The 4th Sunday of Lent
March 27, 2022
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells one of His most beloved and famous parables: the story of the Prodigal Son.
When we read this we tend to focus on the forgiveness of the Father
–and rightly so—as it helps us to understand the infinite love of God.
We might also tend focus on the prodigal son,
either on his sins, or on his repenting of his sins—or both.
And again, rightly so, because we can’t understand the love of the father
unless we understand the wretchedness of the son.
But I don’t’ think we can understand any of that
until we understand other one basic thing:
the inheritance that the son “squandered.”
The Gospel doesn’t tell us exactly what it is he inherited, but we can imagine.
First of all we know the father was probably very wealthy.
We know he had multiple servants.
And that he had property so large that when the older son was “out in the field”
he was apparently so far away they couldn’t get word to him
that his brother had come home.
And we know the father wasn’t just a farmer—he also had lots of nice things,
so that he could order:
“Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and …
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.”
And amazingly enough, even after giving half of his estate to his prodigal son,
he clearly still had a huge estate left.
In short, the father was really rich.
But you know, odds are he didn’t just earn that overnight.
He probably worked hard for what he had.
Like his eldest son, who was out working in the field,
a lesson of hard work he clearly learned from the father he idolized.
Even so, the father probably also inherited a lot of his wealth from his father,
who had probably inherited something from his father and so on…
Each generation building up and adding to what the inheritance
he’d been entrusted with.
This is what the son demands to have from his father
—half of all this hard earned and inherited wealth.
And all this vast wealth this is what the son “squandered…on a life of dissipation.”
As Catholics we also have a great inheritance.
A huge estate larger than anyone can begin to fathom,
has been passed down to us from our forbearers.
A treasury, first of all, of Divine Grace, especially in the Sacraments.
And a treasury of doctrine, spirituality, liturgy and prayer
that open us to that grace, and help us to grow in grace and stay in grace.
An understanding of God and the World, of morality,
and profound theological insights into all this,
so that we understand the teachings of Christ not cold worthless words,
but as rich lustrous multifaceted gems.
An incredibly vast and rich treasure rooted in scripture,
handed down by the apostles,
clarified and illuminated by the writings of
the great, brilliant and holy fathers, doctors and saints of the church:
in successive generations:
Wojtyla and Ratzinger in the 21st century,
building on the work of Saint Alphonsus in the 18th, who built on Saint Theresa in the 16th,
who built on Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th
who built on Saint Gregory in the 7th,
who built on Saint Augustine in the 5th,
who built on Saint Irenaeus in the 2nd,
who built on the teaching of Apostles themselves.
Giants standing on the shoulders of giants.
Treasure compounding on treasure.
And all this to lead us to the greatest treasure of all:
sharing in the life and love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
in this world and in the glory of heaven.
We’ve inherited all this.
But like the rich prodigal son, we are wont to squander it all in a life of dissipation.
59 years ago, in 1963, all of the Bishops from around the world
gathered in Rome for the beginning of the Second Vatican Council
—”Vatican II” as it’s popularly called.
They gathered not to define any new dogma or to condemn some heresy,
but to figure out how to share our rich inheritance with modern man,
so that the great treasury might not be hidden or hoarded away,
or thrown away or wasted or lost,
but rather wisely invested in modern man, if you will.
Not to spend it on foolish or passing things,
like one who enjoys rich foods one night and goes hungry the next,
but to be enjoyed as parents invest in the family home,
and lives in happiness with their children and grandchildren.
Kind of like the father in today’s parable.
But as Pope Benedict used to remind us so often,
something strange happened after the Council.
Some in the Church began to demand and take their inheritance
and to squander it.
Some took the rich moral teaching of the Church, and instead of building on it,
wasted it to buy into heresies and worldly philosophies.
Suddenly, for them, all sorts of sins just disappeared, especially mortal sins
—as the ethics of the secular culture became their standard
rather than the inherited wisdom of Christ and His Church.
Many took the church’s profound wisdom on marriage and sexuality
reflecting the love of God Himself
and traded this for a relativist and utilitarian view of man,
“if it feels good do it.”
Some took the treasury of liturgical rites of the Church,
and traded reverence and communion with God
for trendiness and a feeling of “community.”
Some took the vast and profound treasury of spiritual theology and prayer,
and exchanged it for faddish psychological therapy
and even pagan practices.
And so, many replaced God’s grace
with worldly self-improvement or self-indulgence.
And in doing all this they risked
trading away the vast and glorious inheritance of heaven,
for the deep and desperate destitution of hell.
So much we inherited, such a vast treasury.
And so much squandered away by so many.
This especially happened in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II,
when so many in the Church ignored the actual words of the Council
which were clear set on preserving our inheritance,
and instead invoked the “spirit of Vatican,”
the unspoken, unwritten “sense” they imputed to the council.
But beginning in the 80s, for almost the next 4 decades,
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI
were in some ways like the father in today’s parable,
recognizing what had been wasted,
but also welcoming the prodigal children
to come home and share with the great wealth still preserved there.
Sadly, in the last few years many have once again set out on
the path of the prodigal son, to waste our inheritance.
Even some of the highest ranking bishops and cardinals in the Vatican,
are again invoking the imaginary “spirit of Vatican,”
advocating a return to the profligate ways of the 60s and 70s,
to change the church, create a new or different church,
and to throw out the old ways, abandon traditions.
We see this in a very clear way in the recent German Synod of bishops,
that has embraced so many heretical proposals,
including advocating for liturgical blessings of same-sex couples
and the ordination of women.
And even the head of the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on Synodality,
Luxembourg Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich,
just a few weeks ago called for
a “fundamental revision of doctrine” on homosexuality,
because he says the Church’s teaching that homosexuality is sin “is false.”
We think of this in a particular way today, at the half-way point in Lent.
It’s easy these days to fret over the problems around us, especially in the Church.
But on this Laetare Sunday, our Catholic tradition calls us to rejoice
in the treasure Christ has won for us in the Cross and Resurrection,
and handed down to us.
But as we rejoice, our tradition also calls us to ponder on
how we ourselves have become prodigal sons,
how we ourselves have chosen to squander our Catholic inheritance.
Have we traded the rich prayer life of the Church
for the entertainment so ubiquitous around us?
Have we traded the treasure chest of Scripture and the Church’s moral teaching,
for values we see on TV or the movies, or the opinions of social activists?
We’ll spend hours at the gym or on the golf course recreating ourselves,
but can’t take a few minutes to go to confession or daily Mass,
to let the Lord work on re-creating us?
But as we admit to ourselves how we’ve squandered so much,
we also remember how eager God is to bring us back into His Home,
to share with us even greater riches than we ever imagined.
Because even though we may have been wasting our share,
the treasure of our Catholic faith is never really depleted.
The only thing that’s really wasted is our time and our lives.
But if we come home and admit our sinfulness—our waste—
He will welcome us home and open to us the riches of His Kingdom
stored up, protected and increased all these centuries in His Church.
As we continue now in the celebration of Holy Mass,
perhaps the most magnificent jewel in our inheritance,
we thank the good Lord for His ineffable generosity
poured out on us from the Cross,
and stored up, built up and measured out to us in His Church
over the centuries.
And let us pray that our heavenly Father
will forgive us for squandering so much of what he has given us,
confident in His mercy,
and rejoicing in His promises of immeasurable treasures yet to come.