Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson
I doubt they loved the idea. I refer to the hundred and a half sophomore boys in my daily charge as their English and Religion teacher at a thriving (at that time) Catholic high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. What they probably didn’t like was my daunting homework assignment to compose a parable of their own, only loosely connected to one of Our Lord’s. Of course, every “t” had to be crossed and every “i” dotted along with flawless spelling. The latter demand blended my two items of specialty, much to their chagrin.
Memory serves me to tell you that none of them grasped the idea of originality, since they offered only papered over biblical originals. Maybe I had asked too much of them for their age to accomplish. But they certainly learned how much genius was behind those parables we know so well. Especially the one we focus on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, “Gaudete” (“Rejoice!”) in the ancient Latin rendition.
The creativity and power of those 21 lines have only suffered somewhat because of the popular title given this gem of “The Prodigal Son.” The story is mainly about the all-loving mercy of God the Father toward sinners.
Only when we admit our place among such souls do we realize that the parable is directed at us just as much as to the original hearers of it. Depending on which of the two sons most resembles us in behavior, we receive today the gift of clarity as to where our Lenten resolve needs to focus as we go through the remaining weeks of the season.
Have we become the dissolute wandering prodigal or the cynical stay-at-home son who yearns for accolades? The unjust deserter or the self-pitying cynic? Or the dutifully-present-on-Sunday type but who only comes from habit? There are many degrees between the two, but you get the point I’m sure. This parable is definitely the “mirror” type, offering us an opportunity to act on what we see in it. After our decision for the good comes that long-awaited hug from Our Father some day and the heavenly banquet that follows it. This is a guarantee and it is all because we avoid being “sophomoric” about our commitment to the Lord. In humility we can pray this prayer, from the Liturgy of the Hours, Week I:
You desired, Lord, to keep from us Your indignation and
so did not spare Jesus Christ, who was wounded for
our sins. We are your prodigal children, but confessing our
sins we come back to You. Embrace us that we may rejoice
in Your mercy together with Christ Your beloved Son. Amen.
God love you and give you His peace.
Reading I: Joshua 5: 9a, 10-12: This celebration of Passover in the promised land closes the time of Moses and the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. The end of that era is signified by the cessation of the miraculous manna.
Reading II: II Corinthians 5: 17-21: Anyone who belongs to the believing community is immediately entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Only when members are restored to God can they claim authenticity as Christians,
The Gospel: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32: Our Lord’s listeners knew of many “Two brothers” stories. Ones in which the younger brother triumphs over the older one. Not so with this masterful parable. The usual title given to it tends to obscure its main purpose: to illustrate God the Father’s great mercy toward sinners.