We are now at the 4th Sunday of Lent – we are two week away from Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. We have had the color purple accompany us during our Lenten journey as our liturgical color, but now we have a splash of the color rose with us today, represented in my vestments by this stole that my friend Charlie Carlisle from Yazoo City crocheted for me. This 4th Sunday in Lent is referred to as “Laetare” Sunday, which comes from the Latin word for rejoice, from the introit – the opening words for this Sunday’s mass – “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.” The rose color and this theme of joy is a foretaste in this penitential season of the joy we will experience on Easter morning with resurrection of the Lord and the meaning that this brings to our faith.
We have been talking about our Lenten journey as a type of pilgrimage, as we journey with Jesus through the desert and as he carries his cross to his death and resurrection. When Pope Benedict stepped down as pope at the end of February, we heard him say that he will now simply be a pilgrim, as he starts the last part of his journey here on earth. I recently read a commentary on our Gospel reading today, the parable of the prodigal son, which describes the prodigal son as on a pilgrimage himself.
When we hear the story of the prodigal son, perhaps his journey resonates with us with what we have gone through in our own lives. Perhaps, at different times in our lives, we have gone through life emphasizing what we can take for ourselves, putting our own needs and our own pleasures before everything else. We see the prodigal son getting in trouble on his journey for being rebellious and for not wanting to grow up – perhaps we can identify with him in this on parts of our own journey.
Father Henry Shelton was giving a mission at St Francis of Assisi parish in New Albany this past week, and this parable of the prodigal son is part of what he covered. Father Henry asked us to look at the resentful older brother who does not want to share in his father’s joy, who does not want to join the party in order to celebrate the return of his younger brother. Father Henry wondered at the mission if the older brother ever did enter into his father’s house after the end of the parable. Perhaps we identify with the older son even more than the prodigal son. While the older son was dutiful and remained at home to help out his father, perhaps the older son also did leave his father in some sense. He did not physically leave home, but perhaps he left emotionally and spiritually. In a lot of ways, the older brother is a dutiful son, but he has also become cold-hearted, judgmental, and lacking in compassion. The older brother’s attitude is similar to that of the Scribes and Pharisees we hear about in the Gospels. They follow the law to the smallest detail, but in their hearts, the Scribes and Pharisees have abandoned God’s love and mercy and the very spirit of our faith.
In our Catholic faith, we are constantly called back to the waters of our baptism, reminded of how we died with Christ in those waters, and then rose to new life in him. St. Ambrose, the Archbishop of Milan in the 4th century, linked the sacrament of reconciliation to the sacrament of baptism, stating that in our faith, there are water and tears: the water of baptism, and the tears of repentance. As we journey with Christ during Lent, as we shed tears of repentance along the way, as we affect conversion and renewal in our lives, we are led back to the waters of our baptism. We are called to the Sacrament of reconciliation during Lent, and then, during the Easter vigil mass on Holy Saturday after we conclude our Lenten journey, the baptismal waters are blessed anew by the priest with the Pascal candle. We return to those waters of baptism in a special way as Lent comes to an end. We purify ourselves and reconcile ourselves with God and with our brothers and sisters during Lent so that we can live out our baptismal promises, so that we can live as children of the light of Christ. Just as the prodigal son repents and recognizes the errors of his ways, so we also are called to repentance and conversion in the reality of our own lives, in the things that are weighing down our hearts.
So, as we experience this moment of joy today on Laetare Sunday in the midst of our Lenten journey, let us not only gladden our hearts, but may we heed the call to repentance and reconciliation.