Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Better Late than Never

The following is a shorter version of yesterday's Laetare Sunday homily: Authentic Christian Joy

We celebrate Laetare Sunday as a day of rejoicing in the midst of Lent. The Church gives us this oasis in the midst of our Lenten journey to remind us to keep our eyes focused on the goal of Easter. Our goal is the joy of the Resurrection. Authentic Christian joy is counter cultural; it goes against what the loudest segments of our culture tell us we should be searching for. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a great illustration of the difference between authentic Christian joy and the cheap substitute that our culture often feeds us.

The Prodigal Son is searching for happiness and joy. He just doesn't know how to go about finding it. He makes three major mistakes that eventually lead him to the pig pen. The first one is that he separates himself from the family in search of freedom. Freedom is great, he just has the wrong idea of it. He sees it as a getting rid of restrictions so he can do what he wants. Freedom for the Prodigal Son means setting himself up as his own moral authority. What he doesn't understand is that freedom separated from objective truth leads to slavery. He'll get there eventually.

The second major problem with his search for joy is that he is greedy and possessive. "Give me my share of the inheritance," he demands. In the Prodigal Son's mind, the more he has, the happier he'll be. Does that message sound familiar?

His third major problem is that his ultimate goal is pleasure. Pleasures are great, and our culture offers us an innumerable amount of them, but if we set them up as the thing to be sought after, we'll be miserable. First of all, pleasure is fleeting, and secondly, it tends to consume us and our energies. Sure enough, the Prodigal Son's search for pleasures absolutely consumes him and all his possessions. Welcome to the pig sty.

What happens next is a work of pure grace. The words of the Gospel are powerful: "he came to his senses." This is where is journey toward true joy begins. The same is true for each one of us. We find joy when we see reality as it really is. C.S. Lewis said our challenge throughout life is to see what's really real. The Prodigal Son's about to find out what's really real.

Whereas freedom meant separating himself from the family and becoming his own moral authority, the Prodigal Son now finds that true freedom is in the family and living by the rules of the household. But it's more than that. True freedom consists in surrendering himself to the Father: "Treat me as one of your hired hands." St. Paul makes this point explicitly when he said, "Be slaves of Jesus Christ." The paradox is that when we give ourselves completely to God, we become freer than we could ever imagine.

Whereas he thought possessions would make him happy, now he finds that the love of the Father makes him truly happy. When he lived his life of dissipation, people loved him because of what he had; now as he returns to the Father with absolutely nothing, he realizes he's loved for who he is. When we understand this point, we'll be able to be truly detached from possessions, whether we have many or few. The only thing that really matters is the love of the Father.

Whereas he thought that the goal of life was pleasure and that pleasure meant joy, now he understands that the joy of reincorporation into the love of the Father demolishes that notion. He is swallowed up in the love of that Father--the cloak, the ring, the fatted calf, the party with all the household (come on big brother!). Our true joy consists in relishing in that same love of God for us in the midst of the community that is the Church.

Just as the final joyous state of the Prodigal Son is dependent upon his reconciliation with the Father, so our joy is as well. The Church offers us the chance to receive sacramental reconciliation, especially in this season of Lent. I think you'll find that your joy is associated with how seriously you take this offer.

1 comment:

Thy Handmaid's son said...

Great homily, Deacon Dave!