The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

4th Sunday of Lent Year C - 14th March 2010 - Laetare Sunday

Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent and has been traditionally known as Laetare Sunday.  Laetare is a Latin word which means "to rejoice".  Christian penance is never about beating us down and making us sad.  Every Christian act is done in the light of the resurrection and in the presence and hope of the risen Lord.  That is why both of the periods in the Church's year that focus on penance - Advent and Lent - dedicate one Sunday to the theme of joy.  You may notice that the priest in your parish may wear a pink vestment only on these two days of the year.  This is because pink is considered to be similar to the purple of penance but a brighter version of it.

Today's gospel passage tells us the story of the prodigal son with which we are all familiar.  So familiar, in fact, that sometimes there is a danger that we don't even listen to it.  Perhaps it might be helpful if we were to try to think of times that we have been in similar circumstances as a way of engaging with the message that lies behind the text.

There are two things, I think, that might help us to do this.

If you have ever had the experience of feeling entirely lost - perhaps even depressed, maybe a relationship gone wrong, perhaps when you have felt very ashamed.

These are the sorts of feelings that the son in the story must have felt and I think that to understand this experience we need to draw on our own experiences of being in a position where we have a worry or a concern that we consider shameful and are unable to share with others.  This is like locking ourselves in behind a wall which is often constructed with lies and sometimes even aggression.  The key word here is isolation.  Shame and guilt isolate us and, ultimately, eat away at us.  In fact, sometimes they eat away at us so much that they leave us disfigured and diminished.

The terrible irony of this situation is that the eating away that happens affects our vision and makes us unable to see that there are people around us who want to help but we have blocked them out by building that wall.

If we can begin to break down that wall - and this can take tremendous courage - we can begin to see the green fields that lie ahead.  This is the second thing that this gospel passage reminds us of.

The tremendous joy and freedom that come with being understood, forgiven and accepted are gifts that are difficult to receive when one is locked away in isolation but when we begin to trust that others are not all waiting to criticise us we can begin to experience them.

Joy is not something that can be given to me.  In a certain sense I must reach out and grasp it.  This is the wonderful message that Jesus gives us in today's gospel passage through this wonderful parable.

No matter how lonely or how isolated or lost I might feel, Jesus reassures us that God is only waiting to receive us - warmly, understandingly, acceptingly.  No matter how ashamed or embarassed I might feel God is not interested in judging us or condemning us.  God wants us always to move from isolation to relationship because it is only in relationship - with God and with others - that the healing power of love can take root and grow.

Of course it is often easy to believe that God will forgive and understand us and, at the same time, find it impossible to realise that other human beings will do the same.  That is when we really must remind ourselves of the incarnation (when God became a human being).  God is human too.  What God wants for us is that we will be fully human and that will only happen when we move from isolation to relationship - especially relationship with the God who comes running to meet us - not just in Jesus, but especially, through God who meets us every day through those around us.

We often hear people bemoaning the human condition as if it were some awful disease.  Let's be proud of the human condition - the fully human condition which is characterised by understanding, acceptance and belonging.  This is the freedom that God offers us and which will free us from the cancers of isolation and loneliness.

Article posted on 11th of March 2010

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