Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This Sunday we mark the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent, often called Laetare Sunday. The rose colored vestments we wear remind us that the great celebration of Easter is drawing near. The word “laetare” is Latin for “rejoice,” and it is used here to help us continue through the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of this holy season. As we go through our Lenten journey, our penitential practices can begin to weigh on us, and we run the risk of thinking of Lent as a dour, guilt-ridden time. The Church gives us a liturgical focus in the midst of this penance that calls attention to the reason for our penance – we are preparing for the mysteries of our salvation, and though those mysteries involve the suffering of Christ, they win for us freedom from sin, renewal of spirit, and the open gates of Heaven.
The Gospel parable of the Two Sons read at Mass this weekend bears this out. As the Pharisees and scribes grumble about Jesus’ association with sinners, He shares this powerful lesson about sin, repentance, and mercy. The son who squanders everything and has no choice but to come home hoping to be a servant reminds us of our own sinfulness. How often we squander the gifts that God pours out on us, how often we betray the love of our Heavenly Father! But human nature is oriented toward God. Thus, when we sin, we feel guilt and a very real distance from God. This separation hurts and the pain we feel begins to turn us back to our proper orientation. The son begins to turn back to his father, and so should we – during this great season of Lent, our reflection on our own sin ought to remind us to go back to our Father, seeking forgiveness with the humility of the prodigal son.
The other son in the parable has never been far from his father. In this man, we see a reflection of another facet of our lives. For the most part, we believe we are generally good people. All of us have an occasional tendency to judge others or think that we are entitled to something that another has received. It is humbling to hear the words of the father calling us to rejoice at the return of a sinner, but we need to hear those words, too!
The father runs to greet his prodigal son and welcomes him home with celebration. Our penitential practices both focus our attention on our sin and remind us of the way that our Heavenly Father sees us. We need to run back to our Father, confessing our sin and asking mercy. And we also need to rejoice, for He runs to meet us on the way, He seeks us out no matter how lost we believe we are, He desperately wants us to rejoice in His presence. God never stops looking for us and calling us into relationship with Himself. Furthermore, He never stops calling us to rejoice when sinners turn back to Him. He sends us out to invite sinners home. We are prodigals, and who better than prodigals to call other prodigals back home? So today, let us rejoice that we have been called to this holy season of penance and that God is working out our salvation.