This weekend we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Lent which is also called Laetare Sunday. For us in the UK With all the madness of Brexit and the politics around that issue it is good to stop and reflect on this fourth Sunday of Lent. In the Gospel we hear the story of the Prodigal Son, the contrast between the two brothers is quite sharp. After wasting his share of his father’s fortune the younger brother recognizes the mistakes he has made and returns home looking for the mercy of his father when he says: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son” (Lk 15: 18-19, 21). The older brother takes a different sort of attitude one of arrogance not only towards his brother but also towards his father! His scolding is in great contrast with the tenderness of the father who comes out of the house and goes to meet him to ask him to go into the house (Lk 15: 20, 28)
The big question that we should ask ourselves when we hear this story is what does God do when we turn away from him like the younger son in the Gospel? He does exactly the same as the Father in the gospel story did he waits and when we return he goes out to meet the returning Son or Daughter with endless love as the psalms put it great is his love, love without end. The gospel story of the Prodigal Son is an image of God the Father who invites us to experience his love and return when we go far away from him as he gives us a second chance, Of course being given a second chance is not always fair or just and we see this from the reaction of the older son who complains in a big way about his Father not giving him something to celebrate with his friends.
We remember that second chances are invitations to move forward leaving our old selves behind. Leaving our old selves behind and getting another chance is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession. This sacrament is a chance to the wipe the spiritual slate clean, a time to start anew as a child of the Father. May we like the Prodigal Son not be afraid to come back for we will be received with open arms like the Father in the Gospel story god will come out to meet us for his compassion and love is without measure.
Today has been one of those political days when you pinch yourself and say did this actually happen? In 2016 I voted to remain in the EU but the result of the referendum stated that we must leave and now today two years on we were to leave and we have not left such are the politics of the UK. The most amazing thing in my circle of family and friends has been the fact that over the past 2 years Brexit was not and is not a topic of conversation unless I asked what the people thought about it and what it meant and then you heard what they thought. Since the UK joined the EU in 1974 the conservative party has been Euro-sceptic looking for a way to leave and in 2016 David Cameron gave them a referendum which gave the unexpected leave result and this result has to be honoured. But the people have spoken and parliament and the MPs that we the people send to Westminster have spoken but they are saying something different as a result the people and the MPs seem to be at odds. Simply put whether the MPs or me or anyone else likes it or not we should leave because this is the will of the people freely expressed in a referendum. I personally would like to remain but the majority says leave and as we live in a democracy that is the way it should be.
As we are at the midpoint of Lent I thought that it might be a good idea to pause for a moment to see how our observance of the season is going. Lent is the tine when we give up things that we enjoy and take up the opportunity to do the spiritual things that we wouldn’t normally be doing. As our lives become busier, there is the danger that the voice of the Lord gets drowned out. Even in Jesus’ own time, it was easy to become distracted by the cares and duties of everyday life as the episode of Martha and Mary shows. As an antidote to the hustle and bustle of our daily existence, Jesus invites us during Lent to “come away by ourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). In the early centuries of the Church, many men and women accepted this invitation quite literally and withdrew to a solitary life in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. From this began the Christian monastic tradition. There are many disciplines and practices such as fasting prayer and alms giving that we can all undertake to help us live this season of renewal. St Jerome Said that when the stomach is full it is easy to talk of fasting.’ How true these words are.
Self-denial does not come naturally. To deny ourselves anything kicks against the grain. During Lent we are invited to take up three observances; prayer, fasting and almsgiving (giving to charity). These things are not ends in themselves but rather disciplines which bring us closer to God. They involve us in dying to ourselves and living for God and others. They involve having to turn away from self and turn to God. They are signs of our love for God. Our Lenten observance is done so that we may grow closer to the Lord. During these 40 days we are on a spiritual journey. Our focus tends to be on the external – what we do, and what people think of us as we do it. God however sees our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). We know that our hearts can be deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and can easily be drawn away from the good, the true and the beautiful. Lent, is the journey into the gentle and humble heart of Jesus who gave his life as a ransom for many. Our treasure is where our heart is and we store up true treasure when we carve out time for prayer, for reading scripture celebration of the Eucharist, and confession and all the other spiritual things that we are asked to do during Lent then we will be able to celebrate Holy week and Easter with renewed heart mind and spirit.
Here we are at the third Sunday of Lent and I really cannot believe that we are at this point in our Lenten journey. During this time there are many recurring themes but the one we hear most about is repentance change and coming back. A few years ago our local Bishop wrote a pastoral letter for Lent called Ashes for change and change is really what we are about during Lent. That change means changing our hearts, our minds and our way of going. In our Gospel reading for this Sunday Jesus urges those who are listening to him to use the time that is available for repentance. In the parable of the fig-tree it is stressed that the time will come for a last chance to bear fruit. This parable is a wakeup call and it tells us that Lent is a good time to make the changes we have been putting off and know we must do in order to make ourselves bear spiritual fruit.
The gardener in the Gospel asked the owner of the vineyard to give the barren fig tree another chance to produce fruit. He promised to dig around it and manure it, to give it one last chance to prove itself.
So it is with us God gives us this annual time of Lent to prove ourselves. We are called to use the 6 weeks of lent well as there are many things in our lives that we need to change. Do we bear good fruit? Do we flower and bring forth good works? It is a time for us to consider our way of living our lives and what it means. It is a time when the work of the Lord will lift us up and encourage us to blossom and bear spiritual fruit.
This Sunday we see that our lives are enriched and by sharing in the work and message of Jesus the beloved Son of God who is our saviour. When we get out there and share our time talents and resources we are sharing in the work of Jesus bringing his kingdom into the lives of those around us. When we die to sin and come to repentance for our sins we identify ourselves in a real and concrete way with the redemptive power of Christ who died on the cross and rose again from the dead for all of us. Our calling, then, is to be strong, giving witness to our faith in the days of Lent as we go forward to Holy Week and Easter so that others will see what we believe in and as a result of our example they might even take up the challenge that Jesus gives to all of us to follow him.
We begin by stopping to spare a thought for all those who have been affected by this week’s events in New Zealand. This weekend with all the Irish all over the world we celebrate the feast of Saint Patrick who was credited with bringing the faith to the Irish. I often wonder what St. Patrick who drove the snakes out of Ireland would do about the modern snakes that we have in Ireland today. I imagine he would look at what was going on around him and roll up his sleeves and get on with the job of proclaiming the Gospel and its values which are timeless.
In our Gospel Story for this Sunday we have the story of the tiny mustard seed. The wee mustard seed represents the faith that we have within us and the story is really about how we nourish and cultivate our faith so that it becomes strong so that it will shelter us when times are hard and life is not so good. When saint Patrick came to Ireland he sowed the mustard seed of the faith in the Irish nation and over the years many have nourished and helped that wee seed to grow. But for many the faith is gone and the weeds and the darnel that the Gospel also talks about have taken over and events in the Church here in Ireland and over the worldwide Church bear witness to this. Having said that we should also take courage here we are so many years after Saint Patrick thinking about his message and how we can put it into action in our own lives and there is much to value in that message.
The spirit of St Patrick affirms the worth of each human being. His Confession invites us all to personal conversion especially during Lent. His message was to draw people to follow Christ in the sharing spirit of the Gospel. This mission is still an urgent one especially in today’s Ireland were there are so many people who are experiencing a crisis of faith. Saint Paul in the words of this Sundays second reading tells us what we should be doing in very clear terms Before God and before Christ Jesus I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Be careful always to choose the right course; be brave under trials; make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thorough going service.
Saint Patrick who we celebrate this Sunday did just that he proclaimed the message of salvation and he insisted on it and many years later we are the inheritors of the rich inheritance of faith born of him. Today there are many things that are wrong in terms of Faith there are many snakes out there looking to destroy what we all hold as being good it is up to us to us to choose the right course; to be brave under trials; and make the Good News our life’s work, in thorough going service as Saint Patrick did.
In every area of our lives there is an ongoing need for renewing and refocusing. Lent is our annual spring clean of our spiritual lives renewing our faith as a preparation for celebrating the events of Holy Week in which there are so many messages for us. In our Gospel story for this Sunday we hear about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness before Jesus set out to do his Fathers work he went out into the dessert for forty days of fasting and prayer and during this time he was tempted by the devil. The devil tempted him to use his power to take care of himself, prove his identity by performing astounding signs and make alliances with political and military powers to get himself and his message across and his response to the temptations of the devil was that you shall not put the lord your God to the test. Many of us put God to the test with the things that we do and say to one another and so many have completely left their faith behind them. As we begin Lent for this year we ask ourselves how do we face the temptations of life? When times get rough and we feel alone, do we still trust in God? When our life just seems empty, do we still believe in the Father who loves us?
Are we willing to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel, or do we settle for guarding our own security? Do we make our authority felt so that people are degraded, or is it a real service to others at times these are questions that all of us need to ask ourselves and Lent gives us the opportunity to do this.
Over the next 6 weeks we live our lives of faith to the full taking the opportunities to grow in the faith. During the time of Lent We are invited to recommit ourselves fully to God and his ways remembering that Jesus preaches “Metanoia” that is Repentance or Coming back. Coming back to God and returning requires change of heart, mind and Spirit. There are many temptations in the life of the follower of Christ but our Father in heaven always welcomes back the repentant sinner the one who says Lord have mercy on me for I am a sinner. So on this first Sunday of Lent as we think about the temptation of Jesus in the dessert we think about how we may increase our Faith in preparation for Holy Week and the great feast of Easter. There will be many opportunities for renewing our spiritual selves through times of Prayer and courses of instruction and most importantly the chance to get daily Mass. As well as that there will be many chances to celebrate the sacrament of confession in which we celebrate metanoia or conversion of heart. Over the next few weeks may we make good use of our Lenten journey as the journey of faith continues so at the end of Lent we will be able to hear and understand the messages that Holy Week and Easter have for us renewed in heart mind and spirit and then put them into action in our own lives in the times ahead.
On Ash Wednesday we begin our Lenten Journey when we place the ashes on our foreheads. During the season of Lent we take stock of where we are in our lives and where we really need to be as people who believe in God. As we continue our Faith journey during the 40 days of Lent we are invited to recommit ourselves fully to God and his ways remembering that god’s ways are not our ways. Jesus preaches “Metanoia” that is Repentance or Coming back. Coming back to God and returning to the Church requires change of heart, mind and Spirit. The six weeks of Lent will be a time of refreshment, a time of repentance and also a time of renewal that prepare us for Holy Week and Easter. Let us ask ourselves whether we are open to be really changed as gods people so we will be able to enter more fully into the great ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter.
Next week we begin the season of Lent with the Ashes on Ash Wednesday and we begin again our annual journey of repentance and conversion for 2019. We leave the Green of ordinary time behind and we go to the Purple or violet of Lent. In our parishes we will have many opportunities to strengthen our spiritual lives over the 6 weeks of lent as we ponder what our faith really means to us as individuals and as a community of faith.
This Sunday in our Gospel Reading Jesus is coming to the end of what, in Luke, is called the “Sermon on the Plain”. He has instructed his disciples to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, treat others as they would want to be treated, not judge them, etc. Jesus is the wise person teaching his disciples a practical wisdom for their lives as disciples. Jesus says, in summary, a person’s words and actions will reveal their character. The Gospel tells us There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit. For every tree can be told by its own fruit: people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles. A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.’
God’s love is effective, it produces good fruit for the benefit of others. The good we do becomes a way to spread the faith to others. Jesus sends us to be witnesses to the faith we profess to practice what we teach and preach. Jesus words to us in this weekend’s gospel show his concern for the integrity and quality of our lives. We cannot, he says, teach others if we ourselves are not witnesses to what we teach.
There are many people out there who were witnesses to the truth of the gospel who have turned away and betrayed the truth and become rotten fruit. In recent times we have seen the awful truth of abuse of young people in the Church throughout the world being brought into sharp focus with the recent Vatican summit and the dismissal of McCarrick and others from the priesthood we can only hope and pray that we can move forward. For all of us that is what Lent is all about moving forward in a spirit of conversion and prayerful return the spirit of metanoia. During Lent we are provided with many opportunities for spiritual renewal but that will be for the weeks ahead. But for now let us stop and reflect on the good we do for others and how becomes a way to bringing the faith to them where they are. There are so many good things that so many people do and we remember all of them especially those who have been good to us in any way as we go forward with faith in God.