Msgr. Farmer, dear brother priests [and deacon(s)], all dear friends in Christ: What a joy it is to be here for the first of what I hope will be many visits to St. John’s, one of the truly great parishes of the Archdiocese of Baltimore!
II. Laetare Sunday
It’s hard to believe we’ve already arrived at Laetare Sunday. The rose colored vestments of today’s Mass – which are also worn on the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday – speak of joy and hope amidst the prayer and penance of this Lenten season. The word “Laetare” is Latin for “rejoice,” and it’s a reminder to us that Easter is approaching, as the Church lightens for this weekend the penances of Lent, and gives us a foretaste and promise of the coming joy of Easter.
In that spirit of hope and joy, I’d like to ask you to join me this week in praying intensely for the College of Cardinals; on Tuesday the Cardinal-electors will enter the Conclave to choose the new Pope. Let us pray that the Cardinals will be guided by the Holy Spirit in the enormously important task that awaits them in the coming days. And we hope and pray that, when Easter comes, we will have a new Holy Father, a new Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ, to lead us in bearing witness to the joy of Christ’s Resurrection… …which, after all, is the center and bedrock of our faith.
III. The Prodigal Son
In the Gospel we just heard, Jesus paints a vivid picture of the Prodigal Son, who grew up in a wealthy and well-managed household and farm. His father and his elder brother gave him a good example and it’s a safe bet that he enjoyed three square meals a day. His family showed him the path to healthy living, yet the younger son concluded that this sort of life wasn’t for him. He decided it was time to think of himself, to have fun, to enjoy life, so off he went to a life of dissolute living, as the Gospel politely puts it.
But the life he was embarking on was far from wine and roses. The younger son found that the more he lived it up, the emptier he became. Away from home, he had his flings, but he failed to find love. The freedom he sought and gained from a well ordered routine of his father’s house was replaced by demeaning labor he found to be meaningless. Whereas once he had three squares a day, now he ate the fodder he fed the pigs. Hungry, miserable, and lonely, he remembered that even his father’s servants were better off than he was.
As his father caught sight of him on the road, and as he caught sight of his father, perhaps the younger son realized what he was truly hungry for, what would truly satisfy and nourish his hungry soul … was it not the love of his father? his mercy? his forgiveness? his warm embrace? Ultimately it is love that nourishes the human spirit, love that is both divine and human, love that is both compassionate and ennobling. This is what the Father lavished upon the younger son and this is what the Father also pleaded with the older son to rediscover. The ring, the robe, the shoes, the fatted calf, the pleadings of a loving father – these are all signposts of how much our Father loves us even when we have been looking to fill our inner self with things that starve us spiritually, … that promise to fill us but leave us feeling empty, lonely, miserable.
IV. The Light is on for You
I’ve been a priest nearly 36 years and, in the course of those years, I have met many people who sought to return to the Lord. The one thing all of them have in common is that sin has made them unhappy, has left them feeling empty inside, alone, isolated, seemingly unloved. Like very attractive foods we really shouldn’t eat, sin promises to make us happy, to make us healthy, to make us complete and then robs us of our joy, our meaning, and sometimes even our health. So often people return to the Lord because in God’s grace they recognize their misery, they recognize the devastation sin has wrought in their lives.
As part of an initiative called “The Light is on for You,” priests will hear confessions each Wednesday evening of Lent, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., in all the Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. There is no better resolution that you and I can make this Lent, than to resolve not to let this Lent go by without making a good, sincere, thorough, and unburdening confession some time before Easter. And then we will know the freedom and peace that comes from an unburdened conscience. This is something, dear friends, that only God can give to us, if we let him. As Saint John Vianney once put it, “The good God is more eager to rescue us from our sins than a mother is to snatch her child out of a fire.”
Finally, as we approach Holy Week and Easter, and as the Church sets before us this opportunity to experience the mercy of our Father in Heaven, just as the Prodigal Son did, listen with me to these words of Saint Teresa of Avila, and see if they don’t resonate in your heart and mind. She wrote,
Although I have often abandoned you, O Lord, you have never abandoned me. Your hand of love is always outstretched towards me, even when I stubbornly look the other way. And your gentle voice constantly calls me, even when I obstinately refuse to listen. When the sins in my soul are increasing, I lose the taste for virtuous things. Yet even at such moments, Lord, I know I am failing you and failing myself. You alone can restore my taste for virtue. There are so many false friends willing to encourage sin. But your friendship alone can give the strength of mind to resist and defeat sin. What a good friend you are, Lord! You are so patient, willing to wait as long as necessary for me to turn to you. You rejoice at the times when I love you, but you do not hold against me the times when I ignore you. Your patience is beyond my understanding. Even when I pray, my mind fills with worldly concerns and vain daydreams. Yet you are happy if I give only a single second of honest prayer, turning that second into a seed of love. O Lord, I enjoy your friendship so much, why is it not possible for me to think of you constantly?
May God bless us and keep us in His love!