Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or Rose (Laetare Sunday)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, as we come together for the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent, we celebrate this Sunday which is also called the Laetare Sunday, where the liturgical colour is rose, similar to that of Gaudete Sunday in Advent, where the same theme is celebrated. Laetare, similar to Gaudete means ‘joy’ in Latin. It is a time for us to take a break in our sombre mood of the Lenten season, and to find and anticipate the joy that is to come as we celebrate Easter.
In the Scripture readings today we heard the joyful occasions when in the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard about the Israelites finally reaching the Promised Land after travelling for more than forty years, in the reparation and repentance for their sins and the sins of their forefathers, who refused to listen to God and disobeyed Him, that the Lord punished them to wander in the desert for forty years. Those who disobeyed God had all perished by the time the people of Israel reached the holy land, save for Joshua the faithful servant of God and Caleb, his compatriot.
In this we see how God purified His people through trials and tribulations, through pain and suffering in this world, that those who have not been able to stay faithful to the Lord and who have not been able to remain obedient, fell aside on the path to salvation and were cast out from the salvation in God. In this season of Lent, we too are purifying ourselves from the corruptions of the flesh, and the wickedness that remained in us, through our fasting and abstinences.
But the focus on this day remains on the outcome of all of our efforts to seek out the Lord our God through sincere and genuine penitential works. The celebratory nature of the Laetare Sunday in the midst of Lent is truly meant to help us and to encourage us in our path by showing us and allowing us to reflect on the future, on the outcome of our faith and of all our efforts, that all the difficulties we encountered for the sake of the Lord shall be rewarded wonderfully in the end.
In the Gospel we heard about the story of the prodigal son, which all of us should be very familiar with, that is the story told by Jesus about the younger son of a wealthy man and landowner, who went on to take his share of the inheritance and went to a foreign country, spending all of them on sinful living and wicked acts, and he only realised his folly when he had spent the last of his money, and he was left all alone in that foreign land.
And in his suffering, he came to realise the love which his father had for him, and decided with great courage to come back to his father, being greatly humbled and indeed, humiliated for his condition and situation. And he would not so much go home as to beg his father to forgive him and to treat him henceforth as a mere slave or servant, for he had greatly disappointed his father by his actions, and he was sure that his father would be angry with him.
And yet we knew how his father forgave him and welcomed him back with open arms, with great love and great joy. This story is a perfect representation of us mankind, and of our own attempt in reaching out to the Lord and in seeking His mercy when we have sinned against Him and disobeyed Him, and then how the Lord, our loving Father wants to welcome us back into His embrace. In that our Lord also mentioned the reality, that for every sinner that repents and changes his or her path and be saved, there is indeed a great joy and celebration in heaven.
All in all, everything we have heard and discussed thus far are about God’s loving and tender care for us, His mercy and forgiveness that He will give us mankind, forgiving us our sins and healing us from all of our troubles. In the Gospel passage used for the alternative reading in the case of preparation of the catechumens for the Sacrament of Baptism this Easter, taken from the Gospel of St. John, we heard yet another example, of how Jesus our Lord healed the blind man and restored to him his sight.
But we have to pay attention to a very important point that many people would easily overlook if they are not careful enough. And this is very important because especially in our time today, and even as many within the Church mistakenly believed, that while the Lord offered His mercy, forgiveness and salvation freely to all people without exception and without condition, but we often missed out the fine details of the truth, that no forgiveness, salvation or redemption can come about unless we accept it first, and devote ourselves fully to it.
This is why, in this season of Lent, it is important for all of us to understand its true purpose, and why we practice fasting, abstinence and all other observances, and why good deeds such as almsgiving and caring for the poor are encouraged. That is because, mercy and forgiveness from God only exercise their full function once we mankind, who accepted the mercy of God, internalised that mercy in us through real action, showing our regret, our sincere repentance, and the desire to turn away from all of our past sins, not just by mere words, but also through action.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, sin is like a disease, and it is indeed a disease, not of the flesh, but of the soul. But from the soul, sin can corrupt everything, including our minds, our hearts and our flesh too, our whole being. And it is this corruption that keep us away from truly being able to be reunited with our God, our loving Father.
If we look at the story of the prodigal son, it was not the part where he was reunited with his father that we have to focus our attention on. That part is just the conclusion of the long path that was initiated earlier on, namely at the moment when the prodigal younger son in the foreign land was suffering from the great famine and hunger, and he made that crucial decision to return to his father and beg for his mercy rather than to remain in his current state.
Similarly therefore, for sinners like us mankind, it is our conscious choice to accept God’s loving mercy and forgiveness, and then also our desire to be forgiven, shown by our rejection of the past sins and wickedness we used to embrace and enjoy, that bring us closer to the salvation in God. It is our commitment to lead a new life filled with faith in God that brings about our justification and redemption.
Therefore, in this great season of Lent, a great and perfect opportunity for us, let us all help one another in finding our path to the Lord. Let us all encourage each other to live a life no longer bound by sin and wickedness, but instead giving ourselves to the tender mercy of our Lord, and committing ourselves to a new life filled with hope, with faith and with love.
May our every actions bring us closer to God, and may we speak with one voice, and act with one determination, showing that we are all truly disciples and children of our Lord, our loving Father, that all justified in Him, we may receive our just rewards and the eternal life promised to all of His faithful ones. Let us look forward to the true joy that is to come, not the false joy of the world, but the joy found in the Lord alone. May God bless us all, and strengthen us in all of our endeavours. Amen.