Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
by Sister Dorene King, OSB
Tomorrow begins the week of Laetare, the week of joy and gladness. It seems an abrupt intrusion into Lent’s quiet reflections and somber melodies.
In our gospel parable, the father must have felt a deep sadness when his son requested his inheritance and then promptly departed. The son’s impulsiveness must have left the father worried about what would happen to his son and whether he would ever see him again. No wonder the father acted so jubilant at his son’s return!
Jesus’s parable leads each of us on a path of conversatio —a path of continual conversion. It is as if we are looking at stages of our own development which fluctuate between ‘doing our own thing’ to recognizing our willfulness, acknowledging our sins that divide us from God, and experiencing the joy which comes as the merciful God celebrates our return home.
Let’s enter into the parable and explore how the parable reflects our journey of conversatio.
Just as the young man was caught up in ‘doing his own thing’, there are times when we are tempted by whatever gives us immediate gratification. We don’t heed the possible ill effects of ‘doing our own thing.’
When my niece, Julie, was around 9 years old, my parents, her uncle Curtis and I went to a strawberry patch to pick strawberries. I remember my parents cautioning Julie to save the strawberries rather than eating them all. Apparently, Julie had a real affinity for freshly picked strawberries and later that night suffered from their over-consumption. Over-indulgence may not lead to physical suffering, but like the young man in the parable it may lead to an even greater loss — loss of self.
It might take a lot of inner reflection to recognize that ‘doing our own thing’ demonstrates a willful and stubborn attitude toward God and others who care for us. Yet sometimes, for the young man in the parable, for my niece, for you, and for me, ‘I know best’ gets the better of us and we end up yearning even to dine like the swine or wishing we had heeded the voice of love.
When we come to our senses, we realize that our community really does care about us and wants the best for us. At those moments, we experience the true meaning of coming home: coming home to that which God created us to be, to be embraced by our supreme Parent, the God who loves us and desires the best for us.
As Sister Mary Charles McGough depicted in her woodcut, Home Again, our homecoming is continuous and ongoing. It is sometimes a circuitous path but always, always ending with a rush of affection from the God who loves us.
God’s mercy knows no bounds. St. Paul understood that when he wrote to the people of Corinth: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” In that same passage of Second Corinthians, chapter 5, St. Paul continues by exhorting us: “We have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ.” Therefore, it is dependent on us to believe that each and everyone of us has conversatio flowing through us. We are not what we used to be, we are continually being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ.
Each of us is a new creation in Christ. When we greet a Sister, any Sister in our community, we can listen to the Spirit’s nudging and follow the example of the jubilant Father or we can murmur and mutter that so and so is unworthy of our attention.
Our identities are linked inseparably to Christ. At our baptism, God made an eternal covenant and connection with us and named us God’s beloved children. Yes, we may wander off enticed by “my” and “our” plans but God calls us back and reminds us, “If anyone is in Christ, that one is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.”
I’m a new creation. You are a new creation. Let us embrace that truth which holds us together. Rejoice and be glad: we are home again.