Thursday, March 11, 2010

Laetare Sunday Reflection

Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday Reflection
By Rev. Bob Johnnene OFD of Mission Saints Sergius & Bacchus/ Franciscans of Divine Mercy
This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is called Laetare Sunday which means Rejoice. It is called this because the Introit or Entrance Antiphon if from the book of Isaiah 66:10-11 which begins "Laetare, Jerusalem" ("Rejoice, O Jerusalem").
Because the midpoint of Lent is the Thursday of the third week of Lent, Laetare Sunday has traditionally been viewed as a day of celebration, on which the austerity of Lent is briefly lessened. The passage from Isaiah continues, "rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow," and on Laetare Sunday, the purple vestments and altar cloths of Lent are set aside, and rose ones are used instead.
Flowers, which are normally forbidden during Lent, may be placed on the altar. Traditionally, the organ was never played during Lent, except on Laetare Sunday.
Laetare Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday or Refreshment Sunday, and it has a counterpart in Advent: the Third Sunday of Advent which is called Gaudete Sunday, when purple vestments are exchanged for rose ones. The reason for both days is to provide us encouragement as we progress toward the end of each respective penitential season. 
The reason for encouragement is very clear, it is because of the suffering and crucifixion, death and the resurrection of Christ that we have the opportunity to gain everlasting life and the reason we have forgiveness of our sins.
The Gospel of this Sunday relates the parable of the two sons whose father divided their inheritance.  The one son went and squandered his, just as so many of us squander the gifts God has given us, and then returned to be feasted and welcomed with celebration.  He approaches his father with these words;  "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son." But the father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found."
Could this message be any clearer?  God will rejoice and welcome everyone no matter what they may have done wrong, with open arms if they but ask His forgiveness. 
So many people today are like the other son who remained with his father and tended the fathers business.  The faithful son became upset and angry that the father welcomed this wayward son with such rejoicing and confronted his father to which the father replied;  "My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found."
The message of this Gospel is very clear, Almighty God does not reject anyone who desire to be with Him and asks Him for forgiveness for any sin they may have committed.  Neither should any church that proclaims to adhere to the teachings of Christ reject anyone who desire to be active within the church and partake of the graces of the Sacraments. 
" He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7 ) These words need to resound in our hearts and minds at all times when we decide that we are in a position of making judgments against someone.  There is not a person on earth or in heaven for that matter, except of course Jesus, Almighty God and Our Beloved Mother Mary, who did not commit a sin. 
If the truth be told according to the writings we have from many who became saints, they all admitted they were sinners.  St. Paul, the greatest of Evangelists, persecuted and ordered Followers of Christ to be killed before he saw the light of Christ's truth.  St. Ignatius, St. Francis of Assisi and even Blessed Mother Teresa of  Calcutta spoke of their sinfulness.
God rejects no one who returns to Him.  God loves all His children, He loves them as He created them and only asks that they respect themselves and others and return their love  to Him. 
When churches, that claim to teach and follow the message of Christ, drive people away by their rules and regulations and reject people because they mad a mistake and got divorced but still want to love and serve God they are not fulfilling Christ's teachings.
When Churches inflict pain and suffering by allowing their ministers to abuse children and still remain in service to the church, They have failed God.    When churches would rather spend billions on fancy garments and elaborate buildings than feed the poor and care for the needy and sick,  they are not following the teachings of Christ that they proclaim from their pulpits  and therefore they are like the Scribes and Pharisees who Christ said this about in Matthew 23:15 - 33.
" For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.   Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.   In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.   And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.'   So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.   Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!   "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?     Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.  
And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar".
(this last line might give you pause to think about the fate of Pope John Paul 1 the smiling pope where there is very strong evidence he was poisoned because he was about to allow married priests, woman deacons and wanted to sell of some of the treasures that no one ever sees to build hospitals, orphanages and homes for the poor and elderly)
During this fourth week of Lent let us meditate and reflect on how we are doing in serving Almighty God or are we and if we are guilty of acting like the Scribes and Pharisees.   Let us rejoice that God sent His only beloved son to gain us eternal life and the forgiveness of sins by accepting the passion and death on the cross only to overcome death and sin through His resurrection. .
Are we living Christ teachings and being mindful of the needs of others?
Do we offer thanks to God by giving back 10 % of the gifts God has provided us to assist in spreading the truth of God's love and help the poor, aged and sick?
Let us pray that Almighty God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will open our heart, mind, and eyes to His truth and assist us in living according to His will.   AMEN

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