4th Lent [C] 1995

Fr. Charles Irvin

Joshua 5:9,10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3,11-32

Those of you who have travelled to Europe are likely to have been disheartened by the numbers of Europeans who attend church on any regular basis. The percentages are dismal. In England only 10% regularly worship, 5% (or half that number) being Catholic. On the Continent the numbers are even worse.

We ought not be smug about what is happening over there. The forces of secularization are likewise marching in our direction. There are disheartening attitudes over here in our county with regard to reasons for coming to Mass:

  • religion makes us “nice”; it’s a matter of developing cultured politeness.
  • it’s simply a family activity, important for the kids. But for adults? Well….
  • habit

Many people around us claim that there’s no need to go to church, that it’s not important to go to church at all. Atheists, the claim is, can be just as well behaved as us. We ve all heard someone say to us “Atheists have better morals than do Christians.” Do we let that go by
unchallenged?

Is coming to Mass, is giving God your time and attention at Mass, ONLY a matter of developing good behavior, a matter of developing morals and good discipline?

As forcefully as I can, I urge you to consider the fact that God is passionately in love with you. As a matter of fact, God is unreasonably in love with you. The parable of the prodigal son that we just heard in today’s Gospel is, I think, mis-named. It seems to me that the parable ought to be referred to as the Parable of the Prodigal Father. Why?

Because his love, his compassion, his forgiveness, his care for his younger son defied all reason. It was so beyond the bounds that the elder son called his father into account for being unfair. And, to be truthful, we ought to admit that we, too, often call God our Father into account on the issue of fairness, claiming that He really isn’t fair, that life isn’t fair, and demanding that He account to us His reasons.

We need to stand back and see the big picture, the enormity of what it is that God has done in His passionate love for us, in order to appreciate the kindness, care and love that God has for each and every one of us here. For He has given us all that He could possibly give us in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

God our Father in heaven gave us His Son not simply to tell us that He loves us, not simply to tell us how we should live, not simply to give us a set of principles or rules that allow us to live well and be nice, but to share His very life with us.

There are those who think of God as some distant and remote God way out there in the cosmos, way up there above all that exists, who is sort of “THE GREAT CONTROLLER OF THE UNIVERSE”. There are those who imagine God to be some sort of Force, kind of like that which was presented in the Star Wars series. For them I should perhaps begin Mass with the phrase: “May the Force be with you.” And there are those who imagine God to be the “Supreme Judge”, who waits to punish us and smite us with His righteous wrath for all of our sins and transgressions.

There are those who have motives for keeping God away, at the furthest distance possible from us, using concepts and depictions of God that keep Him remote and far distant from our hearts.

But God does not reveal Himself to us that way. No! He tells us that He’s very much like the woman who sweeps all around her house, and under all of the chests of drawers, until she finds that which she lost. He tells us that He’s like the good shepherd who drops everything in order to find the one sheep that was lost, in order to find you and in order to find me. And He tells us today that He’s like the father of the depraved younger son, the father who loves and forgives and cares beyond human judgments of what is fair and reasonable when it comes to love and forgiveness.

The faith Jesus Christ wants from you is not simply intellectual acceptance of the truths that He has taught, although He does want that. He wants that, to be sure. We do, after all, worship God in the tangle of our minds. And its not just a correct conceptual understanding of God that Christ wants to give us. It is all that, and much more.

What Christ wants of you, and of me, is that we surrender ourselves in love to His Father, that we place our cares and concerns into the hands of our Father, that we give up our lusts to control outcomes and let God our Father be in control of outcomes.

In the Garden of Gethsemani Jesus screamed out His cry, while sweating blood: “Father, not my will, but Thine be done. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”

THAT’S what Christ wants of you and me, that sort of trust, that sort of hope, that sort of love and faith in God our Father.

Each morning, when we begin our day on our knees, and each evening when we end our day on our knees, we ought to say out loud: “He loved me…. He gave Himself totally for me….” and then return that very same totality of love to the God who is not remote, to the God who is so near that He lives within, to the God who passionately and totally loves us, desperately desiring that we return the same sort of love to Him.

The Catholic religion is not just a religion of rules and regulations alone. It is much, much more. It is a revelation and a sharing in God’s compassionate care for us, of his loving mercy for us, of his passionate love for us. THAT is why we come to Mass. We come to Mass in order to love God, for He has offered Himself to us, and our hearts demand that we respond. He has said to each and every one of you here: “This is my Body, take it. This is my Blood, drink it. I want to be yours, I want to live in you, I want to belong to you. I want us to love each other now and forever.”

Unreasonable? Yes! Prodigal? Yes, and more! Beyond human judgements of what is fair? Certainly! But it’s really the only reason, and the beautiful reason, for being here at Mass.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”