31 March 20194 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
4 Lent
Fourth Sunday of Lent - Cycle C
Luke 15, 1-3, 11-32

The story is told about a soldier during combat. He was drinking heavily and was a constant menace to his comrades. His commanding officer had had him on the carpet several times. But on this occasion he was ready to throw the book at him. Said the colonel to his lieutenant, "I have given him every break." The officer responded, "Sir, you have punished him and it hasn't worked. Why not forgive him?" The colonel accepted the advice. To the soldier he said, "I have punished you many times. Punishment has not worked. This time I am going to forgive you. Your many offences will be removed from your personnel folder." The soldier, who had expected a court martial, broke down and wept. More to the point, he never drank again. This was probably the first and perhaps last time the commander acted in this merciful and indulgent fashion. However, such a procedure luckily for us is standard operation procedure on the part of God. Today's parable clearly underlines this point. In literature, this story is called the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Prodigal the son was with his inheritance from his father but so have been countless other sons. But what does not happen often is that this son was totally forgiven by his father. And there was much more than forgiveness. He was restored to full honors in the family hierarchy. Despite the son's expectations, the father spoke not one word of reproach against his younger child. It was Andrew Greeley I believe who said the parable might be better called the Parable of the Crazy Father. Today's parable is found in the fifteenth chapter of St Luke's Gospel. For many people, this celebrated chapter is the summing up of the entire Gospel. To their reasoning, the fifteenth chapter offers to readers the very core of the wonderful message that the Christ came to preach. The parable father, in Christ's mind, is clearly a type for God Himself. What is emphasized in the parable is the father's awesome love for his son even though he really deserves nothing more than hot tongue and cold shoulder. The father knows well the know-it-all boy is primarily coming home because he is hungry and needs a place to live. That he has wasted his money is of no importance to the father.

The Master then is telling us that God will forgive even the worst rogue among us unconditionally. All we have to do is start walking back to God. Like the prodigal son, our motives may not be the purest. Nor do we have to even finish the journey. God is quite willing to meet us before our trip is finished. He will bring us to honors which we humanly speaking do not deserve. Obviously God merits the label "this tremendous lover." As William Bausch puts it, God is among the very few who stoops to conquer. Abraham Lincoln, William Barclay tells us, was asked by a journalist how he would react to the rebels after hostilities ceased. Immediately the President answered, "I will treat them as though they had never been away." President Lincoln must have reflected on this parable often. The elder brother knew that his father's heart was breaking over his missing son. Why had he not gone out in search of his brother if for no other reason than to give joy to his father? The elder brother is of course a type for our selves. He had absolutely no sympathy for his brother. Had he had the opportunity, he would have tarred and feathered his younger brother.

He would then have run him off the property on a rail. But his sibling's misadventures cost him nothing. As the elder brother, two thirds of his father's estate was legally his. His money was safe and protected. His brother had wasted the third of the estate that was rightfully his own by law. Notice too the older fellow had an ugly mindset. It was he who suggested that his brother had spent his inheritance on fast women and slow horses. Lent is fast becoming history. Why not resolve to behave toward sinners as Lincoln did and not as the elder son? Can we, asks James Tahaney, be less patient with others than God is with us? The choice is ours. Recall the wise man who told us forgiveness and reconciliation are the oxygen of Christianity.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
4 Lent
Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Prodigal

Son and Beyond This Sunday we have the parable of the Prodigal Son, or, as it is sometimes called, the Parable of the Forgiving Father. I have even heard the last part of the parable referred to as the Parable of the Elder Brother. When we call the parable the Prodigal Son, we focus on the younger brother. We consider his sins, his memory of his life with the father whom he offended, and his decision to return back to his father even if he were only to be treated as a servant instead of as a son. There are many, many times I'm sorry to say, that I have felt the way the prodigal did on his journey back home. Perhaps you have too. There are times that we all have recognized our sins, recognized how happy we were before we got mired in our own selfishness, and decided to do all we can to return to at least a small portion of that happiness. We are not seeking to be restored to mystic ecstasy.

We just want to be on our father's farm again, happy to be in His Presence, no matter how limited that Presence might be. And then we are welcomed back with more love, more joy, than we could have ever expected. When we focus on the Forgiving Father, we recognize that the father was not concerned with how He was offended, he was concerned about his son who was lost, lost from the father's world. We focus on the father's joy at seeing His Son approaching and seeking forgiveness. We are ecstatic that our Father wants to restore us to His Love and forgives us before we can even spit out our "Bless me Father for I have sinned." Our consideration of the Elder Brother usually leads us to recognize that the Father's forgiveness of the sinner has to be embraced by all. When we decide that someone should not be restored to the Father's love, we are in fact excluding ourselves from the Banquet of Love. So, those are our normal themes. We can get deeper though. There is something sinister at foot within us.

There is a part of us that gives a bit of credibility to the other side. After all, the younger son had a right to his inheritance. Was it really so wrong that he asked for it early? What he did with it was his business. Or we might think that the elder son had a great point. He's been the good one, working to support his father. Why shouldn't he be upset that his brother, who caused his father so much pain, should return and be welcomed so warmly? There is a part of us, squirreled away in some hidden hole of our brain, that in similar circumstances wants to say, "Good riddance to bad rubbish." We might even question the actions of the Father, thinking that he caused the heartache by giving in to the brat. Now he was going overboard in welcoming him home. Some part of us wants to say that real people would never do that. That's the part of us that thinks we have a right to hold a grudge.

Those thoughts occur to us to the degree that our commitment to Christ is weak. They would not occur if we were totally sold out for the Lord. The parts of us that think that the prodigal son had a right to demand his inheritance and do what he wanted with his money are those parts that don't consider our own responsibility for the gifts of Love we have received from the Lord. The prodigal saw no obligation towards love or even justice and, as one of our teenagers said, "He ditched his father." When we decide it's time to take care of "Number One," we are consumed by our own selfishness. But if we are grounded in the Lord, we will use whatever gifts he has given us to praise Him with our lives. Our inheritance is Jesus Christ. He gives us His Love so that we can give this love to others. Those parts of us that think the elder brother was correct are also those parts of us that are not fully committed to Christ. Justice had been served. The elder brother still owned the rest of the farm. "Whatever I have is yours," the father told him. He wasn't told to give a portion of his share of the farm to his brother. He was just asked to welcome the sinner back into the family.

He couldn't because he was not grounded in the Lord's love. Nor are we when we become so judgmental that we also exclude ourselves from the banquet of God's love. For example, we might have a good friend or a close relative who was gravely hurt by a spouse or a child. We hurt with them. Then the offender returns and, to our dismay, is forgiven and welcomed back. We think, "That is ridiculous." "He did that to you and you are letting him back into your heart?" we protest. Our friend says, "Can't you just be happy for me?" But we won't. And we remove ourselves from the banquet of Christ's joy. Finally, the part of us that gives a little credence to the thought that the forgiving father was all too forgiving, is that part of us that is so selfish it considers every action as it impacts on ourselves. It takes courage and a commitment to Jesus Christ to say that my pain is not important.

The pain of others is what matters. That is what Jesus did on the Cross. That is what He calls us to do when He says, "Follow me." Our God loves us. No sacred book other than the Bible proclaims the love of God or a god for his people. The prophet Hosea predicted that the people would luxuriate in the Love of God. And then Jesus came. His whole life was a statement of Love, love for the Father, love for us. His death was a proclamation of this love. "Is this enough for you?" he asks the mystic Julian of Norwich. He was saying, "If you need more, I will do more." Of course, it is enough. We live under the mercy of God, under the compassion of God. We live in the Love of Jesus Christ. The parable of the Prodigal Son, Forgiving Father or Elder Brother, whatever, is calling us to reflect on the depth of our own commitment to the Lord, and our own determination to live His Love.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
4 Lent
Most Popular Bible Verse
(March 31, 2019)

Bottom line: "Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go." Or as we hear today, "I shall get up and go to my father." And he got up. This Lent we've been talking about regaining focus. As Jesus says, "You shall adore the Lord your God and him alone shall you serve." So far we have seen two powerful ways of regaining focus: gratitude and repentance. Gratitude: "Master, it is good that we are here." Repentance: "Unless you repent, you shall perish..." Today we have the great parable of repentance. We see what's involved in that life-changing step. It's so simple we miss it. It's what Jesus says about the young man who has hit bottom. "He got up..." "He got up." While it sounds simple, it takes courage to get up: in this case, to face the possibility of rejection and scorn. That young man overcomes fear, he gets up. Regarding fear: A Bible App did a study on the most popular verse. Turns out it's Joshua 1:9: "Do not be afraid or discouraged." People today often feel paralyzed by fear.

Fear affects young people - and the not so young. A friend of mine has a job that requires him to go into social situations, often with strangers. Some people think he's got it made because the events usually involve meals or parties. He confided to me, "I'd prefer a root canal!" But week after week he asks strength to overcome his fear. He'd rather lie on his couch with the TV or computer on. However, like the young man in today's Gospel, he gets up. The Bible verse, "Do not fear" helps him. He combines it with another verse: "Perfect love casts out fear." Interesting: the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Fear keeps us from returning the Father. Fear separates us from each other. Because of fear the young man in Jesus' parable must have been tempted to stay with the swine. At least there he was in control. The swine would not reject him or laugh at him. It took courage to get up, to face his father - and potential put-downs. That fear is well-founded. Big brother is more than ready to throw little brother's moral failure in face.

But in the end it's big brother who stays outside. The younger brother faces his fear and enters the feast (a symbol for the Eucharist). No wonder the favorite Bible verse is about facing fear. Someone has calculated the Scriptures have 365 verses about overcoming fear: One for each day of the year. My favorite is: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.." Next Sunday we will see a powerful reason for facing fear. We'll hear how Jesus helps a woman caught in a sin that requires the death penalty. No matter what you are facing, do not be afraid. Jesus is with you. That's next week as we enter Passiontide - the final two weeks before Easter. For today I conclude with the most popular Bible verse - Joshua 1:9. Here's the full verse: "This is my command - be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go." Or as we hear today, "I shall get up and go to my father." And he got up. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Lent

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
4 Lent
Fourth Sunday of Lent

The story of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well-known in the New Testament. It has been rightly called the Queen of all Parables. This Parable is only to be found in the Gospel of Luke and it is most appropriate for us to take a look at it in the middle of Lent. Lent is a time when we seek forgiveness and this wonderful story aptly teaches us about forgiveness and reconciliation. Millions of people who have heard this wonderful story have been moved to repentance. We know all its details by heart and yet when we hear it read to us we cannot help but be deeply moved by it. The reason for this is very simple, it is because we see ourselves as the son who went astray and we recognise that God wants us to return home to him who is full of mercy and compassion. It is generally called the story of the Prodigal Son because the son goes off and squanders his inheritance. But it could equally be called the story of the Prodigal Father because he forgives his son unreservedly for his sinfulness and welcomes him back into the bosom of the family. It says in the text, ‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity.'

You can imagine then that the father often found himself gazing at the road up to the house just longing for his son's return, longing to be in a position to welcome him home. The same can't be said for the jealous brother who is angry to hear of the welcoming feast the father has arranged. He thinks that his own loyalty and faithfulness should be rewarded and the fecklessness of his brother ought to result in him being cast off. It is clear that he has no love for his brother. The love the father has for his lost son can be equated with the love that God has for us when we stray from the right path. God longs for us to return to him in a spirit of repentance. God wants nothing more than to be able to extend to us his loving forgiveness. He longs to reward us for returning to him. I have been ordained for thirty-five years and according to me one of the most wonderful aspects of the priesthood is to hear confessions and to administer absolution.

Not infrequently this involves hearing penitents telling you that it has been five or ten or twenty years since they last went to confession. Clearly during that time they have been carrying a heavy burden and have come to the point where they can bear it no longer and so come back to God seeking his forgiveness. These are occasions of great joy for both the penitent and also for the priest. One interesting little sidelight in this story of the Prodigal Son is that he ends up on a farm feeding pigs. This story is being told to a group of Pharisees and according to them there is nothing lower that a man can descend to than feeding pigs because in the Mosaic Law they are regarded as unclean animals and are always to be shunned. They would regard the feeding of pigs as an act of the lowest degradation. But often in life we have to reach an extremely low point before we can come to our senses.

This is often something that we notice when dealing with alcoholism; a person suffering from addiction to alcohol frequently needs to end up in the gutter before they find themselves able to decisively return to a life of sobriety. This often makes it difficult for family and friends who cannot bear to see them stoop so low. Of course, if we regard the son as representing ourselves and the father representing God then we need to ask ourselves who the other son represents. Well, clearly, he represents the Pharisees to whom this story is being told. One wonders whether they saw themselves as represented by this character. Maybe not; maybe they are so stuck in their worldview as not to have the acumen to see themselves reflected in this most perceptive Parable. Remember, those Pharisees saw themselves as righteous; it was everyone else whom they regarded as sinners.

They had the wealth and were born into a class of professional religious people who looked down on others and invented rules which were easy for them to follow but were difficult for everyone else. They don't recognise their own sinfulness and are preoccupied by showing off to others what they regard as their own perfect religious observance. We don't know what the Pharisees made of this Parable because Luke does not record their reaction, after recounting it he moves on to some private instruction given by Jesus to his immediate disciples. We can only hope that a few of the Pharisees were unsettled by it and that it gave them cause for some self-examination. One shouldn't suppose that the Pharisees were individually all bad but recognise that they were caught up in a privileged class system which they didn't feel they could go against. What we see here in this Parable is that God is open-minded while some of those who profess to follow him are closed-minded. God is forgiving while some religious people are unforgiving.

If we truly want to be a disciple of Christ then we need to imitate him in all that he does and in all that he says. What we have to do is adopt the attitudes that Christ has so that we can grow more like him each day of or lives. What we need to do is to become more loving and less stern, we need to be more forgiving and less hard-hearted, we need to become more trusting and less judging. The more Christlike we become then the closer to God we will be. Back on the farm the older brother carries on just as he did before; nothing changed for him. But the younger brother experiences quite a lot of change. He left home, he squandered his money, he was hungry and ended up in the worst job imaginable. But then he came to his senses, he thought things through and made the decision to return home. He then made that long and difficult journey penniless though he was. And then of course he is warmly welcomed by his Father with a banquet in his honour. All of these stages imply change. And change affects a person; change changes us. And if we deal with change correctly it builds us up, gives us experience and makes us much better people.

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