4lcHomily for Mass – Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year C)

(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5.30pm)

10 March 2013

(Readings: Joshua 5:9-12;  Ps 33;  2 Cor 5:17-21;  Lk 15:1-3, 11-32)

 

Today we hear again possibly one of the greatest stories ever told.  We are drawn to the figure of the father in the story, who is an image of the true Father of us all, the one of whom Christ is the living face.  Juxtaposed with the loving and merciful father, we have two vivid illustrations of estrangement.

The younger son has run off with a distorted view of freedom.  He wants to live the high life … he doesn’t want to be constrained by the rules and regulations of living in his father’s house … he doesn’t want to be subject to the authority of others … he wants to live for himself, to enjoy his freedom, to feel free of constraints.

The journey of the younger son is fairly prototypical of what happens in the relationship of children and their parents.  Children, when they are young, depend on their parents for everything.  As they mature they assert their independence, they want to “grow up.”  And if all goes well, when the child has grown up, they’re able to relate to their parents as an adult who has come to stand on their own feet and make their own decisions.  Having journeyed through dependence and then rebellion, the child and parent can come to a relationship based on gratitude and authentic love.

This pattern is seen, too, in our relationship with God.  At first we see religion that is prompted by our needs.  Children probably think of God as being like some celestial Santa Claus, giving us what we want and ask for.  As a child gets older there is naturally and typically a desire to be free of submission to God in order to become – what we see as – “free and adult”.  Perhaps at this stage there is even the thought that we can do without God: certainly without his laws, and the perceived threat they pose to our idea of freedom.

In the parable, the two sons act quite differently, and yet both of them equally have immature relationships with their father.  In the younger son, his estrangement distorts in his mind the way he thinks about his father.  He imagines that his father has written him off;  that he wouldn’t be wanting him to return;  that if he goes back, the best he can hope for is to be a servant.  In his mind, he can only see his father as his master.

The older son, despite the fact that he didn’t physically go away, is just as far away in his mind.  While the younger son hopes to come back and settle for being a servant (to come back to a state of childish submission), the older son has felt like a slave for years (he never grew out of childishness).  And the years of resentment and bitterness come pouring out when the younger son returns.

The only way the two sons can come to life is by an experience of mercy.  They’ll only “grow up” and enter into a properly adult relationship with their father if they realize that they’re loved freely by a love that is greater than their wretchedness;  and loved too by a love that far outweighs anything they might have done to earn or merit it.  It’s a gracious and free love that only wants them to enjoy life in their father’s house.

The two sons invite us to look at ourselves.  In what ways are we estranged from God our Father?  In what ways are we trapped in a childish relationship with God?  Are we in the throes of “teenage-like” rebellion against God?  Is our image of God distorted in our minds?

As we think about ourselves, we invited all the more to think of the image of God portrayed by the parable.  God’s faithfulness never fails – his love never stops – even when we distance ourselves and get lost by following our own desires and wills.  He looks out for us, he comes searching for us, he comes running to us when we make even the slightest movement towards him.  God speaks to our conscience from within in order to call us back to him.  God forgives our mistakes, and our selfishness, and delights in our return to live in his house.  This parable shows us the heart of God – a heart which is an ocean of mercy, compassion, forgiveness.

Interestingly, the father doesn’t force or compel his sons.  He certainly calls, entreats, waits – but he respects the very same freedom they had to leave him.  In the psalms we hear that well known refrain: if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.  If today you hear the voice of God within you, calling you to come back to him – to turn away from some sinful situation … then let us go to his outstretched arms that are waiting to enfold us.  He wants us to be regenerated by his merciful love.

We ask Mary, Mother of Mercy, to pray for us, and to help us return to the arms of the Father.

 

References:

Robert Ombres OP, http://torch.op.org/preaching_sermon_item.php?sermon=5731

Benedict XVI, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/angelus/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20100314_en.html

Scott Hahn, http://www.salvationhistory.com/homily_helps/march_10th_2013_-_4th_sunday_of_lent

http://www.ordopraedicatorum.org/2013/03/04/preachers-sketchbook-fourth-sunday-of-lent-laetare-sunday/