4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

We are just past the half-way point in Lent. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem for the last time, and Easter is a light on the horizon, because we live Lent with Easter in mind. The message for this Sunday is on the lips of St. Paul in today’s Second Reading: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

In today’s First Reading God tells Joshua that the forty years that Israel spent in the desert, due to rebelling against God, are over. The Israelites have just entered the Promised Land, and for the first time in forty years they eat the Passover meal using the food of the Promised Land instead of manna, a fine powder God gave them each day in the desert to bake into bread: “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14). Today’s Responsorial Psalm summarizes well what they are feeling: taste and see the goodness of the Lord. It is like a cool drink after a long and hot day. The Israelites spent forty years in the desert, suffering and toiling, to reconcile with God after they mistrusted him and complained against him. They have finished their time of penance, which is why God tells them: “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” Every time they grumbled and complained, they resented leaving Egypt. Egypt symbolized strange gods, evil customs: in a word, sin. Through forty years of penance the Israelites reconciled themselves with God.

The sacrament of Confession, the Catechism tells us, “is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: ‘Be reconciled to God.’ He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: ‘Go; first be reconciled to your brother’” (CCC 1424). Reconciliation with God and reconciliation with each other go hand in hand. At the start of each celebration of the Eucharist, we pray in the Penitential Rite confessing our sins to God and our brothers and sisters, and asking each other to pray to God that we might be forgiven for our sins. We know that we have reconciled with God, and received his love again, when we are willing to reconcile with others. St. John in his first letter says anything else is a lie: “We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:19-20).

That brings us to the Prodigal Son and his brother. A moment to be reconciled is at hand for the whole family. We don’t need to do much moral math to see that the Prodigal Son blew it and is sorry. At first it seems he is just sorry that he doesn’t have anything else to eat, due to using up all his father’s money and then being in a famine, but when he comes back home, he has his lines all rehearsed: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ He barely says the words before his father gives him a big hug and calls for him to be dressed again as his son should be, and to throw a big feast. In an instant he goes from starving pig herder to a re-birthday party.

The tougher case that sometimes we overlook is the older brother; he couldn’t believe what his little brother did, but he was even more confused over what his father did. In his words to his father we see there is some resentment, not only toward his younger brother, but toward his father. This bears the risk of leaving the older brother outside in the cold: he doesn’t want to reconcile with his father, nor with his brother.

The parable doesn’t say how the older brother reacted to his father’s words. If we feel like the older brother sometimes, this leaves the story open to a happy ending or sad one. Let’s spend the last few weeks of Lent reconciling with God and with others in order to have a truly happy ending to our story.

Readings: Joshua 5:9a, 10–12; Psalm 34:2–7; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Luke 15:1–3, 11–32. See also 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 2nd Week of Lent, Saturday.

3rd Week of Lent, Saturday

Every moment of prayer, in addition to being supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or intercession, is a moment of truth. It’s a moment where we acknowledge who we are before God, who is immune to all spin, all subterfuge, all self-promotion. It’s a moment where we ask ourselves whether God’s view of us and our view of ourselves coincide. We know this is not easy, because Our Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. Despite this, we know deep down that lowering our estimation of ourselves is probably more in line than increasing it. Nevertheless, humility is a sound knowledge of self; we don’t navigate self-exploration alone. Those we trust help us to evaluate ourselves, and the Lord above all in every moment of sincere prayer.

Our Lord promises us that if we “aim low” we’ll receive the recognition that counts: his recognition. The tax collector in today’s Gospel knew he was a sinner; Our Lord didn’t deny that in the parable of today’s Gospel. The tax collector knew he needed mercy and didn’t deserve it. Prayer in that moment for him was a moment of truth: the truth he claimed was the truth as Our Lord saw it. He received mercy from God for his interior honesty. It’s not surprising that today’s Gospel says the Pharisee “spoke [his] prayer to himself”: it could just mean he didn’t say his prayer out loud, but it could mean that we was so wrapped up in smug self-worship that he really was praying to himself. Our Lord says he did not go home justified like the tax collector; he’d really accomplished nothing of worth and just went home.

Lent is a time of prayer. Let’s make it a moment of truth where Our Lord helps us to see ourselves in the depths of our heart as we truly are. It will make us abase ourselves so that he can raise us up with his love and mercy.

Reading: Hosea 6:1–6; Psalm 51:3–4, 18–19, 20–21b; Luke 18:9–14.

3rd Week of Lent,Friday

Today’s readings remind us that it is hard to love into a vacuum. Hosea in today’s First Reading encourages Israel to turn back to the Father who has loved them so much and still does. All they have to do is say those simple words that heal so many wounded relationships: “forgive me.” We suffer because of our sins, and we blame God’s punishment for the suffering, but we have to realize that the suffering is self-inflicted. It is no coincidence that the Sacred Heart is depicted as a wounded heart; he wounded at seeing us wound ourselves and each other.

It is achieving a deeper understanding of the love God has for us that enables us to love him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and to truly love our neighbor. Loving is the greatest appreciation we can show to God for his love for us. The scribe in today’s Gospel rightly sees the superiority of love over many other religious practices. In fact, religious practices become exactly that due to the love behind them. When Our Lord encourages the scribe by saying he is not far from the Kingdom of God he is also encouraging us to remember that if we achieve love, often an arduous conquest, we’re one step away from every good thing Our Lord wishes for us and for the world.

Let’s live these last few weeks of Lent with an ardent desire to take up again the arduous conquest of love. God will never disappoint us.

Readings: Hosea 14:2–10; Psalm 81:6c–11b, 14, 17; Mark 12:28–34. See also 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.


3rd Week of Lent, Thursday

The Lord through Jeremiah in today’s First Reading describes what sin is like to him: turning your back on him. It’s a complete about face. In Biblical symbolism the face is a sign of presence, even communion. Sins, great and small, to one degree or another turn our gaze away from God and fix it upon something else. The Lord wanted to see their faces, but instead he got their backs. He is their God, but he wants them to acknowledge it, to turn their faces toward him, and they don’t, despite all he has done for them.

Sin may be an exercise of our freedom, since God created us with freedom so that we could choose whether to love him or not, but it’s also something that makes us freely expose ourselves to the influences of evil in the world that ultimately seek to despoil us of that freedom. We may turn our back on God, but that leaves us exposed to the “strong man” of today’s Gospel to come and conquer us because we didn’t side with God; we turn from our Father and walk right into the alleys of bullies. Our Lord wants to be the strong man and big brother that defends us from evil, but we have to let him. In healing a mute today the Our Lord is showing, despite the propaganda of some, that the power of God is present and active in him and conquering evil, not just healing. They may not entirely understand or believe yet that he is God, but they can’t deny that the Father is acting through his miracles.

If you feel weighed down and powerless due to the bad choices you’ve made, Our Lord is waiting to be the strong man to shelter you as you regain your footing. He will help you to stand up and will stand by you for as long as you let him. Lent’s the time to regain your footing with his help and rejoin him now and forever.

Readings: Jeremiah 7:23–28; Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9; Luke 11:14–23. See also 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.

3rd Week of Lent, Wednesday

Today’s Gospel passage concerning the Law and the prophets is situated almost immediately after the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel. The First Reading today reminds us that Moses told the Israelites that observing the Law would show their intelligence and wisdom not only among themselves, but to all the nations. In Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel Our Lord is being cast as a new Moses, speaking once again the words of encouragement to the People of God. He is far more than Moses, as John reminds us in his Gospel: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

If Our Lord brought something way beyond Moses, way beyond the Law, a question obviously on his listeners’ minds is whether the Law is necessary at all, now that they have the opportunity to receive something more. Our Lord is about to teach them that the precepts of the Law are to be followed, but from the heart, not just out of a hollow external religious observance. Today he tells them that when considering the Law and the prophets they should consider their purpose; they were meant to reflect wisdom and intelligence and that wisdom and intelligence needs to be sought and kept in mind in order for their observance to fulfill its purpose. As he continues his discourse in Chapter 5 he starts teaching them how the Law’s they’d already been following needed to be lived from the perspective of charity.

Today we may ask ourselves why, based on this teaching of Lord, are we not observant Jews falling all the old precepts of the Law? Our Lord himself criticized certain traditions of interpretation introduced by the scribes and Pharisees that were not what the Lord wished (cf. Matthew 15:1–20). After his Ascension the Church also wrestled with this question when they started evangelizing non-Jews, and they discerned, in keeping with Our Lord’s teaching and aided by the Holy Spirit, that Our Lord was not asking Christians to follow the Mosaic Law and culture in its entirety (cf. Acts 15:1–35).

If you have difficulty following the “rules” of our faith, ask Our Lord to help you to rediscover their purpose, wisdom, and intelligence. He wants to teach us, even today, if we let him.

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5–9; Psalm 147:12–13, 15–16, 19–20; Matthew 5:17–19. See also 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.