4th Sunday Lent C - Homily 5

 Homily 5 - 2019

What a great opening line to today’s First Reading: God speaking to Joshua, leader of the Hebrew people, as they entered the Promised Land: “Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you.” They then “kept the Passover” – that Jesus celebrated at his Last Supper– and that we continue to remember at every Eucharist, even today’s.

Is that what God is doing today? here in Penshurst?: “Today I am taking away the shame from you”? High on the list of feelings that tend to weigh down, bewilder and deeply upset us Catholics at the moment is the feeling of shame. We have hit the bottom. And from the depths of our shame, how do we respond?

We know today’s Gospel passage almost by heart. Having heard it so many times, it bores us. We usually call the passage, The Prodigal Son. Personally, I don’t think much of him. His confession to his father sounds as non-convincing as the apologies dutifully mouthed by some of the Australian bishops to those abused by their priests.

The story, I think, is more about the father. Do you think that God is like the father? Would God have been really taken-in, hood-winked, by the son’s carefully rehearsed confession? Would God be totally over the top in his extravagantly uncontrolled readiness to forgive and, more than that, to reinstate him – as the story said, dressing him up in “the best robe”, putting “a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet”, and then celebrating his return with a riotous banquet?

The son did not expect a reaction like that. He simply thought that, if he played his cards convincingly enough, his father might take him back as a slave. The older son in the story was understandably stunned by his father’s extravagant forgiveness, and deeply angry. Neither son, as it turned out, really knew his father. The story does not tell us if either son really changed. It was a parable after all.

I wonder how many people today really know our God.

In the present situation, we bruised and bewildered Catholics have little hope of escaping our feeling of shame unless we come to know our unconditionally loving God – not just intellectually but experientially. We need somehow to let God “clasp us in his arms”, as it were, and to “kiss us tenderly”. This is equally true whether we accept some guilt through our complicity in a sinfully destructive church-culture, or whether we feel ourselves unjustly vilified by inclusion. Shame is feeling rejected, unloved, useless and vulnerable. The only real antidote to it is to know we are loved as we are. And the very definition of God is love. The rejection, ridicule and shaming by others may continue, but has no real power to hurt those who know they are loved.

Our cultural climate at the moment seems to be one of anger, and there is plenty of injustice around to warrant it. People are rightly angry with the church, with perpetrators of abuse and with those who covered up. They are angry, too, with politicians and selected law-breakers – and the list goes on. The older son in the story was angry with his brother, and angry, too, it transpired, with his father. But there is anger that is justified, and anger that is more an expression of self-righteousness. The first kind can be an essential source of motivation and of energy for needed change. The second kind can be destructive. Its source is more the satisfaction of being able to feel “holier than thou”. It feels nice - ask the Pharisees of today’s parable. Unfortunately, there is not enough justified anger in our world, and far too much self-righteous anger. This will be expelled only when people find themselves securely and unreservedly loved. Can our current culture cope with a God like the father of the two sons – a God who loves and even forgives?

Wonderfully, it is never too late to recognise and accept God's unashamed love, and ourselves be empowered to love, to change and to become truly alive.