Liturgical Colour : Rose (Laetare Sunday) or Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday, the fourth one in the season of Lent, we celebrate what is known as Laetare Sunday, one of the only two occasions in the entire liturgical year when the colour rose is used. The other occasion is the Gaudete Sunday during the season of Advent. The word Laetare has the meaning of ‘rejoice’ just as Gaudete is, both having similar meanings. This word comes from the beginning of today’s Introit at the start of the Holy Mass, namely, ‘Laetare Jerusalem, et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam…’ which means ‘Rejoice, o Jerusalem, and gather round, all you who love her…’
Today, just as on Gaudete Sunday in Advent, we have a reprieve and more joyful celebration amidst the more sombre and penitential nature of this season. We have something like a break amidst the usually more toned down nature of our Lenten observances, as music and flowers are allowed to be used again, unlike how it is during the other parts of the Lenten season. Why is that so? That is because today we focus on the Joy that we are looking forward to and have been preparing ourselves for in these past few weeks of Lent. We look forward to the joy of the coming of Christ, and the salvation that He has given to all of us in Easter.
We remember the great love of God and how He patiently reached out to us, desiring to forgive us our sins and be reconciled with us. We must consider ourselves truly very fortunate to have such a loving God by our side. We are a people who have deserved destruction and annihilation, condemnation and eternal suffering because of our many sins, our disobedience against God, our waywardness and wickedness. Yet, because of God’s enduring love for each and every one of us, even to the greatest among sinners, He desires to be reconciled with us, so that we, having been forgiven from our sins through our repentance and genuine desire to change for the better, may enjoy once again the fullness of His love and grace.
In our first reading today, we heard the story of the joyful moment when the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua, Moses’ successor, finally entered the Promised Land after forty long years of wandering in the desert and wilderness after their Exodus out of Egypt. God led them to the land promised to their ancestors, and they would have reached it much earlier if not for the stubbornness of many of them who gave in to their fears and lacking trust in God, chose to rebel against God and did not trust Him to guide them safely into the land promised to them. And hence, they had to wander the desert and the wilderness for those forty long years.
That forty long years is symbolically marked by us as well every year when we observe the season of Lent, the time of purification and internal reorientation of our focus in life, for the forty days as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the great and most joyful occasion in the coming of Easter. And Our Lord Himself also spent the same forty days in the desert after He was baptised in the Jordan and before He began His ministry, fasting and praying to God at that moment, tempted and rejecting the temptations of the devil. In the end, the Lord triumphed against the devil and through that, we have hope of our salvation in Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.
The Israelites rejoiced greatly at that moment when they finally entered the Promised Land after forty years long, and they celebrated there, and renewed their Covenant with God. The Lord also from then on did not provide them with manna any longer as He had done for the previous forty years, as they could already live off from the bounty of the land, the promised land overflowing with milk and honey that had been promised to them. And we all today share in their rejoicing, remembering the joy that they had felt, as we remind ourselves why we observe this season of Lent in the first place.
First and foremost, we celebrate this season of Lent because we desire to return to the Lord, to be reconciled with Him as mentioned just earlier. We have erred, made mistakes and disobeyed the Lord, and yet, the Lord Who is ever merciful has always extended His mercy to us, which we are free to accept and reject. For us to accept this mercy fully, we have to go through a thorough internal reorganisation and retrospection, changing our way of life and outlook, rejecting our past, sinful way of life and instead committing ourselves to a new way of life that is in accordance with God and His ways.
In our second reading today, we heard of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians reminding us that God has willingly reconciled us to Himself, through Christ, His Son, reminding us all that He has done so much for us, even to the extent of bearing the burdens of our sins, all the punishments due for our sins and took them all up onto His own shoulders. We can rejoice today because of everything He has done for us, in breaking His back and getting all the bruises and wounds, which were caused by our own infidelity and wickedness, all the sins we have committed. Those sins separated us from God, but God Who has always loved us sent us His Son to be the bridge connecting us back to Himself, through His Cross and His sacrifice on that Cross.
In our Gospel passage today, we then heard the famous parable of the prodigal son, a reminder for us all yet again of who we are, sinners wandering in this world in great need of healing and reconciliation with God, our ever loving Father and Creator. We are the prodigal sons of God, Who had been swayed by sin and by the temptations to sin, to walk away from God and His path, like the prodigal son who asked for his inheritance from his father and then went off to a distant land to live his life with pleasure, until he had nothing left and was forced to beg to survive.
This is a reminder to us that no matter whatever riches and wonders we have in life, in our world today, none of these will last us and they will not avail us, and eventually they will even become our downfall if we depend on them as what happened to the prodigal son in the parable of the Lord. That prodigal son had to suffer and wander off in a foreign land because of his disobedience against his father and his downfall into sin. Yet, what is important and what each one of us must take note of is what he decided to do next. He could remain proud and refuse to return to his father, as it would have been shameful to do so, and therefore perish in that foreign land, but he did not do so.
Instead, the prodigal son decided to return to his father, swallowing his pride and ego, seeking his forgiveness and mercy. He chose to abandon his way of sin and coming back to the father full of regret and desire to be forgiven, and even humbling himself as such, abashing himself and ready to be treated like one of his father’s slaves. He himself reasoned that it was better for him to live as one of his father’s slaves rather than to die in pride and perish in a land where no one knew him or even would mourn his passing. All his so-called friends and benefactors must have left him behind once he had no more money or possessions with him.
Yet, when he returned, we all know how happy and joyful the father was when the prodigal son came back. The prodigal son had been worried that the father must have been angry. But in truth, whatever anger the father might have felt, his love far surpassed that anger, and seeing his son, as wayward as he might be, coming back to him and desiring to be reconciled with him, full of regret for his own past actions, it was more than enough for the father to welcome his child back to his embrace. The repentant prodigal son was welcomed back with great joy, and he was once again a beloved son of the father’s household.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, through the story of the parable of the prodigal son, all of us are again reminded of how fortunate we are to have God Who is always loving us and has always been kind to us, and desires to be reconciled with us. Even though we are sinners, He has always waited patiently for us to return to Him. But are we willing to return to Him and be reconciled with Him? Are we willing to return to our Lord and Father just as how the prodigal son decided to return to his father with contrite heart full of regrets and sorrow over his faults and mistakes?
We have to realise that it is often our pride and ego that often come before us and God’s salvation. Too often we are too proud to admit that we had been wrong and are in the need for healing and reconciliation with God. And unless we let go of our pride and be willing to embrace God with genuine faith and love once again, we are likely going to still be separated from God and His love. If we allow our attachments to worldly desires and other temptations to distract us from the path of righteousness, we will end up falling into the path towards damnation.
At the same time, we must also not behave like the elder son who was envious and jealous that the younger, prodigal son was welcomed with great fanfare while he, who had always remained at the side of his father, did not have such an opportunity. This is a reminder for all of us not to look down upon or discriminate against our less fortunate brothers and sisters, and more importantly, never be judgmental and be condescending in our attitude towards others, like what the Pharisees did, in looking down on others and thinking that we are better, holier and more worthy and deserving of God’s blessings and graces than others. We are all sinners after all, and in doing what the elder son did, we may forget this fact, and end up derailing our own path towards full reconciliation with God.
Instead, we have to help one another, and remind each other of the joy awaiting us at the end of our respective journeys of faith through life. In this world, we are all still wandering through the darkness and called towards the light, much as how the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. This season of Lent is a reminder for us of this reality, and especially the need for all of us for God’s forgiveness and healing, to be reconciled with Him, our most loving Father. We have to draw closer to Him and to humble ourselves, like that of the prodigal son, that we may overcome the obstacles of our pride, ego and all the other things preventing us from coming back to our heavenly Father.
Let us rejoice today with the hope of the true joy that we will enjoy forevermore with our Lord, an eternity of true happiness with God, as we continue living our lives with faith. Let our rejoicing today on Laetare Sunday be a preparation for us to enter worthily into the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter that are coming soon. Let us make good use of the opportunities and time given to us, especially during this time of Lent, to find our way towards the Lord, as prodigal children, wayward sons and daughters, all sinners in need of healing and reconciliation with our God. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.