Sunday Sermon for March 31, 2019, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C
Readings: Josh 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Lk15:1-3, 11-32
The Mass today is about conversion. Conversion means to turn around, to go the opposite direction. We see the opposites today as the Church reminds us to forge ahead with our Lenten resolutions because they will bring great joy to us when they are complete.
Having passed the half way mark of Lent, we celebrate Laetare Sunday; rejoicing in the midst of our penance. People often associate penance with sadness, somberness, or even suffering. The Saints, on the other hand, teach us that the things we think of in a negative way are really causes for joy because they are being borne out of love.
Lent should be a joyful season because we can see our growth in holiness and virtue as the season progresses. It will only be joyful, however, as we saw last week, if we are motivated by true charity. If we are doing something selfishly, even if it is a good thing to do, we are not going to experience true joy. There may be some happiness or even satisfaction in what we have accomplished, but the deeper joy will not be present because our motivation was superficial or self-serving.
In the first reading the Israelites, after wandering in the desert for forty years and being fed with Manna, finally enter the Promised Land and eat of the produce of the land after celebrating the Passover. The Prophets refer to the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert as their honeymoon. They grew close to God and learned to trust Him. Building on that trust and receiving His love, hopefully they have also learned to love Him.
As they come into the Land of Promise, they need to choose again to keep God at the center of their lives. In the desert it was easier to do this because they had to rely on God for everything. Apart from what He provided, they had no food or water; they had no means of buying clothes, shoes, or other necessities. They were dependent on God for everything and He proved His love and fidelity to them. Now it was their turn to show their love and fidelity to God when, on the surface, it might appear they did not need God so much because they could take care of themselves on their own.
We also are faced with this problem. Because we can go to work, make money, and pay the bills, we sometimes forget we are dependent on God. We might start thinking we are either independent or dependent on our job or our money while giving lip service to God with hearts that are far from Him. Like the Israelites, we need to choose to make God the center of our lives and keep clearly in mind that our job, our finances, our stability are dependent on Him. Everything in our lives is dependent on Him!
In the Gospel reading we hear about the Prodigal Son. We see a young man who found himself at rock bottom, working with pigs and wanting to eat their food. He comes to his sense, turns himself around, returns home with a humble heart, and is greeted with his father’s embrace, the finest robe, shoes, a ring, and a celebration. The conversion of his heart brought him home to his father, repentant for his sins and willing to accept whatever punishment there might be. His father’s love restores him to his family, when he deserved his father’s wrath, not his charity.
God is our Father who, like the father in the story of the Prodigal son, is watching and waiting for us to convert, to return home. We know what our sins deserve, but God wants us not only to be forgiven and restored, but to be elevated higher than we were previously. The son was not just clothed; he was given the finest robe. He was not just provided with food, the fatted calf was slaughtered for him. This is what God has waiting for us, not because we deserve it, but because He loves us. He wants to clothe us with Sanctifying Grace and feed us with the Bread of Life. If we can accept our Father’s love and choose to love Him, we will find our joy and exalt in Him.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us we have become a new creation in Christ. He calls us to reconciliation with God then presents the opposites for us. Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin for us so we might become the righteousness of God in Jesus. This is how far God wants to exalt us. Jesus emptied Himself in order to exalt us. The Lord loves you! Be converted! Persevere in your penance and reject the emptiness of this world to rejoice in the joy of the Lord!