Homily for the fourth Sunday of Lent - Year C - Lk. 15:1-3, 11-32


by

Father Daniel Meynen
 
 

"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable:


"There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.


"But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants." ' And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.


"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.' "





Homily:


"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable: ..."


On this fourth Sunday of Lent, when the Church already rejoices in the coming feast of Easter, singing "Laetare Jerusalem", "Rejoice, O Jerusalem", it is the Gospel of the return of the prodigal son that is proposed to us as today's reading. And this is indeed a Gospel of joy and peace, for it concerns a truly profound and lasting conversion: that of a son who returns to his father and throws himself at his feet, asking for his forgiveness for having squandered his entire inheritance.


We all have a father, whether he is still alive or has already left this world: so we all have some idea of what a father is. It is true that some people have never known their father, for various reasons. Such people - and everyone else, too - should thus turn their eyes towards that father who is full of tenderness and who tries, despite his human weakness, which is inherent in any creature, to represent on earth the goodness of our Father in heaven: I am speaking of Pope John Paul II, he whom we call the Holy Father!


Thanks to God, who, in Christ, did not leave us as orphans (cf. Jn. 14:18), we all have a father on earth, to help remind us of the one in Heaven. Is this not another parable? Is this not an image capable of touching us as much as the parable in today's Gospel, if not more so? Perhaps... For are there not, in the Church and in the world today, many men and women who, like you and me, have withdrawn themselves to some extent, no matter how small, from the authority and love of this venerable father?


Who is without sin? Who has never failed in his duty as a son or daughter towards his spiritual father, the Pope? Nobody is perfect. Even the pope is not perfect: he is only the image, the half-visible resemblance of the one Father who is perfect and who reigns in Heaven! But this does not take away from the fact that we are all his sons or daughters if we proclaim our faith in God the Trinity. For Jesus himself declared that the Spirit of the Father was in Simon Peter, the first pope. "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father who is in heaven." (Mt. 16:17) Now, in the person of the pope, it is Simon Peter's own authority that is exercised and which we are called to recognize...


Of course, the return of the prodigal son is not always well received by those who have always remained in the house of the father... Is this not what we have seen in certain Churches, some of whose members are in union with the Holy See and others are not? Is it not the case that ecumenical dialogue is not always truly appreciated - whether rightly or wrongly (nothing is perfect) - by those who have remained in union with the pope? For they are, in a way, sons who are a little jealous of the fact that their father kills the fatted calf for the prodigal son!


"There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living."


If, in this parable, the younger son was able to ask his father for his share of the inheritance, is it also possible for us to ask God for our share? Not at all! The inheritance we are promised in eternal life, and even here on earth in its beginnings, is not a good that one asks for. On the contrary, it is a good that one receives, and receives freely, through grace! God is a Father who is full of tenderness and who wants to save all the men and women that he created in his Love. But this grace of salvation is given by God at the proper time, in his own time. Let us trust him: he will not wait until we are dead to give us this grace! He shall give it to us when he wants to do so: it is up to us to receive it with faith and love at the opportune time...


"But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants." ' "


The time of grace has finally arrived: "When he came to himself..." The grace of conversion makes this young man understand what it is to be a son, and consequently, what it is to be a father; for there is no son without a father, and there is no father without a son... "I am no longer worthy to be called your son..." This is something that we too can say, with the grace of God: we not longer merit to be called your sons... For the grace of God is an interior light which enlightens us and shows us, on the one hand, the ugliness of our sin, and on the other hand, the beauty of He who is the supreme Good: God, Beauty par excellence!


"And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' "


The road back to God is sometimes long, and often difficult. But while we are still far away from God, if there is already in our soul a small spark which, through grace, sets aflame the love of God in us, then our Heavenly Father sees it immediately and, with his tender care, helps us to continue on our journey, all the way to him: "While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." No, he who returns to God will not be disappointed: God is greater than our heart!


In this beautiful story, nowhere is any mention made of the mother of these two sons... But how could they have come into the world without a mother? No mother is mentioned here precisely because it is a story, a parable, an image meant to help us to understand the nature of things. In the Church, we all have a common father: the pope. But we also have a common mother: the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Now, Mary is the Wife of the Holy Spirit: in this sense, Mary is a little "spiritual", like her husband, and thus invisible...


The Most Blessed Virgin Mary watches over us, the Church, and the entire world: let us entrust her with the conversion of all men, by the grace of Jesus-Eucharist!



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