Sunday Homilies by Fr. Rudolf V. D’ Souza

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ST JOSEPH FEAST 19th March 2007

Fourth Sunday of Lent - 2007
The Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32)

John was a disobedient child. His parents, quick to notice his behavioural traits at an early age, cautioned him about his temper and his disobedience. ‘Listen to what we say’, they told him, ‘because we love you and know what is best for you’. The pleas fell on deaf ears as John hardly listened, choosing to do as he pleased, openly flouting the orders of his parents. Soon the surly and disobedient ways were being manifested at school, and after many warnings, stern action was brought against him. John was reprimanded and asked to leave school.

His parents, models of good behaviour and etiquette in their middle class society, were stung at first. Their only child was turning into a misfit and nothing seemed to work in making him change. Soon they were warning him to change his ways, or else they would cut him off. Orthodox as they were, and steeped in ‘old world values’, they could not stomach his wanton ways, his all night partying and his set of non-descript friends. John argued that it was his life. His parents countered that, while it was true, he had a responsibility towards it.

Then one day, after an inordinately bad mouthed episode, John’s parents’ patience snapped. John was given 24 hours to leave their house and make his own arrangements. John as was his wont, argued back. This was as much his house, he had a right to stay, and no matter what they said and did, he was staying put. His parents of course, had recourse to the law – and despite the heaviest of hearts, called in the police to evict their only son. Neighbours got into the act. The parents were harsh, some said. Others argued that the son deserved it. John himself was livid. ‘This is my house’, he said ‘and I have a right to stay here and do as I please’. The parents of course, were adamant and would hear nothing of the kind. They expected apologies and a willingness to toe their line, not claims about the house. They got their way, and John got shown the door.

Dear Friends, the story above is relevant in the context of the various situations we find ourselves in – at work, at home, in our places of worship, and in society, we being at home become prodigals. Often, far too often, we get so involved in contributing or doing or participating that we seem to feel the institution or association, or family needs to treat us differently. Sometimes we act and behave as if we are bigger than the family itself. We needn’t look far for examples in the environs in our office and places of work. If we don’t get a promotion, it’s the boss who is to blame – and our right to sulk and ‘go slow’. If we get what seems a raw deal to us, we take out our frustration by the ‘indiscriminate use of resources’ – of the kind we would never consider doing if they belonged to us. In crowded trains, as hordes of people jostle for space, we sit as if the seats belong to us. And at home, we go to war to get our points of view in. Church is no different. Choirs are wont to demand special treatment, almost like spoilt children. Lectors and church helpers seem to feel its their right to have places reserved for their kith and kin at important services. After all they are ‘contributing so much’. And pastoral helpers seem to feel its their unchallenged right to confer at will, mindless of the fact they are disturbing the faithful. And what about the latter? It is their right to come in at any juncture during service! It is their right to wear clothes they like, irrespective of whether they are distracting others! And it is their right to challenge the clergy on issues they don’t see eye to eye on.

The Gospel passage bears similarity among other parables: “The Lost Sheep” - Lk 15:3-7; “The Lost Coin” - Lk 15:8-10; “The Prodigal Son” - Lk 15:11-32

While it is commonly called “The Prodigal Son” (prodigal meaning “wasteful”)... It can rightfully be called the parable of “The Loving Father”; for it reveals more about the love of the father than of the sinfulness of the younger son; The parable also reveals much about the heart of the unforgiving elder son, whose purpose in this parable is to rebuke those unwilling to reach out and receive the lost who repent; [Let’s begin our study of this “pearl and crown of all the parables” by reading it in its entirety, and then examining its major features (please read Lk 15:11-32)...]

Prodigal Son at Home
Just reflect this parable on the reverse manner. Think of yourself, how you have been behaving with your colleagues, companions, your life partner, how you have treated them? Using them to the maximum for your own benefit? Don’t you think that you have become a prodigal at home, spending ruthlessly the resources of your home? And at times spending also the patience of your own family members? This happens often in our homes, we just take things for granted, we spend, we ill treat, we are lazy, we use the kindness and simplicity of our parents, even at times mocking them, paining them, not listening to them, rather friends who use you, waste you money and wealth after celebrations and useless outings? Sinful we are, but we try to hide that sinfulness, just demand our rights, and then also accuse others who are weak and vulnerable.

Prodigal away from Home
This is a reflection to those who are away from home. The prodigal son realized the love, warmth and comforts he was enjoying at home. Home Sweet Home is the best home. You may be listening to me. Well, what is being away from home? We really miss home, people whom we love, people who appreciated us and people with whom we spent time. Perhaps we are away from home for work, earning money, to support our family, but we need to come to our own senses, that whatever we do it is for our own people. Like the prodigal son, we need to enter into ourselves and ponder the good things the home gives us. No matter you may be a manager, CEO (Chief Executive Officer), you are just a human being of love at home. Pondering strengthens us.

Spendthrift Son
Today spending money has become a fashion. Spending money after getting electronic gadgets, which are perhaps used just for time pass? Using mobile phones when it is absolutely not necessary?

The younger son asks his father to give him his portion of the inheritance due him. According to the Law of Moses, the eldest son received a double portion - cf. Deut 21:17. Since there were two sons, the younger son would receive one-third. Like so many impatient young people today, the younger son... desired to be free from parental restraints, desired to have his father’s inheritance “now”. The father grants him his request, and the younger son soon takes all that he has to a distant country. Today’s society is filled with such young people, who want to be free, want to spend and unfortunately become paupers within no time  because they listen too much to their friends than their parents. They become conscious only when they lose everything, even their health and talents.

The Prodigal Father
The Father of those two sons suffered a lot. He was practically sandwiched between them. On the one hand he had to accept his lost son and on the other he had to convince the other righteous son. What a task. This happens to many of our parents, who are sandwiched between or among their children. They have to face all types of hatred, anger, jealousy, competition among the children as they grow.  Yet these parents are heroes because they never give up as genuine parents, they will love all those good and bad ones, a reflection of the Father’s love. 

Prodigal’s Return Home - Lk 15:20-32
Warmly welcomed by his father - Lk 15:20-24. Carrying out his resolution, the prodigal son returns home. While still a great way away, the father sees him (had he been looking for his son?). The father’s great love is immediately evident... He has compassion. He runs to greet his son. He throws his arms around his son’s neck. He kisses him. The son quickly confesses his sin, and his unworthiness to be called a son. But before he can even say “Make me one of your hired  servants”, the father joyfully calls upon his servants to...a) Bring out the best robe and put it on him; b) Put a ring on his hand, and sandals on his feet; c) Kill the fatted calf in order to celebrate his return. Because 1)for this my son was dead and is alive again”. 2)he was lost and is found”. Certainly any parent can relate to the emotions expressed by this father! 

The Key Lessons

  1. Our heavenly Father loves His children: irrespective of your talents

  2. Even when they turn away from Him, His hearts yearns for them in love

  3. But especially when they return with a penitent attitude: he celebrates

  4. There is “joy in heaven” - Lk 15:7

  5. There is “joy in the presence of the angels of God” – Lk 15:10

  6. It was right to “make merry and be glad” - Lk 15:32
    The faithful children of God need to understand the
    proper way to receive the erring child who returns to God – church, community, family and society.

  7. Not with any sibling jealousy, but with joyous celebration! - Lk 15:32

  8. With a strong reaffirmation of love: As illustrated by the father in the parable; and as Paul instructed the Corinthians in 2 Co 2:6-8.

How to Return to the Father?
As we are in the season of Lent I encourage you to make a serious effort to draw closer to the Lord. We come closer to the Lord by turning our backs on sin.  How do we stop sinning?  I would like you to think about this.  We have many desires/feelings.  Not every desire/feeling is good, some would lead us to do bad things. There is an attitude around now that you should follow your desires/feelings and enjoy life. But, as I said, not every desire/feeling is a good desire/feeling.  So to stop sinning and come closer to the Lord, stop following desires/feelings that give you joy now but are wrong and leave you feeling guilty later. That means, of course, being able to discipline yourself.  

a) First type of returning to the Father is to discipline ourselves: It is a real help in disciplining ourselves if we also discipline our bodies by fasting a little during Lent.  Every time you feel hungry, don’t worry, you won’t die of hunger. You don’t need to stuff yourself immediately. 

b) Second type of returning to the Father through almsgiving: We discipline ourselves by giving money to Third World Aid Agencies during Lent. We can also discipline ourselves by helping others instead of passing by without helping. 

c) Third type of returning is praying: If you have been neglecting to pray properly, make a serious effort to pray for a substantial period every day.  Five minutes is not enough, twenty minutes is only for starters.  I believe all Christians are called to spend a substantial amount of time each day in prayer. 

Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Lk 5:31-32)

ST JOSEPH FEAST 19th March 2007

A man came home from work late, tired and irritated, to find his 5-year  old  on waiting for him at the door.

SON:   "Daddy, may I ask you a question?"
DAD:   "Yeah sure, what is it?" replied the man.
SON:   "Daddy, how much do you make an hour?"
DAD:   "That's none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?" the man said angrily.
SON:    "I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?"
DAD:    "If you must know, I make Rs.100 an hour."

"Oh," the little boy replied, with his head down. Looking up, he said, "Daddy, may I please borrow Rs.50?" 

The father was furious, "If the only reason you asked that is so you can  borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are being so selfish. I work hard everyday for such this childish behavior." 

The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door.

The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy's questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money?

After about an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think:

Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that Rs.50 and he really didn't ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the  little boy's room and opened the door. 

"Are you asleep, son?" He asked.

"No daddy, I'm awake," replied the boy.

"I've been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier," said the man.

"It's been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here's the Rs.50 you asked for."

The little boy sat straight up, smiling.

"Oh, thank you daddy!" He yelled.

Then, reaching under his pillow he pulled out some crumpled up bills. The man, seeing that the boy already had money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, and then looked up at his father.

"Why do you want more money if you already have some" the father grumbled.

"Because I didn't have enough, but now I do," the little boy replied.

"Daddy, I have Rs.100 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you."

Making time for others, as Joseph did towards Mary and Jesus is the message for today’s Feast

Welcome to today's celebration of the Holy Mass that commemorates the Feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary. Saint Joseph, a descendant of King David, was the adoptive Father of the Child Jesus. As most of you are aware, the Holy Bible does not tell us very much about the life of St. Joseph as the husband of Mary. Beyond the twelfth year of Jesus, we know nothing about his life.

From the Gospel of Matthew, we learn that St. Joseph was engaged to be married to the Virgin Mary. [Mt. 1:18; Lk 1:27] Before they were married, he learned that Mary was pregnant. [Mt. 1:18] Being a just man, not to cause a public scandal, he was willing to send Mary away privately. [Mt. 1:19] While reflecting upon this action, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and told him that Mary's child was of the Holy Spirit. [Mt. 1:20] When Joseph awakened from his dream, he obeyed the angel and took Mary as his wife. [Mt. 1:24]

From the Gospel of Luke, we learn that in the days of Caesar Augustus, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, Joseph being of the house and lineage of David. [Lk. 2:1-7] Returning to the Gospel of Matthew, when the Child was born, as was the custom of Jewish fathers to do so, Joseph gave the name of Jesus to his adopted Son. [Mt. 1:25] The Gospel of Luke also tells us that when the shepherds visited Baby Jesus who was lying in a manger, Joseph was present with Mary.

Next, we learn that when Jesus was about two years old, the angel of the Lord came again to Joseph in a dream. He told Joseph to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Mary because Herod was looking for the young Child to kill Him. [Mt. 2:13] Joseph immediately departed with Jesus and Mary [Mt. 2:14] and dwelled in Egypt for some time. [Mt. 2:15] Once more the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and told him that he should return to the land of Israel because Herod had died. [Mt. 2:15, 19-21] Joseph took the Holy Family and moved to a city called Nazareth.[Mt. 2:23]

From the Gospel of Luke, we also learn that when Jesus was presented to the Temple as the Jewish custom required, both Joseph and Mary marveled at what Simeon said about the Child. [Lk. 2:33- 4]

Further in the Gospel of Matthew, we learn that Joseph was a carpenter. [Mt. 13:55] From the Gospel of Mark, we learn that Jesus was also a carpenter. [Mk. 6:3] As such, Joseph must have spent many years teaching the trade of carpentry to his Son, such beginning during the youth of the Child Jesus.

Next, we learn that every year, Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. On this occasion, Jesus was twelve years old. [Lk. 2:41] Having returned a day's journey towards home, Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus was not with any of the relatives. [Lk. 2:43-4] They returned to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. [Lk. 2:45] When they found Jesus in the Temple, Mary told Him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." [Lk. 2:48]

In the Gospel of John, we learn that when the disciples referred to Jesus, it was stated that He was "Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." [Jn. 1:45] This is an account of all the verses regarding Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary, that are found in the Holy Scriptures.

From all of these biblical passages, we learn that through St. Joseph, of the lineage of king David, the kingship of the Lord Jesus was established as the King of kings. Saint Joseph, a king himself without a crown, was a just man and a carpenter by trade.

Whenever the angel of the Lord came to him, he immediately submitted himself in obedience to the Divine Will of our Creator, God Almighty. Joseph was a man who was very fond of his adopted Son Jesus, loving Him as his own biological son. We can perceive this fatherly love when he and Mary found Jesus at the Temple, at which time Mary said that both of them searched with great anxiety. Considering that twelve years earlier, King Herod wanted Jesus dead, we can just imagine what went through the mind of St. Joseph while Jesus was missing. Did he fear that Jesus was dead? Did he fear that he had failed God by not watching over Jesus more closely? These personal thoughts of Saint Joseph, we shall never know.

Based on what is known of Saint Joseph, it becomes clear that while his calling was of a very great magnitude, to care and protect the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus, it was also a very humble calling of one who remained in the background. The message we get from the life of Saint Joseph is that we should always focus our eyes on the Lord Jesus, not on a man.

Today, as we reflect upon the life of Saint Joseph, let us ask the Holy Spirit to bless us with his virtues. In St. Joseph, among other virtues, we can identify love, a just and righteous man, chastity, caring, sharing, obedience, submission, humility, protecting, all what is necessary to entitle us to shine as a brilliant light in the world. Above everything else giving time to share with our family members and most importantly time with our life partner and children. We come to know this in the life of Jesus from above passages quoted and explained. This will be also theme of the main homily on the Feast day and remember, if you do not have time for yourself, you will not have for others, leave alone for God.

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