Brett Fawcett

WORD MADE FLESH

Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 6, 2016
Joshua 5.9-12 | Psalm 34 | 2 Corinthians 5.17-21 | Luke 15.1-3, 11-32
February 22, 2016

Do you think you pray enough?

The old confessional aides used to have the penitent ask herself questions like, "Have I omitted my daily prayers?" That sort of query has a legalistic ring to it, and it is probably not the right way to approach the subject, as though prayer is an onerous duty we need to clock in and fulfil every day.

On the other hand, consider today's Gospel: the story of the prodigal son, which Charles Dickens is said to have called the greatest and most beautiful story ever told. But it has a painful (and realistic) edge.

Notice what he asks his father: Give me my part of the inheritance now. Put bluntly, it means he couldn't wait for his father to die to get at his money. Even though the father grants his wish, the son never contacts his father again, until the money runs out.

I will bless the Lord at all times, his praises shall continually be in my mouth. - Psalm 34.1

'I will bless the Lord at all times, his praises shall continually be in my mouth.'

Psalm 34.1

We sometimes hear that the son "repented" when things went sour for him, but look at how he reasons. He doesn't say: "I have been a terrible son and I have wronged my father, and I need to beg him for forgiveness."

Instead, he reasons that he's hungry and there's food at his dad's place, so he may as well make amends and hope his father will give him something to eat. He has the most selfish and unsympathetic motives for apologizing, what the Church would gently call "imperfect contrition."

So the question stands: Do I pray enough? Do I only pray when money is tight and the future is uncertain - when I need something? Maybe I'm too busy doing good works to take time to pray, too busy working to feed my family or perhaps even too busy spending time with my family and friends.

To those of us blessed with good parents, though, we have to reflect: What would you think of someone who did great works for others their whole life, but never called their mother?

What is our instinctive reaction to spoiled brats who receive gifts from their parents and can't even be bothered to say "thank you"? But God has done far more for us than any earthly parent - and he is more forgiving and loving, too, even as he patiently waits for you.

The prodigal son only came to his senses when he found himself in a kind of desert. Sometimes we say that, in Lent, we go into the desert. In fact, as long as we are on earth, we are in a wilderness, journeying towards our final home (like the Israelites nourished on manna in the First Reading).

The penance of Lent is there to remind us of that, to help us see our desperate need for God, who has given us the great inheritance of his overflowing love and forgiveness, who is already running down the road towards us with his arms flung wide open (as on the cross), to invite prodigal offspring to become childlike again.