Sunday, March 14, 2010

Laetare Sunday: An Image to Rejoice In

(4th Sunday of Lent-Year C; This homily was given on 14 March, 2010 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Luke 15:1-32)

Why do soldiers going off to war, to a place far away, carry a photo of their wife or girlfriend with them at all times?

Why do college students keep pictures of their loved ones, family and friends, maybe even the family pet, in their dorm room or in the place where they study?

Why do the seminarians here at the American College keep, in their rooms, a picture of me…Okay, maybe they do not do that! But why do they also keep pictures of family and friends in their rooms?

I would suggest this morning that there are two important reasons why these images are so important for us. Firstly, they are an inspiration. When times get difficult and we are struggling to find hope and courage in a place far from home, we look to these faces of the people we love and we are inspired to go on; to move ahead; to push forward even when times are tough.

Secondly, we keep these images nearby because they give us a foretaste of what we have to look forward to in the days ahead. We look at a picture of the person we love, someone who also loves us—and maybe they are also looking at our picture in the same way—and we remember that it will not be long before we are with them once again.

Even if we have a picture of a loved one who has passed away and gone home to the Lord, we remember the promise of the resurrection and are reminded that one day we will be together with them forever, please God. The seemingly infinite distance will no longer separate us.

Images of our loved ones inspire us, and they grant us a foretaste of all that lies ahead. And that is what is at the heart of the feast we celebrate this morning, Laetare Sunday. Our entrance antiphon for the Mass this Sunday, in Latin, announces:

Laetare, Ierusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam.

Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad because of her, all you who love her.

We rejoice with Jerusalem, for her redemption is at hand! We do not wait until Easter Sunday to celebrate the mystery of our redemption in Christ. The Church teaches us that every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, whether it is in Advent, Lent or Ordinary Time. Every Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This Laetare Sunday we are reminded that even in the midst of our desert experience, even in the middle of Lent, we have great reason to celebrate and rejoice: Jesus Christ has come, He has suffered and died for us, and is risen from the dead. Even now we anticipate that joy of Easter.

That news inspires us to push ahead and keep moving forward, no matter how difficult or discouraging things have been. But more than that, this glimpse of the resurrection, this image of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and calling us to eternal life with Him, is but a foretaste of all that He has in store for us in the days ahead.

God wants to make sure we do not miss that picture this Laetare Sunday. Look lovingly upon our Lord today; be inspired and encouraged for all that He is planning for you!

But in our Gospel this weekend we discover one of the greatest truths about our faith and the amazing, unfathomable love of God: that long before we kneel down in prayer, before we ever raise our eyes to heaven, He is already looking upon each one of us with great love.

This weekend’s Gospel, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is such a familiar and beautiful story. That young man demands his father’s inheritance and soon goes and squanders it all on a life of dissolute living, finding himself in a foreign land; he is hungry, alone and in dire need. It is a tragic picture of sin and one we have all experienced in one way or another. And the son does what, hopefully, all of us have done before. He comes to his senses and decides to go back home. Realizing how very well he had it in his father’s house, he makes his way back…but before he ever reaches that destination, before he ever sets his eyes upon his father, his father sees him!

Jesus, in St. Luke’s Gospel, tells us:

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion.
—Luke 15:20

While he was still a long way off…

There are really only two possibilities for what Jesus describes in this Gospel. Either the father got lucky; he just happened to be looking out the window at the exact moment the son came around the bend or up over the hill (not very likely).

Or, the father stood by that window every day…waiting…Every day he stood by that window and looked out over the pathway that led to the horizon…everyday, he watched and waited, saying to himself, “Today. Maybe today my son whom I love, who has become lost, will be found and come back home…Maybe today.”

And so, suddenly, when that son finally appears, the father simply cannot help himself! He rushes out to meet that young man and embraces him, welcoming him back home.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Father gazes upon you and I in the same way. He sees us long before we ever see Him. He is gazing on you here. Even now.

I believe the challenge our Lord offers to us this Laetare Sunday is simple. If it is true that He is gazing at us, if He is truly looking at us even now, even here, with great love…don’t move! Do not move away at all from that gaze! Remain under the loving gaze of God the Father and ask for the grace to stay there throughout the rest of this Lenten season.

When we pray, we remain under the gaze of our loving Father. St. Teresa of Avila—whom I love because she is amazing—writes to her sisters that God is constantly looking at them with great love and when they pray, they should simply look back at Him, love for love. Prayer keeps us under the gaze of God.

So do the Sacraments. Remain close to God this Lent through frequent reception of the Eucharist, and through frequent confession. St. Paul encourages us this morning, in our second reading:

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
—2 Corinthians 5:20

When is the last time you made a good sacramental confession and allowed the love of God to renew and cleanse you, to forgive you and set you free to forgive those around you? God challenges us, through prayer and the Sacraments, to remain close to Him, to look upon Him who continually looks at us with great love.

Secondly, if it is true that God desires to look upon you with love, than certainly He also desires to look upon your neighbor in the same way; your spouse; the people you encounter each day. Let us not be like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, getting in the way of the Father’s love for our brother. God desires to gaze with love upon those around you, and the challenge is clear: stay out of the way of that gaze!

Do everything you can to facilitate the relationship God desires with those around you and ask for the grace not to get in the way of that love through words and actions that might keep others from looking at the God who is always looking upon them.

Let us continue to rejoice together in this gaze of infinite love that the Father has turned upon us, always being inspired by His presence and encouraged in all that He has in store for us in the days ahead.

Laetare, Ierusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam.

Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad because of her, all you who love her.

Rejoice, for her redemption is indeed at hand.