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Easter is already near at hand. The message of today’s Mass is one of joy – joy that Christ has set the world free, free from sin by His death – in His blood. The only way to reach that joy – real joy – is the way of reconciliation – reconciliation with God – with others and with oneself.
According to the Collect of our Mass today we are called to make our way towards Easter by deepening our commitment to a living and active faith. Our faith is alive first of all when we recognize Jesus as the Son of God. It is generous and committed when we accept the call to return to the Father as repentant children who approach with joy the supper of the Paschal lamb.
‘Rejoice, O Jerusalem,’ says the Entrance Antiphon, ‘Rejoice you who mourned for her. Enjoy to the full the abundance of her consolation.’
Today’s Gospel has a very strong message. It is for those who feel that they have no need of reconciliation.
The Scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus to complain. They complain that He welcomes the sinner and eats with them. They could not understand the mystery of a God who forgives the repentant sinner.
Jesus presents to them this famous story of a son who closes the door on his family and leaves home with a stubborn determination and a deluded imagination. He believes his happiness will come from living a life of unconstrained freedom. But the reality he encounters is very different – he arrives at a point where he could not be more poor. He ends up hungry, humiliated and filled with shame.
Fortunately he comes back to his senses when he remembers his father’s love. This memory of his father’s love enlightens his mind and opens up the possibility of reconciliation. He sets out on the long road home. It is a journey of conversion. This journey does not bring the punishment he expected and some might think was well-deserved, but the love of an ever patient and generous father – a generous parent who has not for one moment forgotten him but who is always waiting and hoping for his return.
Our heavenly Father is like that.
The end of this journey of conversion and hope brings with it a surprising welcome into his father’s love. It not only surprises some, it also irritates others. This opening of the gates of forgiveness by his father is resented by the eldest son because he is not able to rejoice in the Father’s loving heart. The eldest son is upset because he believes he has more right to the father’s love – that he has more rights to claim than thanksgiving to give.
In this, Jesus is pointing to the resentment of the Pharisees who complain because Jesus welcomes everyone.
Here in this church – dedicated to the memory of the martyred mother and son, Julitta and Quirico – Don Antonio tells me that the community welcomes all who are in need. Indeed, every day many people are helped in this church. They receive welcome and food in a world that claims to care but has left them without even the basic things to live.
During the past week it has often been said that the Church must always be close to the poor – to those who are in material need and to those who are in spiritual need.
Before God we are all poor – in need of mercy and love. We all need mercy because we have all sinned.
But the reason for our joy on this Laetare Sunday is that God has reconciled us to Himself in Christ.
Today, Saint Paul underlines the importance of our being reconciled. If we are reconciled with God, with each other and with ourselves – we become, he says, a new creation!
Today the Church is called to announce the good news. It is called to reveal – now more than ever – to a troubled world the serene and welcoming face of a merciful God – the face of Jesus. The Church, today more than ever, is called to be the means of unity and harmony in a world that is ever more anxious and divided:
· Divided between rich and poor;
· Between the Creator and the created;
· Between humanity and creation;
· Between the peoples of the world;
· Divided between religions and even divided between Christians themselves.
The fruit of this reconciliation – through Christ and in Christ – among us and within ourselves – is peace, a real and joyful peace – within and without – a peace that lasts.
During Lent the Sacrament of Reconciliation is proposed to us with renewed encouragement as the means of achieving this peace. In the words of Saint Paul, with renewed encouragement, I ask all in the name of Christ to rediscover the peace and joy of this important sacrament and to be reconciled to God. I ask that in these last weeks of preparation for Easter, Catholics everywhere would rediscover the peace that comes from being reconciled to God by going to confession.
This week is special. The Conclave will begin on Tuesday to elect the successor of Saint Peter. As you know, the Pope has been given the task by Christ of being the foundation of unity in the faith and of announcing the message of Divine mercy to the world.
I thank you – and all those at home in Ireland – for the prayers you have already offered for the Cardinal Electors. I can truly say that we have experienced the closeness of the Lord and the closeness of God’s people around the world in all our meetings during these days.
I ask you to kindly continue your prayers for the help of the Holy Spirit at this historic moment for the Church and for the world. Let us pray that the one whom God has chosen will be elected and that he will lead us with wisdom, courage and love in the ways of peace through encounter in each other and in the Church with the loving mercy of our God.