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.

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