St. Silouan the Athonite Mission Parish

Sermons

On the Sundays before the start of Lent the Church...
by Fr Roberto Ubertino

On the Sundays before the start of Lent the Church, like a good mother, places in our knapsack the necessary bread for the long journey to Pascha.

Each of the themes of the Gospels for the Sundays of Lent is repeated throughout the daily liturgical cycle of Lent in one form or another. But it is the story of the Prodigal Son that most will echo in our hearts as we journey deep into the Lenten desert.

At each Confession, this parable is remembered and it’s saving power made present, personally, to the person who in confession through the action of the Holy Spirit releases the repentance of the Prodigal. Beside our kitchen a painting that was made at a retreat speaks about this same event, just in modern terms as the return of the Prodigal Daughter.

“Yes, I shall arise and return to my Father.” When we think of one thing that we should do at Lent, one thought, one resolution, it is this phrase that should echo constantly in our heart. The discovery of sin in our hearts would be of no use, certainly not good news, if it did not lead to the real possibility of return to the Father. Christ came and lived among us the sorrow and the suffering of the prodigal son, in his humanity he lived first this return. It is because he came and arose and returned to the Father having tasted, experienced all our foolishness, sinfulness, that each of us can also say, “yes I shall arise and return to my Father.”

“Yes, I shall arise and return to my Father” is both for us a destination—resurrection – ascension – Pascha and the journey – Lent – repentance.

But the real focus of this parable is not the prodigal son or the eldest son, in fact both are only appreciated in reference to the Father. Some have suggested we call the parable “The merciful Father.” If our Lent is simply focused on ourselves and our sins and misery, it is a deficient reality and will never also know the joyful sorrow of the embrace described in this parable as told by St Gregory Palamas.

Perhaps the one ascetical struggle this Lent is not to be focused on ourselves but rather allow our hearts to run freely towards the Father.

We have said enough, how can you describe the taste of honey? You must taste it yourself.  We have heard enough, now is time to act, to move and to taste for ourselves the joyful sorrow, the unbearable wound of love of the Father. Yes let us arise and return to the Father and say with joyful tears, “Father, I have sinned, receive me now.”

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Is there anything else really to live for, is this not what every human person seeks and thirsts for in so many small and often deceptive ways? The embrace of the merciful Father is a fact difficult to bear for both sons but for different reasons. Most fall into these two categories of people: ones who cannot accept the mercy of the Father, the others who can’t believe in it. The real repentance for the Prodigal Son is not just that he returns to the Father but that he lets go of his expectations of how he wanted to be treated by the Father. This latter is much more painful for us, our pride, to experience while we are still on the journey, the urgency of the Father who runs towards us to embrace us.

For both to accept the mercy of the Father a radical repentance, conversion of who they think and believe God is must take place. We are accustomed to see God above us, over us, far away from us. But the prodigal son shows us a God who is below us in this way of humility that he is described welcoming the sinful child. A God who has become poor with our poverty. A God whose embrace awaits our embrace.

Prodigal Son continues the theme of last Sunday; what does mercy look like?  Why is it difficult to receive? If you are the prodigal son it is difficult to receive because you get more than what you planned – the measure – if you are the good son, mercy is hard to receive because it stretches to welcome your brother who as far as you are concerned does not deserve mercy. From the perspective of the Father mercy is what keeps his son on the cross until the end of time.

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End of Sunday Homily

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Where do we/I see mercy at work?

Why do you think choosing mercy is harder than choosing justice?

Why do you think the good son refused to rejoice in the return of his brother?

What did the oldest son … his relationship to his Father?

In what way is the son changed by the mercy of the Father?

Why would this be hard for the son to accept?

Last week we were surprised by mercy – unexpected response to a sinner’s simple acknowledgement of who he is. Today we see what mercy looks like. Today we see that mercy is very difficult to accept and live.

For the prodigal son, mercy is more than he bargained for. He had set a measure of response – the best kind of scenario included some sense of justice and measure. The robe he is given must have felt larger to measure than he had hoped. We can imagine how at heart the prodigal must have felt uncomfortable, after all he has a sense of shame for what he did. The oldest son simply refuses the mercy of the Father. For this mercy is scandalous, unacceptable. He wants nothing to do with the Father. And for the Father, mercy is what keeps in the minds of St. Maximos and Pascal his Son until the end of time on the cross.

The church on this second preparatory Sunday wants us to take the robe and turn back to the Father and receive his mercy – a festal love, a manic love. Lent will be about leaving to let go as the Father did in this parable of our measure, our false modesty, and receive the terrible, full measure of the Father’s love. To make sure that we all are fasting praying and almsgiving. We don’t end up like the first son, really angry in the face of mercy.

I would say that many of our spiritual and psychological and interpersonal problems comes from the refusal to live mercy, to accept it and to extend it. It’s worth spending time and taking a hard look at this.

To accept our cross in our lives in the end means this – to accept the mercy of God in our lives.

We don’t have to convince the Father to be merciful to us; we are the ones who need to be convinced to love it and accept it.

This in the end is what Lent is simply about. Do whatever it takes to radically learn these words: “it is mercy I desire.

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