The fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally is called Laetare Sunday (Rejoice Sunday). This week each of the three readings characterizes one of the many facets of Easter joy. In many ways, we have been dead, but through God’s grace we have come to life again; we have been lost, but have now been found. We have every reason to rejoice.
This Sunday we have the parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable of the prodigal son is called "the greatest short story in the world" (Charles Dickens), "the gospel of the gospels", “the gospel of the outcasts," and the "parable of the prodigal father." The prodigal father takes home the returning son and gives him new clothes, ring, sandals so on. It is an expression of acceptance, love, and forgiveness.
When the elder brother came from the field, he refused to come in because of the broken relationship. What did the father do? The father went out to the elder son and begged him to be reconciled with his younger brother and to share in his joy. He assured the elder son of his continuing love and of the son’s secure inheritance and place in the family by saying, “All I have is yours.”
Look at that Father and Son encounter. So much warmness is there. One side a father, who is waiting on an everyday basis to see his son, is coming back. On the other hand a son who ran away realizes his mistake and coming back in confidence of his father’s love and forgiveness. Rembrandt's return of the prodigal is masterpiece work. If we take a closer look at his work, we can see that the father emprise his son. His two alms are two different sizes. It represents one mother’s arm (gentleness) and the other represents the father’s arm (strong). This father was waiting for his son, holding so much love in his heart.
The context of this parable, Pharisees, and scribes, who kept the commandments and served, but Jesus was showing mercy and sharing with everyone. They couldn’t accept it, they criticized Jesus for his mercy towards sinners. Look at the elder son, he served his father and obeyed, now he is not happy with his father, because he took his prodigal son in.
In the gospel, the joy is that of a young son’s “coming home”. It is a precious moment. Lent is all about coming to that precious moment: an encounter with God. It is precious, emotional. We have all the reasons to rejoice in the middle of the Lenten season. I suppose we all are making a wonderful journey in this lent. And let us help someone else make that journey of Lent. We have a wonderful, loving and caring God the Father. A father who runs to the son who went away, at the same time we have the father going to the older son and want to invite him to the feast. In a way both of them are still in learning the true love of the father. In this lent let us pause and look at the face of Jesus and learn the love of the father expressed for each one of us.
There is a story of how King Frederick II, an Eighteenth-Century King of Prussia, was visiting a prison in Berlin. He was going from inmate to inmate, and every one of them was trying to prove how they had been unjustly imprisoned. They all proclaimed their innocence, except one. That one prisoner was sitting quietly in a corner, while all the rest protested their innocence. Seeing him sitting there oblivious to everything else that was going on, the King walked over to him and said, "Son, why are you in here?" He said, "Armed robbery, your Honor," The King said, "Are you guilty?" He said, "Sire, I am guilty, and I deserve to be here." The King then gave an order to the guard and said, "Release this guilty man, I do not want this man corrupting all these other innocent people."
This weekend in a way all of the reading talks about exodus. The first reading tells us how God shows His mercy to His chosen people by selecting Moses as their leader and liberator. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob reveals Himself to Moses from the burning bush and assures Moses of His divine presence with His people and of His awareness of their sufferings in Egypt. God prepares Moses for the exodus, Israelites liberation from slavery to freedom.
In the second reading Paul retelling the exodus story. He said, our ancestors walked through the sea, they ate spiritual food, drank spiritual drink, but in most of them God does not pleased. They were given so much, but they threw it away.
In today’s Gospel, citing two tragic events, Jesus exhorts the Jews to repent and reform their lives. Eighteen people were killed when a tower in Siloam fell on them. A large number of people from Galilee, we don’t know how many, were killed by Pilate’s soldiers during a temple service. All had plans for their lives. All of their lives came to a sudden end with their plans unfulfilled.
Jesus told them those people faced these tragedies not because they were worse than others. Jesus uses two local tragedies to teach them and now us about our need for repentance and a renewal of life. The farmer has a fig tree and it didn’t give any fruit for three years. Jesus was going to cut it down, but the gardener convinced him to give one more year. If at the end of another year, it still hasn’t accomplished its purpose, then it will be cut down.
Today, during this lent, Jesus reminds us to look at our life. He gave everything for Israelites in their journey from slavery to freedom. Jesus, through his new exodus, passion death and resurrection, he gave himself for our journey to freedom. He gave us scripture, gave us sacraments, especially Eucharist. He has given us lot, but are we ready to receive. The burning bush was bursting with fruit of Divine presence. On the other hand, the fig tree in full is barren. Which one of the tree we want to be. Our God is a merciful God who always invites to receive his mercy. He wants us to become the burning bush, and burst with fruits of Divine presence. During this lent, let us grow in our relationship with God and help one another in this journey.
In his autobiography, Out of My Life and Thought, Albert Schweitzer said that one of the main things his parents did for him as a child was to take him to worship services, even though he was too young to understand much of what was going on. He claimed it is not important that children understand everything. What is important is “that they shall feel something of what is serious and solemn....” Can you see Peter, James, and John as they contemplated what it meant to be in the presence not only of Jesus but also Elijah and Moses, and then on top of all that, to hear the Voice of God as well?
On the Second Sunday of Lent we hear from the Gospel of Luke, the Transfiguration story: Jesus, Peter, John, and James, go up a mountain to pray. Jesus’s face changes, his clothes become dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appeared. What did they say? They talked about the Exodus. We know in the first exodus Moses led Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, and finally built the city of Jerusalem.
In the Gospel we see Jesus was conversing with Moses and Elijah. They talked about Jesus’s New Exodus. At the first exodus there was a lamb that shed blood. In the new exodus Jesus is the new lamb who is going to shed the blood for the entire humanity. In the old exodus started from Egypt, travelled through the wilderness for forty years and reached in the earthly Promised Land, and finally built Jerusalem. In the new exodus Jesus came to Jerusalem to begin the new exodus, to lead us to the heavenly Promised Land, the New Jerusalem; heaven. His exodus is passion, death, resurrection and ascension. It is a greater exodus.
At the transfiguration Jesus revealed His glory. Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents…” Peter loved that mountain top experience, loved to remain there, but they had to go down for the new exodus. Jesus shows his glory at the transfiguration, but transfiguration pointing us to the Cross, the Sacrifice, death, resurrection and ascension.
Every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, it is our opportunity to participate in Jesus’s new exodus, his passion, death, resurrection and ascension. Every time we kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, we have a great opportunity to adore and praise him. Do I use the opportunity to prepare and celebrate the Eucharist? Do I use the opportunity to spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament?
We have a great opportunity to learn about this greatest gift on our FORMED website. It is a Catholic Version of NETFLIX. And it is free for you. Please sign in at FORMED.ORG and click on access code, and enter the code for our parish GB88ZX. Then you can watch movies, or a documentary or listen to talks. I encourage you to watch the video called Presence. We have a session every Sunday during Lent at 1:00 pm at the Padua Center. If you don’t have time you can watch it at home. Let us learn the meaning and depth of the Eucharist. Jesus had to give his life to give us Eucharist.
As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I'm trying to prove that the bridge won't break." In the same way, the temptations Jesus faced weren't designed to see if He would sin, but to prove that He couldn't. (Today in the Word, March 14, 1991).
The first Sunday of Lent starts with forty days of Jesus’ fasting for 40 days and nights, to do battle with the tempter, the devil. 40 is an important number in the Bible. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights while Noah and company were in the ark. For 40 days Moses, Elijah and Jesus fasted and prayed to prepare themselves for a life's work. In the New Testament, not only did Jesus fast for 40 days and nights, His Ascension into heaven occurred 40 days after the Resurrection.
Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, culminated in the temptations of the devil. He was strong enough to survive them. Our 40 days of Lent are given to us to strengthen us to continue the battle against the tempter. The Church gives us this time to listen more closely to God, and to grow in our relationship with him – and that means putting God first.
There is a story of Mary. There was a bowl of candy sitting on the coffee table in the living room of Mary's house. Mary's mother noticed that she was looking at the candy and said, "Now, don't you eat any candy until after dinner or you will spoil your appetite." The candy looked so good and the temptation was so great. "Surely just one little piece won't hurt - and mother will never know the difference," Mary thought to herself.
Food is good, necessary, satisfies the hunger temporarily, but it won’t fill our hearts.
Success is good, necessary to make out life valuable, but it won’t fill our hearts.
The honor of others is good, necessary to feel accepted, but it won’t fill our hearts.
We need all of these to a certain extent, but above all we need God, who can fill emptiness in our heart… so if we want to invite God, death should take place in our life. Lent is a season of death and resurrection. Our life is ongoing death and resurrection.
Prayer: die to something in order to grow in personal prayer, participate in weekend Mass, and if our schedule allows, attend weekday Mass.
Fasting: Fast from something and try to increase our ability to share our time/treasure with someone and/or with God.
Lent, a pilgrimage in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving!
Ash Wednesday marks the season of Lent, in a sense, a time die. Take inspiration for your Lenten journey from prayer and to the reading of Scripture, to fasting and to giving alms. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during this season.
Pope Francis writes in his Lenten message, “Once God’s law, the law of love, is forsaken, then the law of the strong over the weak takes over. The sin that lurks in the human heart (cf. Mk 7:20-23) takes the shape of greed and unbridled pursuit of comfort, lack of concern for the good of others and even of oneself. It leads to the exploitation of creation, both persons and the environment, due to that insatiable covetousness which sees every desire as a right and sooner or later destroys all those in its grip.”
On Ash Wednesday, when we received the ashes, we hear the words: "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return." The custom of distributing the ashes arose from the practice observed in the early Church by penitents. The church recommends three means of conversion and renewal of life, during the period of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is an outward expression of our inner craving for a deeper relationship with God. In the Old Testament fasting, prayer and almsgiving were public. But if we look at the Gospel passage for the Ash Wednesday from the Gospel of Mathew, it talks about a more interior aspect of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. It does not mean we don’t have to do the exterior action, but the season demands interior discipline.
Prayer: We devote ourselves in prayer: in personal prayer, participating in Atweekend Mass, and if our schedules allow, attend weekday Mass.
Fasting: Fast from anything that harms ourselves and others. It could be food or other things, habits, or situations.
Almsgiving: Freeing ourselves from greed and helping others. It can be through prayers, inviting others to pray at Mass, spending time with others, and/or giving financial help.
The season of lent we increase our regular prayer, intensify our regular fasting and regular almsgiving to prepare for the feast of Easter and the Christian Passover.
Fasting and Abstinence: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. For members of the Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
Take a Prayer Button for Lent: At the entrances of the Churches in our cluster, there will be a basket with Prayer Buttons. Please take one and place on your jacket during this Lent to remind yourself about the sacrifice of Jesus, the gift of Eucharist and to remember every Sunday to prepare and actively participate in the Eucharist. I invite everyone to take a few minutes to prepare for Mass by looking at the reading for the Mass and by fasting for an hour before Mass. And invite someone you know to come with you to Mass. Jesus had to give everything to give us the Eucharist. What are we going to give up to celebrate the gift of Eucharist more meaningfully?