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Sunday, Fourth Week of Lent

March 18, 2007

Blessed Laetare Sunday!

You may remember that I mentioned “Gaudete Sunday” during Advent.
Well, “Laetare” means “rejoice” too. We rejoice because we’re more than
halfway through our time of spiritual preparation for Easter :).

Readings:
Joshua 5:9, 10-12 (home in Canaan at last)
Psalm 34:1-6 (Taste and see the goodness of the Lord)
II Corinthians 5:17-21 (be reconciled to God)
+Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (Prodigal son)

New life through reconciliation

Today we get another look at the parable of the Prodigal Son, this time
in the context of a call to reconciliation (the reading from II
Corinthians) and a special celebration of the Passover (the reading from
Joshua). In that first reading we find the Israelites on the very edge
of the Promised Land, having wandered in the desert for 40 years, poised
to reclaim the land God had first promised to their ancestor Abraham.
First, though, they had some loose ends to tie up. None of the children
born in the desert had been circumcised; they didn’t have the mark of
the covenant that God had made with Abraham. So here, at the edge of
the Promised Land, every male was circumcised; their covenant with God
was ratified and the last obstacle to their new life was removed. Then
God declared, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”
Home free at last, they celebrated the Passover as God had commanded
(Exodus 12:14), re-enacting that fateful night on which God had
delivered them from Egypt, the beginning of the journey they’d just
completed.

The other two readings also talk about restoring our relationship with
God and entering into a new life, now under a New Covenant made possible
by the death and resurrection of Jesus, our new Passover (I Corinthians
5:7). Through His ambassador, St. Paul, Christ pleads with us to be
reconciled to Him, to become a new creation, to “become the very
holiness of God”, by virtue of the salvation He won for us. And in the
Gospel Jesus describes His Father’s joy over the return of His wayward
children, over the restoration of His relationship with them and their
entry into a new life with Him (“But we had to celebrate and rejoice.
This brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life”).

So far we’ve seen the importance of restoring our relationship with God
and coming into a new life, but what does that look like under the New
Covenant? Circumcision is no longer the sign of our covenant with God,
nor do we celebrate the Passover the same way the Israelites did. No,
the sign of our covenant with God is Baptism (Matthew 28:19, Acts 2:38,
among others), a sign that can be renewed, but never repeated (any more
than circumcision could be repeated!). One way we renew our Baptism is
by renewing our Baptismal vows. We can do so at any time (a good time
is on the anniversary of our Baptism), but a public renewal of our vows
is part of our Easter celebrations. In case you’re interested, here’s
one official renewal of Baptismal promises (there are others):

*******************
I, N.N., who through the tender mercy of the Eternal Father was
privileged to be baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5)
and thus to share in the dignity of his divine Sonship, wish now in the
presence of this same loving Father and of his only-begotten Son to
renew in all sincerity the promises I solemnly made at the time of my
holy Baptism.

I, therefore, now do once again renounce Satan; I renounce all his
works; I renounce all his allurements.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I
believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born into this
world and who suffered and died for my sins and rose again. I believe
in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life
everlasting.

Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a
new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which
is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving
God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic
Church.

Taught by our Savior’s command and formed by the word of God, I now dare
say:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our
daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who
trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us
from evil. Amen.
********************

Under the old covenant, returning to God meant bringing an animal to the
temple, confessing your sin and having the priest sacrifice the animal
(Leviticus 5: 5-6). We still need to come to God’s house and confess
our sin (we call it the Sacrament of Confession, Penance or
Reconciliation), but we no longer offer an animal in sacrifice. Our
sacrifice is Christ Himself, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament
sacrifices, and we enter into His sacrifice at every Mass. We see in
the Mass (which is a lifting of the veil of time which allows us to be
present at Jesus’ death and resurrection) not only the fulfillment of
all the Old Testament sacrifices, but also the fulfillment of the Jewish
Passover. We celebrate it by Christ’s command, “Do this in remembrance
of Me” (Luke 22:19, I Corinthians 11:23-25), even as the Jews
celebrated Passover by God’s command. The Mass helps to keep
fresh in our minds our deliverance from the slavery of sin, even as the
Jewish celebration of Passover kept fresh in their minds their
deliverance from the slavery of Egypt.

May our Lenten journey bring us to reconciliation
with the God who delights in giving us new life.

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