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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Lent - Rejoice The Prodigal Son has Returned to the Father

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Laetare Sunday
The Prodigal Son has Returned to the Father

March 14, 2010
March 10, 2013
March 6, 2016 

“What choral dance and high festival is held in heaven, if there is one that has become an exile and a fugitive from the life led under the Father,….and then, famished and destitute, and not even filled with what the swine eat, has arisen and come to his Father!” (Taken from an oration on Luke 15 by Macarius Chrysocephalus who quotes from a work of Clement of Alexandria)

The fourth Sunday of Lent is like the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) one of the two “joyful” Sundays the Catholic Church celebrates. It is called Laetare Sunday (Latin for “rejoice”) taking its name from the entrance antiphon of the Mass, “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her.” (Isaiah 66:10)

In today’s Gospel we hear the parable of the prodigal son, from Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. The prodigal son, who was reckless and wasteful, has returned to the Father, resulting in a joyful festival not only celebrated on earth but upon high in heaven. This parable teaches us once more that God is merciful.

“Although the word ‘mercy’ does not appear [ in this parable] nevertheless expresses the essence of the divine mercy in a particularly clear way....Mercy – as Christ has presented it in the parable of the prodigal son – has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. The father first and foremost expresses to him his joy that he has been 'found again' and that he has 'returned to life'. This joy indicates a good that has remained intact: even if he is a prodigal…..”(John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, 5, 6)

Jesus is addressing this parable to the Pharisees who are offended that He would be so compassionate toward sinners. As the Gospel opens we hear the words of the Pharisees, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus responds with the parable of the prodigal son, expressing His desire to save each and everyone.

This parable speaks from three perspectives, that of the youngest son, the father, and the eldest son. All of us, if honest, will be able to relate to the youngest and oldest son in this parable. At some point we have all made their journey. The father represents God, our Father in heaven who is always there waiting with arms wide open.

The youngest or prodigal son demands his share of inheritance while his father is still alive. He then “gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.”

Fascinated by illusory freedom, and taking what he feels is rightfully his, he turns his back on his father setting out to make it on his own. Once his early inheritance is spent he finds himself in misery obliged to feed swine, and even worse desiring to eat their food. Hungry, he reflects on all that he has lost, and begins his journey back to his father. It is not clear where his remorse comes from, his physical or spiritual hunger, or all that he has lost, but it is enough for him to realize he has offended his father, and God. The prodigal son begins his journey home, the process of conversion, or re-conversion.

The focus of the parable then turns to the father who acts as God does whenever one of His prodigal children return, mercifully watching and waiting patiently ready with open arms to receive us at even our smallest of gesture toward Him.

“But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him,” expressing through his action total forgiveness before his son even speaks words of sorrow or utters his apology. The son taking courage from his father’s actions said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The father then bestows on him the symbols of new life; the best robe, one of immortality, a signet ring with a divine seal, and shoes not perishable, but those able to step on holy ground, all suitable for a heavenly journey.

The oldest son epitomizes the attitude of the Pharisees to whom Jesus directs this parable. Upon hearing the response of his father, the oldest son reacts with anger and resentment toward his brother. If he had truly loved his father he would have been filled with joy at his happiness, yet the loving kindness of his father toward his brother irritates and enrages him and he acts out with self-righteousness, anger, resentment, selfishness, and jealousy.

This Lenten season is a good time to draw closer to God or turn back to Him, if we have been away. God is all merciful acting as the father in this parable, and He “loves us so much that we do not have to have perfect sorrow for our sins we just have to admit them, even if we are just sick and tired of the pain our sins cause us or if we are afraid. God doesn’t care what motivates us to seek his mercy he just loves to forgive.” (Father James Kubicki, S.J.)

Apostleship of Prayer
Fr. James Kubicki, S.J.
The Prodigal Son

For devotional items Related to the Catholic Faith, please visit Lynn's Timeless Treasures 
The return of the Prodigal Son by Barbieri
The return of the Prodigal son by Rembrandt van Rijn
The return of the Prodigal Son by Murillo

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