Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fourth Sunday (Laetare) in Lent

March 10, 2013
Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 34; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3,11-32

Laetare Sunday signifies that we have moved past the bulk of the Lenten season and that Holy Week is now on the horizon. We are to rejoice even though our celebration is tinged with sadness because of the fate of our Lord.

We can rejoice also because the gift of reconciliation is given to us by God to use for our benefit. We hear of the Israelites’ gladness in the first reading when the Lord removes the rebuke of Egypt from them. The two nations are more or less reconciled. After celebrating the Passover, the Lord no longer provides manna, the daily bread, for the nomads because they can now eat the produce of the land of Canaan. The Israelites are launched as a nation in their new land, which can now give something back to them.

Paul gives us joyous news that every Christian is a new creation and that the old things have passed away. God reconciles us to himself through Christ’s salvific action and we possess the life-giving ministry of reconciliation. The new world awaits us when we receive this gift and use it to reconcile us to others.

The parable of the Prodigal Son remains one of the most confronting stories in scripture. It reveals the complexities we face in reconciling with family and with those whose relationships we cannot terminate at will. It is a story of a generous father who wants to provide for the welfare of his beloved family no matter the cost. He graciously divides his estate between the two brothers and gives them freedom to make their own decisions. The father’s livelihood is made vulnerable because he gives up control of his long years of hard work for his sons’ welfare. Like any good intentioned parent, he throws common sense out of the window for his sons’ happiness. He places at risk all his best practices for creating a stable, productive worldview when it comes to care for family.

Imagine how the father day after day looks out on the horizon for his younger son’s return. He does not give up hope that his son will return. At least, his older son remains by his side and benefits from co-laboring in the fields. His heart leaps when he catches sight of his wayward son. His heart is filled with compassion because he knows he went through unspeakable times, and he embraces and kisses him. Their conversation must be filled with great happiness even though the son returns filled with remorse.

            The dad is perplexed that his older son cannot share his joy. They have enjoyed each other’s presence constantly and the dad is always ready to give his son everything he asks. Everything he has belongs to him. The family is restored and a new order begins. All is reconciled through the choices we make.

            All ends well in the parable but real life is not as neat. We can find many ways in which the relationships between the two brothers are fragile and fractured. They need to reconcile between themselves. The older brother’s sense of justice needs to be reworked because his worldview is turned upside down because of his father’s extraordinary love. I guess love does that to us. Magnanimous love remains mysterious – almost chaotic, but it unites us in unexpected ways. We can’t expect matters to be orderly when unconditional love sweeps over us. The most we can do is join in on the celebrating. How strange to live in a world when love rules.

            While the parable may have been meant to illustrate God’s unquenchable love for faithful Israel, the older brother, and new converts who are sinners and Gentiles, the younger brother, living in a world where the old order has passed away is unsettling. Israel is asked to welcome its younger sibling into the family and tensions surely persist. When mercy is the new law and reconciliation is the goal, great adjustments are needed and brothers need time to wrap their heads around the new order and live without reservations.

            On a personal level, we need much courage to use the gift of reconciliation that is entrusted to us. Once upon a time, forgiveness was only something God could do, but through the actions of Jesus, this responsibility was shared with us. We are asked to act with the abundant mercy of the father who welcomes both the faithful and the sinner. We are asked to seek forgiveness for the wrongs we have done - just like the younger son. We are asked to put aside our righteousness and welcome back those who have acted recklessly – like the older brother. These can be emotionally charged actions because we want human retribution and justice. On a human level, it is not easy, but when we exercise the gift well, our actions are god-like and bring us to a transcendent place in our lives. When we forgive and reconcile, overwhelming feelings of goodness assure us that we did the right thing. God makes himself known to us to confirm our participation in this gift.

            Living in a world governed by God’s mercy is what we all want, but it means that we have to put into practice today our forgiveness and reconciliation. We all know it is more difficult than we think and we haven’t acquired enough skills to do it well and often. The old order can’t pass away until we learn how to do it, but our doing it will be proof to God that we want to be held in his embrace. It means first that we have to first embrace our estranged brothers and sisters and offer them a glimpse of God’s love. They are waiting for our first step. They need it just as much as we do.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Isaiah, the Lord says, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the things of the past shall not be remembered or called to mind… No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there.” In Ezekiel, the prophet speaks of his experience saying, “I saw water flowing from the temple, and all who were touched by it were saved.” In Isaiah, the Lord says, “In a time of favor, I answer you, on the day of salvation, I help you, and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people.” In Exodus, the Lord instructs Moses to go down to the people whom he has brought out of Egypt and see what they are doing. The Lord was angry, and Moses intercedes to have the Lord relent in punishing the people. In Wisdom, the wicked say, “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us…. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his words, God will take care of him.” In Jeremiah, the servant says, “I am like a trusting lamb led to the slaughter, not realizing they were hatching plots against me.”

Gospel: A royal official heard that Jesus returned to Cana in Galilee. He asked Jesus to come down and heal his son and he returned home believing what Jesus said. On his way, his slaves met him to tell him his son would live. During a Jewish feast, Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate at the Bethesda pool. A man who was ill for thirty-eight years pleaded with Jesus to be healed because no one would ever put him into the healing pool. Jesus healed him, but the authorities became angry because it was the Sabbath. Jesus was talking with the Jews to tell that that, “as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also does the Son give life to those whom he chooses.” They tried to kill him all the more because he called God his own father. Jesus asks them to look at his works because they testify to themselves and point the way to God. He assures them that he is not after human praise, as they are, but that they are to accept him because he does everything in the name of the Father. Jesus knew people were trying to kill him so he remained in Galilee, however the feast of the Tabernacles was near. Many began to believe in Jesus but some doubted him. Scripture told them the prophet would arise from Bethlehem and Jesus came from Galilee.

Saints of the Week

No major saints are celebrated this week.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Mar 10, 1615. The martyrdom in Glasgow, Scotland, of St John Ogilvie.
·      Mar 11, 1848. In Naples, Italy, during the 1848 revolution, 114 Jesuits, after much suffering, were put into carts and driven ignominiously out of the city and the kingdom.
·      Mar 12, 1622. Pope Gregory XV canonized Sts Ignatius, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, and Philip Neri.
·      Mar 13, 1568. John Segura and five companions set sail from Spain for Florida, a fertile field of martyrs. (Nine Jesuits were killed there between 1566 and 1571.)
·      Mar 14, 1535. Ignatius received his degree from the University of Paris.
·      Mar 15, 1632. The death of Diego Ruiz, a great theologian, who studied on his knees.
·      Mar 16, 1649. The martyrdom in Canada of St John de Brebeuf, apostle to the Huron Indians. Captured by the Iroquois along with some Christian Huron, he endured horrible tortures.