This morning you will notice I’ve taken the liberty to strew our white marble altar with pink flowers—camelias from the tree in front of Loyola Hall. For today is Laetare Sunday, the one Sunday in Lent on which instrumental music is permitted and flowers may adorn the altar. Your priests and your altars bear rose vesture today, signifying the joy proper to those who can see Easter on the horizon. The Mass Collect today articulates our hope: “with prompt devotion and eager faith may we hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come.”
The Father’s Prodigal Love
On Laetare Sunday, Holy Mother Church spreads the feast of Christ’s greatest parable before us, that of the so-called Prodigal Son. Its vast panorama portrays three characters: the younger son, the older son, and the Father. It is the parable of the Prodigal Father, Rich in Mercy. So Blessed John Paul II named his second encyclical, Dives inMisericordia, on God the Father, which often refers to this parable. It never fails to console him who reads it prayerfully. More than any other, the parable of the Prodigal Son convinces us of God’s tender and undying love for his sons and daughters.
Let us weep: I have lost my son
First, consider the younger son: “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” In a shocking act of non-negotiable, in-your-face self-centeredness, he demands from his father half of the family business in cash so that he can waste it in a distant land—perhaps Las Vegas or Miami. We might miss the outrage in his words—“I can’t wait for you to die, old man: give me your money now”—but imagine how it sounded to Jesus’ hearers, who held their fathers in great reverence. The son leaves his father’s home for a “distant country,” which as Fr. Barron points out renders the Greek choran makran, which may be translated “vast region.” The lost son enters the empty lands of his own self-absorption, the vast barren regions where demons abide. He is truly the Lost Son.
Let us rejoice: I have found my son
Eventually, the Lost Son hits bottom, returns to his senses, and resolves to turn back to his father’s house. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him.” The Father scans the horizon day after day, longing for his son, but refusing to force him. He detects only a glimmer in his son, a small speck on a distant horizon, slowly moving closer. He does not wait, but tucks up his noble robes and runs, not walks, but runs to his son. And all is forgiven. The Father does not even wait for his son to finish his confession: your sins do not matter now. All that matters is that I have you back, safe and sound. You have returned to me.
God is always watching us, waiting for our next move. Thoughtlessly, we fear he watches our every move in order to condemn, waiting with baited breath to accuse us. But this image is not Scriptural. Jesus, in his greatest parable, portrays a Father, rich in mercy, relenting in punishment, always ready to forgive. In the Bible, it is Satan who accuses. The Son and the Holy Spirit defend, not accuse, against Satan’s accusations. “I have come not to condemn, but to save what was lost.”
So the Lord says to Joshua in our First Reading, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you;” So St. Paul says in our Second Reading, you are a “new creation: God has reconciled us to himself through Christ,… not counting our trespasses against us.” The ring, the finest robe, the fattened calf—all this is ours, if we return to our Father’s house. We can only do that through the grace of Christ.Therefore, Paul concludes, “we implore you: be reconciled to God.”
Three more weeks of Lent
Three more weeks of Lent, and the great liturgies of the Sacred Triduum, open up before us. There is no more propitious time in the year to be reconciled to God. Change bad habits, make a good confession, return to the Word and the Sacraments with your whole hearts, in fasting, weeping, and praying. Return to your father’s house. He will not refuse you. He will run to greet you, with open arms, for my Son, he says, “was lost, and is found. He was dead, and has come back to life again.”
Joy of the Return
In another week most of us will return home for Christmas. How happy we are to come home to Mom and Dad, to our brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, to drive the old roads and return to our old room. So much of life is an exile from those we love, and few are the times of return.
Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, writes from exile in Babylon in our first reading.
“The Chaldeans took Jerusalem and burned it with fire,” he writes tersely. But, one day, God will bring us home, Baruch assures us. As once He led his captive people out of Egyptian slavery, so will He lead a second Exodus out from this Babylonian captivity. “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever….” For “God is leading Israel in joy, by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.”
We can picture the Jews in long caravans, returning to Jerusalem in 540 BC. They rebuilt the city, but it wasn’t long before foreign armies burned Jerusalem again, and many times after that. Jerusalem is still on fire—the earthly “city of peace” pounded by Hezbollah rockets and ripped apart by suicide bombers. We are still waiting for God’s promise of an Exodus out of our cities of blood and despair into his Land of rest and joy. When will he come to lead us home?
Advent: A penitential season: Prepare!
In Advent we recall the fact that He has already come, and He comes again every time we make the effort to follow him along The Way. It is the way of “penance,” of choosing His will over ours at every turn. Penance is not a dreary obligation, but the brisk decision to tighten our belts and set out upon the road that leads home. Advent is a penitential season, not as strict as Lent, but certainly a time for greater simplicity, prayer, and fasting. John the Baptist calls us to a “Baptism of repentance.” As we have loosened up on Advent penances over the years, we’ve lost much of the joy of the season. December 8, for example, is rarely a Holy Day of Obligation any more, and in skipping this Feast we miss out on the joy proper to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. The time before Christmas has become a hollow shell of what it once was, a secular holiday that celebrates it knows not what. God offers us perfect joy, but perfect joy on earth is wrapped in simplicity, prayer, and penance.
St. John the Baptist emerges from the desert, from his long Advent of prayer and fasting. “Prepare the way” for Him, he cries out. Every valley must be filled in, every mountain made low, every crooked way made straight, and rough ways smooth. No doubt, he refers to those rough ways in which we treat our family members during Christmas vacation. He must have in mind those mountains of pride we display in classroom discussions. Perhaps he knows our crooked ways of pretense and deceit, and the gaping valleys of our laziness? John the Baptist tells us to get the earthmovers out, the bulldozers, the caterpillars. Build my Messiah a temple, and a road, fit for his majesty, appropriate to your own dignity. This is the joyful penance and the bracing work of Advent.
Students’ Christmas Vacation: Some practical suggestions
Before you go home, I offer two practical suggestions. First, pray that you not get into the usual arguments with family members. You are different than when they last saw you, and misunderstandings often arise. Pray the rosary and commit yourself to acts of cheerful humility and understanding love. Second, make a written plan for prayer and study during your three weeks: when and where you will pray, and when and where you will study? This side of the grave, there is no such thing as an absolute vacation. We bring our work with us, and we never abandon the asceticism of true prayer.
In the rest of Advent, I recommend you pray one rosary every day. It’s the least penance we can do. Bring Our Lady with you on Christmas Vacation, and you will always have the joy and the affection of Christ Jesus. Since this will be the last Sunday Mass for many of you at TAC before vacation, I wish you all a blessed and merry Christmas.
From the Chaplain's Laptop: What our Country Needs
August 31, 2012
Someone told me that Rick Santorum had given a speech
at the Republican National Convention that spoke to some of the real issues facing our country. I pulled up a video on an ABC news site and began to listen. About seven minutes in, Santorum mentioned “getting married before having children.” A few seconds later ABC cut him off—a political commentator began analyzing his speech even before it was finished. I considered that rather odd, and frustrating. I wanted to hear the Senator from Pennsylvania, not a pundit. I found another site that (thankfully) streamed Santorum’s entire speech without interruption. Just after the point that ABC had cut him off, Santorum went on to clarify the consequences of the assault on marriage. No wonder ABC would not let us hear that part. Santorum went on to praise “hands that pray” and a party that “welcomes all life, born and unborn.” I heard bits of other speeches at the Convention, and most talked about “belief in America” and “belief in ourselves.” Rick Santorum got as close as anyone to urging belief in God
when, for instance, he insisted that we can only realize our potential “with God’s help.” But even that indirect reference to religion was too much for ABC News.
What does our country need? More jobs? More empowerment of the private sector? More oil? Sure, those things would help. But what it needs is repentance
, and few dare to say it. This struck me today as I was reading the breviary Scriptures from Jeremiah 3. God said, “How I should like to treat you as sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage among the nations…but like a woman faithless to her lover, even so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel.” What Israel had that we do not have is a national sense of repentance.
It was not always this way in America. Consider the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation: “I recommend to [my fellow citizens] that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers…” The President of the United States recommended both thanksgiving and humble penitence to God
. Until our nation publicly acknowledges from Whom all blessings come, and does “humble penitence for our national perverseness,” there is little hope for any positive change, no matter who is elected in November.