Saturday, March 6, 2010

Prayers for today: The Lord is loving and merciful, to anger slow, and full of love; the Lord is kind to all, and compassionate to all his creatures. (Ps 144:8-9)

God our Father, by your gifts to us on earth we already share in your life. In all we do, guide us to the light of your kingdom. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Amen.

Servant of God Sylvester of Assisi (d. 1240)

Sylvester was one of the first 12 followers of St. Francis of Assisi and was the first priest in the Franciscan Order. A descendant of a noble family, Sylvester once sold Francis stones which were to be used to rebuild a church. When, a short while later, he saw Francis and Bernard of Quintavalle distributing Bernard's wealth to the poor, Sylvester complained that he had been poorly paid for the stones and asked for more money. Though Francis obliged, the handful of money he gave Sylvester soon filled him with guilt. He sold all of his goods, began a life of penance and joined Francis and the others. Sylvester became a holy and prayerful man, and a favourite of Francis—a companion on his journeys, the one Francis went to for advice. It was Sylvester and Clare who answered Francis' query with the response that he should serve God by going out to preach rather than by devoting himself to prayer. Once in a city where civil war was raging, Sylvester was commanded by Francis to drive the devils out. At the city gate Sylvester cried out: "In the name of almighty God and by virtue of the command of his servant Francis, depart from here, all you evil spirits." The devils departed and peace returned to the city. Sylvester lived 14 more years after the death of Francis and is buried near him in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (15.1~3.11~32)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law murmured, "This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them." Then Jesus told them this parable: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no-one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'

God and sin
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

The parable that our Lord tells in today’s Gospel passage (Saint Luke 15:1-3.11-32) is famous in world literature. The brief story is colourful, symmetrical, simple, complete. It is the perfect brief story containing a moral point. The point relates to the murmuring of the religious leaders who criticized our Lord’s easy association with “sinners and tax collectors.” The Gospels record our Lord dining — on invitation — with the Pharisees, and that was acceptable. But here He is dining with sinners and tax collectors! Undoubtedly our Lord seemed at peace with this disreputable lot, and exuded happiness at their ease and delight in being in His company. On this occasion the religious leaders are not shown directing their objection to our Lord Himself or to His disciples, for perhaps they feared an open debate with Him. But their mutterings were noticed by Our Lord and He immediately dealt with the challenge. What He was doing, so they deemed, was most unlike how God acts. God utterly shuns sinners. He punishes them and keeps them far from Him. So the parable is about God and what He is like. He is a Father to us, a wonderful Father, a Father who welcomes sinners back to Him, provided they come back with a recognition of their sins. He hates sin and it distresses Him, but He yearns for the return to Him of the sinner, and at this repentant return he goes to the sinner and embraces Him. That is what happens in the parable of the Father who is so prodigal with his love, and that is what we see in Jesus Christ. In the same Gospel of St Luke (ch.19) we read that our Lord was passing through Jericho and Zacchaeus, a leading tax collector, ran ahead to climb a tree to see Jesus as He passed by. Our Lord reached the tree, looked up, called Zacchaeus by name and invited Himself to his home to dine. He dined with the leading Pharisees when invited, and He dined with the leading tax collectors — the leading “sinners” — on His own initiative. In the case of Zacchaeus the conversion was remarkable, and we may presume that he became a faithful disciple of our Lord. Our Lord acted as God acts.

While the parable is fundamentally about God as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ, it is also about man. The fundamental issue for man is not food, clothing, education, success, prosperity or failure — however truly important these are. The fundamental issue in life is sin and the recognition of it. If there is no recognition of personal sin, there will be no return to the Father. If there is no desire to abandon the path of sin — that path pursued by the younger son in the parable — then man will die in his sins. "The wages of sin are death," St Paul writes in Romans. So the first thing that the parable teaches about man is that the greatest evil is sin, which is separation from God by acts which disobey and offend him. No matter how slight the sin, deliberate sin is the worst thing a man can do. Sin is the principal issue of every man and woman. It was the principal issue at the beginning when God gave to man his command and it was flouted, and it remains from age to age the principal issue for man. We must recognize that we are sinners, and we must do what the younger son did in the parable. We must resolve to turn away from sin and return to the Father. Sin must be recognized and renounced. The motive for this is the revelation and the thought of the Love of God. That is what man must do, and it is this that we see happening in today’s parable. The sinner — the younger son — recognizes his sin and returns to the Father, but there are those who see little sin in themselves and do not wish well of those who do. The Pharisees who criticized Our Lord for receiving sinners and dining with them, saw little or no sin in themselves, and did not wish well of those who did see sin in themselves. Thus it is that in the picture of man presented to us in the parable, there are two classes of persons. While all have sinned, some recognize this and others do not. Zacchaeus recognized his sinfulness and gloried in the welcome and the friendship of Jesus Christ. We may presume that the sinners and tax collectors who dined with Our Lord here also shared in the attitude of Zacchaeus. But we see no such recognition of personal sin in the Pharisees, such as to lead them to the One who takes away the sin of the world.

There are all sorts of things we can do in life and there is no need to list them. One thing we must do is gain a recognition of the fact of sin and of its odious character. Sin is both evil in itself and it is offensive to the good God. We must recognize its presence in our lives and ask for the grace to turn away from it and go back to God. The Romans of antiquity left a great line for generations to remember: "Carthage must be destroyed!" The deeper line to be taken up by the whole human race is: "sin must be destroyed." It must be recognized, fought against and overcome. The converse of this — the other side of the very same coin — is that there must be a return in repentance to God Our Heavenly Father. By the grace of Christ this can be done! Let us all to it, then!

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