On the fourth Sunday of Lent, Parish of St. Josemaría, Rome (March 14, 2010)

Dear brothers and sisters:

Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent, known as Laetare Sunday from the first words of the Entrance Antiphon: Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her.[1] The reason for this joy is clear: we are close to Easter, and our heart rejoices because we have been redeemed by Christ. Through his total self-surrender to God the Father, he has made us children of God, in Him.

As we approach the feast of Easter, the liturgy urges us, with greater and greater insistence, to convert our heart. In this regard, I would like to encourage everyone to fulfill as well as possible the paschal precept: that is, to receive Communion during Easter time, and therefore to remember the great treasure and duty—which applies to everyone—to confess any serious sins before approaching the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In this way, we will be prepared to receive fruitfully the abundant graces that God our Father wants to give us.

The readings of the Mass speak about the mercy of God, who is always ready to pardon our sins. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20), exclaims St. Paul. This is a cry that is heard insistently throughout the whole of Lent, but that resounds with special force in today’s liturgy.

Let us never forget that God wants our happiness. That is why Jesus instituted the holy Sacrament of Penance; not only to pardon grave sins, but also venial sins, to cure our weaknesses, to fill us with peace and comfort thanks to this sacrament of joy, as St. Josemaría liked to call it. Let us prepare ourselves, then, to make a deeper confession than usual, that is, one made with more love and contrition, and let us try to invite other people to do the same.

2. The parable of the prodigal son—also called the parable of the merciful father—is a vivid image of the love that God has for each one of us. In the Gospel account, Jesus describes in clear terms the path of every conversion. We all recall this expressive story of the human condition and of divine mercy. “Our Lord wanted to engrave this splendid and rich truth not only on our understanding, but also on our imagination, on our heart and on our conscience. How many people down through the centuries,” said John Paul II, “how many men and women of our time can find in this parable the key features of their own personal history!”[2] Let us try then, once again, to apply Jesus’ parable to ourselves.

The younger son, who had all he needed in his father’s house, decided one day to leave: Father, give me the part of the fortune that will come to me (Lk 15:12). Don’t we too act this way at times? When we follow our own desires, instead of following God’s will, clearly shown in the commandments and the duties of our state, then we too want to leave our father’s house, we too give voice to words that wound God’s heart. This may often not be anything grave; but disobedience to God even in small matters is also an evil for us and an offense to God, our heavenly Father.

Let us pause to meditate on the life of the prodigal son after having left his father’s house. At the beginning of his foolish adventure, perhaps for some months, everything seemed to be going wonderfully. The son felt free of his father’s guidance, happy to be able to do whatever he pleased. Pope Benedict XVI has analyzed the psychology of this person—which is or could be any one of us—in a homily on this Gospel account: “At first,” he said, “everything went smoothly: he found it beautiful to have attained life at last, he felt happy. Then, however, little by little, he felt bored here too; here too everything was always the same. And in the end, he was left with an emptiness that was even more disturbing: the feeling that this was still not life became ever more acute; indeed, going ahead with all these things, life drifted further and further away. Everything became empty: the slavery of doing the same things then also re-emerged. And in the end, his money ran out and the young man found that his standard of living was lower than that of swine.”[3]

Reaching this state, the prodigal son began to reflect. He realized that the path he had taken did not satisfy his desire for happiness, but had made things worse. It is logical that it should be so: the human heart is made for God and only God can fill it completely. The son then decided to begin his journey back to his father: When he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.’” And he arose and came to his father (Lk 15:17-20).

3. Isn’t it true that all of us, in one way or another, see ourselves reflected in this poor young fellow? Isn’t it true that we too have been deceived sometimes by the attractions of this world, which hid from us the true joy of remaining in the house of our Father God? In this situation, we have to act in accord with the teaching that we find in the parable of the prodigal son, especially in its happy conclusion. As St. Josemaría wrote: “Human life is in some way a constant returning to our Father’s house. We return through contrition, through that conversion of heart that means a desire to change, a firm decision to improve our life and which, therefore, is expressed in sacrifice and self-giving. We return to our Father’s house by means of that sacrament of pardon in which, by confessing our sins, we put on Jesus Christ again and become his brothers, members of God’s family.”[4]

I don’t want to end without emphasizing that we must never lose hope. The prodigal son knew that he continued to be the son of his father despite the sad situation in which he found himself. The knowledge of this fact gave him the courage to undertake his return journey. For as St. John wrote: by this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything (1 Jn 3:19-20).

John Paul II said that “the confessionals spread around the world, in which men and women show their personal sins, do not speak of the severity of God, but much more of his merciful goodness. And those who come to the confessional, at times after many years and with the weight of grave sins, at the moment of getting rid of them, find the comfort they seek. They find the joy and the serenity of conscience that, outside of confession, cannot be found anywhere.”[5]

Divine mercy is always waiting for us. Let us not delay in returning to Him, whenever necessary!

I would like to end with some words of St. Josemaría that can serve as an affectionate spur for us, also so that we encourage other people to go to the sacrament of joy. “God is waiting for us, like the father in the parable, with open arms, even though we don’t deserve it. It doesn’t matter how great our debt is. Just like the prodigal son, all we have to do is open our heart, to be homesick for our Father’s house, to wonder at and rejoice in the gift which God makes us of being able to call ourselves his children, of really being his children, even though our response to him has been so poor.”[6]

I also invite you also to pray with greater intensity for our Holy Mother the Church, for the Pope, for the bishops and priests, for the entire People of God, for all humanity. Let us ask Mary, our Mother, who is also the refuge of sinners, that she obtain from her Son the grace of going to the holy Sacrament of Penance in these coming days with a careful examination, with a stronger contrition, with the firm resolution to never again leave the house of our Father God.

Let us also ask our Lady—Causa nostrae laetitiae, Cause of our joy—to keep us faithful to Jesus, as she was during her earthly life. Amen.

[1] Fourth Sunday of Lent, Entrance Antiphon (cf. Is 66:10-11).

[2] John Paul II, Homily on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 16, 1980.

[3] Benedict XVI, Homily on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 18, 2007.

[4] Christ Is Passing By, no. 64.

[5] John Paul II, Homily on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 16, 1980.

[6] Christ Is Passing By, no. 64.

Romana, n. 50, January-June 2010, p. 78-80.

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