4th Sunday of Lent Year C 2016:
This weekend marks Laetare Sunday. Laetare is a word that means rejoice. So, we put on the rose colored vestments and we rejoice even during the season of Lent. This Sunday is a sort of like halfway point of Lent. Reminding us that even while we are carrying out works of penance, it should be motivate by love and leading us to joy. So, how’s it going? How are you doing with your Lenten promises? I’m doing well on some, not so well on others. Maybe you are the same. But, with this Laetare Sunday I’m ready to begin again as we march toward Easter.
Our readings are also filled with joy. One thing I like to do when I’m reading the scriptures is to put myself into the story. Our gospel is one of the best stories in the whole Bible as far as I’m concerned. I try to imagine my reaction if I’m one of the characters. If I’m that prodigal son, what would it be like to travel home, not knowing what the outcome would be? What would it be like to feel my father’s embrace after so long, to receive forgiveness, to celebrate in my family home after a long absence? What a profound experience of joy that would be.
And yet, the story of that son is not simply something for us to imagine. Rather, this story is very much a part of our lives. No matter who we are, or what we have done, there is mercy for us. No matter how we have offended our loving Father, no matter how far we have drifted from him, he is out there waiting for us, watching for us to return.
One of the real graces of this season for me as a priest is to hear confessions. It's a remarkable blessing to be able to be God’s instrument of healing and forgiveness. You see, every time we go to confession, this parable comes alive. Every time we approach the Father of Mercies in that saving sacrament, we confess our sins, and the Father embraces us, lifts us up, and fills us with joy. One of the real concrete truths of existence is that our sins do not make us happy. They bring us sorrow. Look at the son: he wasn’t even eating pig slop, he was wishing that he could be allowed to eat pig slop. This is where his sins took him. How many of us could say the same? Yet, God’s mercy takes away our pain, it takes away our sorrow, it allows us to rejoice because our God is good. No wonder Pope Francis called for a year of Mercy. He said, “contemplating God’s mercy is the wellspring of joy, peace, and serenity because God’s mercy instils the hope of being eternally loved.” How about you? Have you felt that love? Have you known that mercy? Has the mercy of God changed your sorrow into joy? If not, return to your Father, kneel down before him and acknowledge your sins, and let him forgive you during this season of Lent.
Our spiritual work of mercy to contemplate for this week is to comfort the sorrowful. In my life, I see so many people in pain. I see so many people who are mourning a loved one, filled with anxiety in their lives, people who find life to be sorrowful indeed. It can be a profound spiritual blessing to bring comfort to those in need. But, it can be quite a challenge. It can be quite intimidating to approach someone in pain, to try to bring strength to someone who is struggling. In the face of someone’s pain and sorrow, we might feel inadequate. But, just remember that God is the source of all love, he is the source of all strength, he is the source of all comfort. God, our loving Father, is waiting to embrace those in pain, just like he did in the gospel. However, he wants us to be his arms. Your loving presence, your word of comfort allows the Father to reach out with his love and compassion when someone is in pain. Think back in your life when someone was there for you, when you experienced God’s love and mercy because of another person. I know I’ve experienced that. In fact, one of the main reasons I felt called to be a priest was because of the sacrament of confession. I found that going to confession was a remarkable experience of the love and mercy of God. I appreciated confession so much, that I felt inspired to want to be able to bring that mercy to others.
God the Father is still out there waiting with his love and mercy. If you feel you need that in your life right now, get up and go to the Father. And, if you know someone who needs it, don’t be afraid to reach out with God’s love and mercy.