Christ Our Joy

The readings this week, for us in year C of the Lectionary (a sort of blessing of being without any active catechumens is that our Lenten readings can be more varied from year to year), instill in me a hunger for home. And less so in the sense of missing my mother or the place I come from, than the sense of returning and arriving in the place I belong or doing what I am meant to be doing — to be at rest in the state of my life.

Greater than this, is the interior home for which we, in this life, all perpetually hunger, and very few are those of us who are satisfied in that longing. Indeed, there are more of us who receive tastes of that spiritual sustenance (though not enough to be sated), more still who recognize hunger but do not know what will nourish us, and most will not acknowledge that hunger at all.

The prodigal son is a story that has a great many applications, and there are many paths to fruitful and successful meditation and prayer therein. However, Jesus didn’t tell the story because he knew we’d be able to experience ourselves in each of the three characters (the father, the son who leaves, and the bitter brother) — though we certainly can — but because he knows that we are the son who squanders his wealth. We all but embody this reckless, unwise, brash, bold, prideful young man who wishes his father dead so as to enjoy the riches our father will leave to us now, rather than later.

In various ways, we act out the part of the wasteful son as he makes demands of his loving father, who, in his eagerness to give love, allows us to depart, taking what we value with us. In many more ways, we exhaust the extremities of what those comforts afford, and the pleasures they can bring. And all in the same way, we find ourselves still empty and with no way to regain that pleasure we had known, no understanding of what we truly desire, nor any right to simply return to the father we had spited so bitterly, begging scraps from he who holds the sources of our lasting happiness.

Jesus could tell this parable because he himself sees us that way — from the perspective of the faithful son who remains in the father’s house, but without the sour attitude, and without the petulant whining of a child who never had known hunger, and without the spiteful jealousy at the celebration of a life saved. In essence, the son who stayed home is the inverse image of Jesus, who knows the bliss of remaining in the Father’s Love and has no wish to leave, who shares deeply in the Father’s great joy at recovering a beloved brother and fellow heir.

What a story, so rich in truth and meaning for us. This story is our story and God’s story, a mirror turned on all the things that distract us, and all the ways we abuse ourselves in pursuit of shallow and meaningless consolations.

It also is the story of what awaits, when we do as we were encouraged on Ash Wednesday: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

God is not at home mourning our loss, he is standing upon a height, searching the horizon for us to appear. He is ever-ready to run and wrap us in love, to set the kingdom of heaven to rejoicing and feasting in joyous celebration.

We know the way, and we know what joy lay there; home, in God’s presence and in his company. What pride is keeping us from Christ our Joy?

This is Laetare Sunday, and the beautiful, seeming gloom of violet gives way to rose, and the promise of the nearness of victorious feasting and rejoicing. If we have not yet, let us do just what this season intends us to do: turn to God completely and totally, casting distraction aside, baring our very souls to God who loves us with unmatched affection, clinging to he who knows us with unsurpassed and tender intimacy.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy

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