pigs, the lowest of the low in Jewish eyes.

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


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

However, to be with God, to enter the Promised Land with its security and unending plenty, we all must be new creations in Christ. This is the hard part. We must turn away from sin and selfishness.

Even to think of turning away from sin, or of turning to God, may seem at times a tall order. We may be angry. We may have our doubts. We may be greatly ashamed. It does not matter. God still loves us and awaits us with the greatest mercy and forgiveness.

Therefore, rejoice! God waits for us with open arms! Lent still lasts a few more weeks, and there is time to return to a personal relationship with God before Easter. †

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