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Fourth Sunday of Lent

Sr. Joan Mahoney, CND, Coordinator of the Associate Relationship, Blessed Sacrament Province

On this mid-way Sunday of Lent, we are given such images and words as feasting, newness of creation, compassion, reconciliation and even “radiance of joy” (Ps 34). The Gospel is one we have heard so often but is always new: Jesus’ story known as the Prodigal Son.  Henri Nouwen, a great spiritual writer, in his The Return of the Prodigal Son, identifies with the son.  “I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me the Beloved and follow the voices that offer a great variety of ways to win the love I so much desire.” 

In the parable, the prodigal son only comes to his senses when hungering for the pods he is feeding swine (an ironic job for a Jewish boy), remembers his father’s mercy.  “How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food to eat…I shall go up and go to my Father and say “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”.  But on the son’s return, the Father will have none of that thinking:  this is his “beloved Son”, not a hired hand.  That is why there is feasting and celebrating!  The beloved has come home! 

Nor did the elder son recognize that he is the “beloved Son”.   “All these years I served you”.  Perhaps he considered himself the first of the hired workers but did he know he was the Beloved?  Was he at home in the Father’s embrace?

Jesus understood he was the “beloved Son” (the Father’s proclamation at his baptism and at his Transfiguration).  However, like both sons in the parable, we have a hard time grasping and believing we are the “Beloved” and we leave the home of the Father’s embrace either literally or figuratively.   At times, I am graced with knowing I am the Beloved of God but forget it so quickly.  I settle for seeing myself as a hired hand, working hard to please God, or seeking affirmation of who I am in other ways than that I am simply the Beloved. 

Actually being God’s hired worker sounds pretty good to me.  It gives me some distance from such overwhelming love.  I may not have to be an “ambassador for Christ… reconciled to God” (second reading).  For then I must see and act towards every person as reconciled to God in Christ.  The one who annoys me is the Beloved of God in Christ. Every one of the sixty million refugees in our world today is the Beloved of God.  That asks that I will be compassionate and merciful as the “Father” (Luke 6:36).  No wonder being “Beloved of God” is frightening and yet my heart’s desire.  That is why recognizing I am a loved sinner as well as the Beloved is so comforting.  Perfection is not the goal; growing in compassion towards myself and others is. Will I risk knowing and acting that I am the Beloved of God?  Will you? What a Lenten practice! 


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