We are now 2 weeks away from the start of Great and Holy Lent and the readings today direct our minds to prepare. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes “I will not be enslaved by anything.” Since we call Jesus our Lord and master, it follows that we are His slaves. If it is true that we are his servants or slaves, then we are not permitted to have any other masters. We are not allowed to be enslaved to anything or anyone else. More importantly, we would not choose to be enslaved to another if we understood how good and how loving our own Master truly is.
In the famous parable of the Prodigal Son, we see a young man who is enslaved by his own desires and passions. He was completely consumed by his own wants and perceived needs and he let those things become a collar around his neck that bound him and dragged him lower and lower and lower. He had everything in his father’s house. He was a child of privilege. We would expect that since he had everything he would be a fine man. The opposite is true. Often those who have everything turn out to be quite rotten. They never learn to live without their smallest desires being met and so they have no ability to delay gratification. They are enslaved by their desires.
When this young man had spent all of his inheritance on loose living, he realized that he was in big trouble. He had nothing left, not even food. His hunger was so powerful that the food which he fed to the pigs looked appetizing.
In the end, much of this parable has to do with the hunger of our hearts. Every one of us has acted like this young man. Even if we have been frugal with our money, we still find ways to squander the treasures that God has given us. We waste money instead of supporting the Church and the poor. We waste time instead of sanctifying it through acts of charity and prayer and the reading of sacred scripture. We spend more time “liking” on Facebook, than loving our neighbors. We allow our baptismal garment, our clean soul, to be soiled with bad choices including the company that we keep and the compromises that we make. We allow our appetites to control us and if we are not careful, we find ourselves completely lost.
The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that no matter what you may do, no matter what you have done, God loves you very much. He is the Father who is standing on the porch waiting, hoping to see his lost child return. He forgives everything in our past, if we are truly sorry. But God, our Father in heaven doesn’t stop with forgiveness. He clothes us with new garments of His grace. He opens up the lines of communication. He begins to speak to us and we begin to hear His words. We begin to enjoy fellowship with Him and we find His house, the Holy Church to be the most beautiful place of all.
I am a prodigal son. We are all prodigals. We spend our life forgetting God and returning to Him with repentance. That is why the Church in her wisdom, gives us the sacrament of confession. We spend our life chasing our hungers and when we are truly hungry, we come to our sense and remember that we are fed by God, here in the Church, when we eat the Body and drink the Blood of the Lord Jesus.
Lent is meant to be hard. It is a voluntary suffering in order to bring about true and holy hunger for God. But what about those who don’t fast? Do they avoid suffering? Not at all. They continue to suffer and to be hungry but unlike the faithful, they are never filled or content. Those who avoid the disciplines of the Church don’t find peace because they usually don’t struggle to know God.
My hope is that you will accept Great and Holy Lent as an athlete who accepts a great challenge. The Prodigal son was hungry, first for the things of the world, and later for his father’s house. I know that you are hungry, as I am hungry. Great Lent is a chance to demonstrate that we are hungry for the things of God and for His kingdom. When Our Father finds us hungry, He will move quickly to prepare the feast and to remind us that we are the children He loves. Glory be to God forever AMEN.