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Dear brothers and sisters –
Thank you for your presence here to pray with Catholics throughout the world for our Church in these days of such important for us.
When I took possession of this beautiful Church I said to the Carmelite Fathers, jokingly, that I thought I could bring the Statue of Saint Teresa made by Bernini back home to Boston.
They answered that Napolean already tried that! But it seems that they have forgiven me because the General Superior hasn’t requested a different Cardinal to be assigned here!
In this beautiful, Cardinatial titular Church, I want to assure you that after the Conclave I will be back as your Cardinal and probably I will try to take the St. Teresa statue back to Boston !
God is a good and merciful father unlike any other. He is a father who receives us with open arms every time we return to him. This is the meaning of the parable that is presented to us today. It touches at the very heart of our Lenten journey.
The words of Jesus are very clear: the Father is happier over one sheep who returns than for the ninety-nine who were never lost. Even before today’s parable, we hear Jesus speaking about the lost sheep and the lost coins. These two brief parables also conclude with the joy over a sinner who is found.
On this Laetare Sunday of Lent, there could not be a better parable than that of the merciful father and the prodigal son. In fact the parable concludes with the words: we have to throw a party and rejoice because your brother was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and he has been found.
A moment of joy!
One of the things that scandalized the Jews is Jesus’ familiarity with sinners. The Pharisees and Scribes find themselves in crisis before this messiah, who was not how they expected him to be. Even the God of Jesus is not the one who they thought they knew.
Of the three protagonists in the parable, let us begin to consider the so-called “prodigal son”, the one who leaves home after asking for his part of the inheritance. The parable is about a son who wants to live his life without the father, without God. But for that son, distance becomes the reason that he recognizes his own solitude and poverty, and so he returns by retracing his steps. Now he is looking not for autonomy, but for a welcome into his father’s house.
God always remains near to those who seek him. As the Psalm says: the Lord is near to the brokenhearted! The prodigal son wants to use the gifts of God just for himself. Leaving home is equivalent to denying the spiritual reality to which he pertains, trying to make his own life. One can leave the Father’s house, the Church, for many motives: for ignorance, for lack of acceptance, for negative experiences and scandals, or for spiritual mediocrity.
Often when we consider ourselves to be in communion with the Church, we can live our lives as if we were outside of the Church. The consequence of this is a disordered life. From wanting to have everything, we end up begging. From being the son, we end taking care of the pigs. The prodigal son asks for his share of the patrimony as if everything that he is and everything that he has he didn’t owe to his family. But life soon presents him with a cost. He does not act responsibly, he has wasted everything, and he ends up fighting for the scraps that were fed to the pigs.
His returning home first of all appears a realistic realization of what he has lost. He will present himself to his father humbly, as someone who has been defeated, showing that he understands that it’s possible to be free, even in one’s own family. He is preparing himself to declare his repentance: I have sinned against heaven and against you. Like a young man who is waiting in line at the confessional, practicing what he’s going to say to the priest. The prodigal son walks slowly towards home, as human repentance is often slow. The father, who represents Divine compassion, runs swiftly. “When he was still a far way off, his father saw him, had compassion, and he ran to meet. He threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.”
The father appears generous and meek. Even too indulgent. He gave his son what he had asked for, he respected his freedom, he lets him leave. But as soon as he sees him reappear, he doesn’t even let him speak, he simply embraces him with open arms: he had waited every day for his return. For this reason he organizes a great party for him, which caused a reaction in the older brother. But the father, even with the second son, shows himself to be loving and indulgent. He justifies his action and asks for understanding: Your brother was dead, and has come to life. What great love, what great paternity in these words and in how he treats the older son.
The father shows mercy to the prodigal son and teaches mercy to his brother. We find ourselves before a father who surprises us with his goodness, a father great in his weakness, who loves us beyond all common sense. The Scribes and Pharisees in this parable are confronted with a surprising and merciful God. A father who doesn’t complicate the life of a son who returns, just as Jesus receives and forgives those he finds at meals, those who have distanced themselves from God and have gambled their lives.
Lent is the right moment to return to God through the sacrament of reconciliation, permitting the Father of all, who is always waiting for the return of the one who is lost, to “throw a party”.
Likewise the Christian community in this season of Lent should show a Gospel welcome to those who have strayed, showing the same merciful zeal of the father in the parable. Without making life difficult for those who have left home, we should welcome those who ask to return after their fifteen minutes of freedom, because often it’s the negative experiences that give a new value to a greater maturity, and often it’s achieved through suffering.
Every person is a seeker of God and of happiness, but at times we seek Him where He is not. The Church reminds us continuously that it is only in God that the thirst of the human heart can be satisfied.
Lent is an invitation to make a new start, to return to our family, and so experience the joy of being at home. Our God came to the world to seek his prodigal sons and daughter. We are the cause of his joy!
This Sunday is also special because today we prepare for the conclave that begins on Tuesday. The Catholic world is united in prayer, filled with confidence that comes from our faith. Jesus has promised to be with us always, and to give us the Holy Spirit to guide us toward the Father’s house, where our loving God awaits us. The gift of the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the newly born Church on Pentecost, after nine days of intense prayer in the company of Mary, the Queen of the Apostles and Mother of the Church. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit illumines the Church to choose a new Pope who will confirm us in our faith and make more visible the love of the Good Shepherd.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap. – Archbishop of Boston
Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria
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On the NET:
To listen to Cardinal Sean’s Homily in Italian, go to: http://www.thegoodcatholiclife.com/2013/