Sunday, 31 March 2019 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Laetare Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the fourth one in the season of Lent, we celebrate the occasion of the Laetare Sunday, which was known from the first part of the Introit of today’s celebration of the Holy Mass, ‘Laetare, Ierusalem…’ or ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem…’ speaking about the coming of the salvation and consolation of the fallen city, which had once fallen from grace, but would once again rise in glory, by the grace of God.

Therefore, this Sunday, we are reflecting on this joy that is expected to come, the joy of our Easter celebration and hope. That is why if we notice, that in today’s liturgical celebrations, the rose vestments are used instead of the typical purple of the season of Lent. This is a reminder of this joy that is expected to come, and that is why it is kind of a brief interlude and reprieve in the midst of the penitential nature of this season.

While we go through this time of Lent, the time of self-introspection, evaluation, purification and self-mortification, today we remind ourselves that ultimately, all of these are for a singular purpose, and that is for us to embrace the hope in the joy that is to come, the true joy that comes with our reconciliation with God, Who loves each and every one of us, that He wants us all to be reconciled with Him, and to be forgiven from our sins.

And we heard all of these in our Scripture passages today. In the Gospel passage in particular, we heard of the story and parable of the prodigal son that the Lord Jesus told to His disciples and to the people. This parable of the prodigal son is telling us of the great love that God has for each and every one of us, even though we mankind have sinned against Him, repeatedly and unrepentantly again and again.

In that parable, the younger of the two sons of a rich person went to his father to ask for his inheritance, and thereafter went on to squander his inheritance and wealth in faraway land. He lived with splendour and was living immorally, until the time when he ran out of money. When he had nothing left with him, he was forced to fend for himself and everyone abandoned him. He was left all alone, suffering humiliation and hunger.

In fact, his hunger was such that he did not mind to have a part of the food that the pigs were having, as he was taking care of them. But even so, no one allowed him to eat of the pig’s food. This was a sign that that prodigal son’s life and worth was even less than that of a pig, a total humiliation for any human being, and indeed, the pit of agony and suffering into which that prodigal son had fallen into.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the story of the prodigal son is the story of humanity, of each and every one of us sinners. By sin we have been cast out of God’s grace and presence, and because of the temptations of our desire and the temptations of worldly pleasures, we have been brought into this miserable and suffering-filled existence, just as the prodigal son had suffered as mentioned earlier.

Yet, everything was not lost for the prodigal son, as there was still one last path that the prodigal son remembered that he could take. He remembered how his father’s servants were even living more prosperously and in better condition than he was at that time. Thus, the prodigal son was betting on the last hope he had, by going back to the father hoping that he would at least make him one of his servants. He was so humiliated and embarrassed that he almost did not want to return to his father.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what each and every one of us also should expect, in the one and only hope that we have, the hope in our loving God and Father. He is indeed our one and only hope, for as we can see clearly from the parable, that the prodigal son had nothing left on him and had no hope in all those things that he thought once as treasures and worthy. His friends all left him, his money failed him, his properties and goods were gone. But his father alone is his last and only hope.

God is indeed our loving Father, and just as the father in the parable showed mercy and compassion for his prodigal and lost son, then God has shown us His mercy and compassion, to all of us who are coming back towards Him, with humility and the desire to be forgiven from the wicked things and sins we have committed just as the prodigal son turned back to his father in tears and regretting all that he had done.

We are called today, to reflect on our own sins and our own wicked acts, those selfish and prideful, ambitious and greedy attitudes, all of the self-serving, self-glorifying and wicked actions we have done all these while in life. All of us have sinned because of these, and while some among us may not realise it, whether we have committed sinful acts small or big, or whether it is seemingly minuscule or serious, sin is still sin, and sin separates us from the love and grace of God.

It was the greed, pride and desire within the mind and heart of the prodigal son that led him to take such a drastic action of demanding his inheritance and going off to a faraway country where he fell into wickedness and into the trap of desire. When our hearts and minds are centred on worldly things such as wealth, power, glory, ambition, and all sorts of other temptations, and not on God, we will crave even more and more of those things, and as a result, likely to fall deeper into the depth of sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, many of us have been like the prodigal son in our life, and many of us have not lived our lives righteously in accordance to God’s will. Many of us are putting our hopes and ambitions on worldly pursuits, for us to be wealthier, to have more money and financial security, to have more friends and relationships, to enjoy more of the goods of this world, to be more famous and glorified by others, to gain more renown and prestige in our community, among many others.

We are hoping to find joy in all of these, without realising that our true joy lies in God alone. Similarly, like the prodigal son, who thought that his happiness lies in being free in doing whatever he wanted, by getting his portion and doing everything he liked, away from the father who loved him, we too have lived in ways that embrace our own hearts’ selfishness and our own human desires, for pleasure and for the indulging of the flesh.

Yet, as mentioned earlier, none of these ‘joys’ of the world will last. Those things are impermanent and temporary at best, illusory in nature and imperfect. We can never be truly happy with them, and as we have seen in the prodigal son’s story, they cannot be depended on, when times of trouble and trials come for us. In the end, there is nothing more dependable and there is no true hope but in God alone.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you know why all of us Christians practice certain things such as fasting and abstinence during this season of Lent, and are also encouraged to spend more time in prayer, and also to go for the Sacrament of Penance by confessing our sins before the priests? That id because, in this time of Lent, we are called to peel off from ourselves the many layers of pride, of ambition, of haughtiness and vanity, the layers of greed and desire from ourselves, and rediscover who we truly are.

It is by restraining our desires and tempering our human pride and greed that we will be able to realise just how despicable and wicked our state has become, just as the prodigal son discovered at the moment of his greatest humiliation and weakness, when he had to endure a fate even worse than animals, and valued even less than animals. It is the moment when we die to ourselves in the flesh and in our worldly existence that we can finally find the way forward to God.

Yet, it takes a lot of courage for us to be able to make that journey back to the Father, our loving and ever merciful God. Indeed, the prodigal son also must have had a lot of thinking and consideration before he finally mustered the courage and threw away his ego and pride, in reaching out to his father, and be willing to humble himself and beg for his father’s forgiveness. Similarly therefore, it will take us a lot of effort for us to overcome this fear, doubt and reluctance in us, for us to finally accept God’s offer of forgiveness and mercy.

God offers us His forgiveness freely and generously, but more often than not, we are not able to commit ourselves to the path of mercy and forgiveness. Either we are too easily tempted by the temptation of worldly things, or we are afraid that God will be angry at us, and thus we continue to live our lives the way it has been lived, and we fall even deeper into the pit and trap of sin. That is why, today, on Laetare Sunday, after we have journeyed through this season of Lent to realise just how despicable and sinful we are, now we turn our focus for a while to look forward to where our destination is.

We look forward knowing that God is awaiting us all, wanting to embrace us with love, with mercy and compassion, welcoming us back to His embrace. If we can close our eyes for a moment and imagine in our minds of the moment when the prodigal son came to the embrace of his father, can we imagine just how joyful he must have been, in gazing at his beloved father once again? And he was welcomed to his father’s house again, to be the son of the house once again, receiving what he had once lost.

And that is exactly what we are going to experience, all of us, God’s scattered and lost children, all of us who have been scattered and lost because of our sins and disobedience. We are looking forward to this true joy of being reunited fully with God, our loving Father, which is the joy of the Resurrection, the joy of Easter. And now that we know what lays ahead of us, are we now willing to make the new commitment to love the Lord, our God, with all of our hearts and minds from now on?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all make this our commitment to live more in accordance to the path that God has shown us. Let us embrace with joy and with courage the mercy and love that He has offered so generously before us. Let us all keep strong to this hope we have in Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, Who has come to us to show us the fullness of God’s everlasting love and mercy towards us. May God show us His compassion and may He forgive us all our sins when we ask Him for this grace. Amen.

Sunday, 31 March 2019 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Laetare Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Luke 15 : 1-3, 11-32

At that time, tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus, all of them eager to hear what He had to say. But the Pharisees and the scribes frowned at this, muttering, ‘This Man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So Jesus told them this parable : “There was a man with two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Give me my share of the estate.’ So the father divided his property between them. Some days later, the younger son gathered all his belongings and started off for a distant land, where he squandered his wealth in loose living.”

“Having spent everything, he was hard pressed when a severe famine broke out in that land. So he hired himself out to a well-to-do citizen of that place, and was sent to work on a pig farm. So famished was he, that he longed to fill his stomach even with the food given to the pigs, but no one offered him anything.”

“Finally coming to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will get up and go back to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against God, and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants.’ With that thought in mind, he set off for his father’s house.”

“He was still a long way off, when his father caught sight of him. His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.'”

“But the father turned to his servants : ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Bring out the finest robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Take the fattened calf and kill it! We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found!’ And the celebration began.”

“Meanwhile, the elder son had been working in the fields. As he returned and approached the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it was all about. The servant answered, ‘Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father is so happy about it that he has ordered this celebration, and killed the fattened calf.'”

“The elder son became angry, and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him. The son, very indignant, said, ‘Look, I have slaved for you all these years. Never have I disobeyed your orders. Yet you have never given me even a young goat to celebrate with my friends. Then when this son of yours returns, after squandering your property with loose women, you kill the fattened calf for him.'”

“The father said, ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad.'”

Alternative reading (Reading from Year A)

John 9 : 1-41

At that time, as Jesus walked along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Master, was he born blind because of a sin of his, or of his parents?”

Jesus answered, “Neither was it for his own sin nor for his parents’ sin. He was born blind so that God’s power might be shown in him. While it is day we must do the work of the One Who sent Me; for the night will come when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”

As Jesus said this, He made paste with spittle and clay, and rubbed it on the eyes of the blind man. Then He said, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.” (This word means sent.) So the blind man went and washed and came back able to see. His neighbours, and all the people who used to see him begging, wondered. They said, “Is this not the beggar who used to sit here?” Some said, “He is the one.” Others said, “No, but he looks like him.” But the man himself said, “I am he.”

Then they asked him, “How is it that your eyes were opened?” And he answered, “The Man called Jesus made a mud paste, put it on my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went, and washed, and I could see.” They asked, “Where is He?” And the man answered, “I do not know.”

The people brought the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made mud paste and opened his eyes. The Pharisees asked him again, “How did you recover your sight?” And he said, “He put paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, for He works on the Sabbath”; but others wondered, “How can a sinner perform such miraculous signs?” They were divided, and they questioned the blind man again, “What do you think of this Man who opened your eyes?” And he answered, “He is a Prophet!”

After all this, the Jews refused to believe that the man had been blind and had recovered his sight; so they called his parents and asked them, “Is this your son? You say that he was born blind, but how is it that he now sees?” The parents answered, “He really is our son and he was born blind; but how it is that he now sees, we do not know, neither do we know Who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is old enough. Let him speak for himself.”

The parents said this because they feared the Jews, who had already agreed that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ was to be expelled from the synagogue. Because of that his parents said, “He is old enough, ask him.” So a second time the Pharisees called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Tell us the truth; we know that this Man is a sinner.”

He replied, “I do not know whether He is a sinner or not; I only know that I was blind and now I see.” They said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He replied, “I have told you already and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”

Then they started to insult him. “Become His disciple yourself! We are disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses; but as for this Man, we do not know where He comes from.” The man replied, “It is amazing that you do not know where the Man comes from, and yet He opened my eyes! We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone honours God and does His will, Hod listens to him. Never, since the world began, has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were born a sinner and now you teach us!” And they expelled him. Jesus heard that they had expelled him. He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said, “You have seen Him and He is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and worshipped Him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world to carry out a judgment : Those who do not see shall see, and those who see shall become blind.” Some Pharisees stood by and asked Him, “So we are blind?” And Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty. But you say, ‘We see’; this is the proof of your sin.”

Alternative reading (shorter version of Reading from Year A)

John 9 : 1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

At that time, as Jesus walked along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth.

As Jesus said this, He made paste with spittle and clay, and rubbed it on the eyes of the blind man. Then He said, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.” (This word means sent.) So the blind man went and washed and came back able to see. His neighbours, and all the people who used to see him begging, wondered. They said, “Is this not the beggar who used to sit here?” Some said, “He is the one.” Others said, “No, but he looks like him.” But the man himself said, “I am he.”

The people brought the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made mud paste and opened his eyes. The Pharisees asked him again, “How did you recover your sight?” And he said, “He put paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, for He works on the Sabbath”; but others wondered, “How can a sinner perform such miraculous signs?” They were divided, and they questioned the blind man again, “What do you think of this Man who opened your eyes?” And he answered, “He is a Prophet!”

They answered him, “You were born a sinner and now you teach us!” And they expelled him. Jesus heard that they had expelled him. He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said, “You have seen Him and He is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and worshipped Him.

Sunday, 31 March 2019 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Laetare Sunday) or Purple/Violet

2 Corinthians 5 : 17-21

For that same reason, the one who is in Christ is a new creature. For him, the old things have passed away; a new world has come. All this is the work of God, Who, in Christ, reconciled us to Himself, and Who entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.

Because, in Christ, God reconciled the world with Himself, no longer taking into account their trespasses, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we present ourselves as ambassadors, in the Name of Christ, as if God, Himself, makes an appeal to you, through us. Let God reconcile you; this, we ask you, in the Name of Christ. He had no sin, but God made Him bear our sin, that, in Him, we might share in the holiness of God.

Alternative reading (Reading from Year A)

Ephesians 5 : 8-14

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Behave as children of light; the fruits of light are kindness, justice and truth in every form. You yourselves search out what pleases the Lord, and take no part in works of darkness that are of no benefit; expose them instead.

Indeed it is a shame even to speak of what those people do in secret, but as soon as it is exposed to the light, everything becomes clear; and what is unmasked, becomes clear through light.

Therefore it is said, “Awake, you who sleep; arise from the dead that the light of Christ may shine on you.”

Sunday, 31 March 2019 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Laetare Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Psalm 33 : 2-3, 4-5, 6-7

I will bless the Lord all my days; His praise will be ever on my lips. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the lowly hear and rejoice.

Oh, let us magnify the Lord, together let us glorify His Name! I sought the Lord, and He answered me; from all my fears He delivered me.

They who look to Him are radiant with joy, their faces never clouded with shame. When the poor cry out, the Lord hears and saves them from distress.

Alternative reading (Reading from Year A)

Psalm 22 : 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

He guides me through the right paths for His Name’s sake. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are beside me : Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my foes. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

Sunday, 31 March 2019 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Laetare Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Joshua 5 : 9a, 10-12

Then YHVH said to Joshua : “Today I have removed from you the shame of Egypt.”

The Israelites encamped in Gilgal where they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the following day, they ate of the produce of the land : unleavened bread and roasted grain on that very day. And from that day on when they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased.

There was no more manna for the Israelites, and that year they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan.

Alternative reading (Reading from Year A)

1 Samuel 16 : 1b, 6-7, 10-13a

YHVH asked Samuel, “Fill your horn with oil and be on your way to Jesse the Bethlehemite for I have chosen My king from among his sons.”

As Jesse and his sons came, Samuel looked at Eliab the older and thought, “This must be YHVH’s anointed.” But YHVH told Samuel, “Do not judge by his looks or his stature for I have rejected him. YHVH does not judge as man judges; humans see with the eyes; YHVH sees the heart.”

Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel who said, “YHVH has chosen none of them. But are all your sons here?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, tending the flock just now.” Samuel said to him, “Send for him and bring him to me; we shall not sit down to eat until he arrives.”

So Jesse sent for his youngest son and brought him to Samuel. He was a handsome lad with ruddy complexion and beautiful eyes. And YHVH spoke, “Go, anoint him for he is the one.” Samuel then took the horn of oil and anointed him in his brothers’ presence.