Thinking of passing judgment? Look in the mirror: Gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday we will hear a story that centers on the need to change our own hearts before we demand the conversion of others.

Jesus is confronted by some religious leaders who bring before him a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11).

They start quizzing Jesus. “What should we do with her?”

Ted Women caught in adultery, Flickr Creative Commons
Ted Women caught in adultery, Flickr Creative Commons

But the quiz has a “catch” to it.

They are testing Jesus “so as to bring a charge against him.” They want to be rid of him.

If Jesus answers that the woman ought to be stoned to death, which was the penalty for adultery under Mosaic law, he would be challenging the Roman authorities. The Romans had banned executions without their authority or approval.

If Jesus answers that she not be punished under the penalties imposed by Mosaic law, then Jesus sets himself up in opposition to what Moses prescribed.

So it’s a trap.

But Jesus uses the trap to unmask the hypocrisy of these pious frauds.

These guys are using this woman as a pawn in their scheme to discredit Jesus.

They don’t care about her, or about justice or the even well-being of whatever marriage has been violated.

The leaders are using the woman as a chess-piece.

If they had even a modicum of interest in justice wouldn’t her male accomplice be under scrutiny too? (It did say, she was caught in the act of adultery, didn’t it? The law required the same penalty be meted out to both. But this guy is nowhere to be found. How convenient!)

So Jesus says, “Hey, put down your stones!”  Start scrutinizing your own heart before you throw stones of condemnation at others. This whole situation you’re presenting is corrupt and rotten to the core.

Jesus must have really hit a chord.

John 9:25 Easier To Codemn Sins Than Mortify Them (Romans 2:1), Fickr Creative Commons
John 9:25 Easier To Codemn Sins Than Mortify Them (Romans 2:1), Fickr Creative Commons

The gospel tells us that the religious leaders went way, beginning with eldest.

(Maybe the older ones realized that with the accumulation of years, they had more “scrutinizing” and soul-searching to do.)

The woman is left alone with Jesus. He tells her to stop sinning. “Don’t do this again.”

Just as importantly he tells her: “Neither do I condemn you.”  In doing so, he saves her life. And, he gives this woman a new lease on life.

Let’s pray that Jesus’ provocative and courageous actions would inspire us:  and accept the simple truth that God, and only God, will be the ultimate judge of every life and of every heart.

In the meantime we can put down the stones of condemnation and redouble our efforts at healing and reconciling whatever is broken in our lives and the lives that cross our path each day.

Marufish Stone, Flickr Creative Commons
Marufish Stone, Flickr Creative Commons

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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The Prodigal Son–the rest of story: reflections by Father Steven LaBaire

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday’s gospel is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). Most folks are familiar will this parable about a Father and his two sons.

OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons
OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons

The younger son asks for his inheritance and then wastes the money to the point of starvation. The Father compassionately welcomes him back. The “dutiful” stay-at-home elder son protests the welcome given to the younger son. At the end of the story, one wonders whether the older brother will be reconciled with the merciful Father.

Jesus addressed this parable to religious people who disliked Jesus’ table fellowship with “sinners.”

Here are some details about the story
that might help to hear it with ‘new ears”
this coming Sunday. *

  • In Jesus’ time, fathers were discouraged from distributing inheritance during their lifetime. But if he did , a father was still entitled to live off the proceeds while he lived. The younger son acts shamefully, effectively wishing the father were dead. That the father did not explode and discipline on the spot testifies to the depth of his love. The elder son is no better. Instead of protesting the inappropriate property division and refusing his share, he accepts it (v. 12). And he makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as culture demanded he should. His behavior is equally shameful.
  • pastorfergus.wordpress.com
    pastorfergus.wordpress.com

    The younger brother sinks deeper into shame. Losing his money to non-Judeans through wasteful spending makes things worse. He begins to starve. He tries to leech on to a wealthy patron who assigns him a repulsive job of feeding pigs. (Remember, pigs are considered unclean animals in the Jewish tradition.)

  • Still he starves. The carob pods fed to the pigs were the wild variety with bitter berries, nauseating and insufficiently nourishing to humans.
  • Coming to his senses, the younger son resolves return home to become a “hired servant” of his father.  He is willing to accept the shameful fact that the village will disown, reject and physically abuse him for taking his dad’s inheritance and before his death and then losing it to Gentiles. Nonetheless, the younger son judges this a small price to pay for life and food.
  • Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son
    Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son, Flickr Creative Commons

    The father acts in a way that is shocking for the culture of the time. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the gauntlet the village has prepared for the returning wayward son. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him on the cheeks, and heals the broken relationship between them. The best robe is certainly the Father’s. It will guarantee the son’s acceptance by the community at the banquet. The signet ring indicates enormous trust. The sandals are a sign of being a free man in the house, not a servant. (Servants and slaves did not wear sandals.) Killing the calf means the entire village will be invited and prodded toward forgiveness. This size animal can feed over 100 people.

  • Instead of honoring his father by accepting his  brother and playing his appropriate role as chief host at the meal, the elder son publicly insults and humiliates his father (vv. 28-30). The insults are jarring: he addresses his father without a respectful title; he speaks of himself as a “slave” and not a son (v29); he accuses the father of favoritism (him a calf, me not even a goat!); he refuses to acknowledge his brother (“this son of yours”; he invents the claim that his brother lived with prostitutes.
  • In effect, this elder son’s heart has always been elsewhere. He too wishes his Father were already dead.
  • Once again the father replies to the wayward son with love and acts of self-humiliation. He returns insult with an endearing “my child…” He assures him that his inheritance remains intact, and he invites the elder son to join the festivities.

Here the parable ends rather abruptly. What will the elder son do? That is the question the Pharisees and scribes and the modern believer must answer. This is really the story of two lost sons. One was lost, but found. The other… well, we just don’t know…

So, what would you do?

*Much of the background for the remarks in this reflection was found in The Cultural World of Jesus by John J. Pilch and in the Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Liturgical notes for Sunday:

This Sunday is called LAETARE SUNDAY. It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we reach the mid-point of the Lenten season. The Mass vestments this Sunday are rose colored, rather than the usual Lenten purple.

catholichotdish.com
catholichotdish.com

The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when the Pope carried a single rose in his right hand when returning from Mass on this Sunday. At the time, the rose was a symbol of Christ due to both its being beautiful and yet being covered with thorns. The Pope’s carrying a rose was a visual reminder that the celebration of Christ’s Passion is not far off. Soon we will experience the beauty and the suffering (thorns) of Christ’s love for us.

While the Pope’s custom was abandoned, the symbolism continues through the rose colored vestments worn at Mass.

Holy Week and Easter are not far off. But it isn’t too late to make this Lenten season a time of personal renewal. Remember, the word “Lent” comes from the old English word for” springtime.” During this season, the liturgy invites us to experience a “springtime” from within, a new beginning within our souls. How will your spirit be renewed to embrace the joys and challenges of 2016?

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos, plus a stay-at-home mini retreat.

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Taking advantage of the season of Lent through a notebook and a chunk of time

For many Christians, the late winter/early spring signifies a time of stepping back and examining how we are practicing our faith. It is a time of assessing our failings and sins: how have we strayed from God as the center of our lives? How have we forgotten the needs of family members, friends and strangers? How can we come back home to God?

The season of Lent

In my Roman Catholic tradition, this time of assessment is known as Lent. In my childhood I recall purple cloth (signifying penance or, being sorry for your sins) all over the church, covering the statues. It was a time to give up chocolate or some other treat as a symbol of penance.

lent statues covered in purple

Lent is so much more

As an adult, Lent can offer so many wonderful opportunities if we can get beyond our preconceived childish notions and misunderstandings. The words “penance” and “sacrifice” and even the color purple can denote negative thoughts and feelings when in fact, they offer chances for healing and purification. The word “repent,” often misunderstood, brings reconciliation and wholeness. Just as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

The true meaning

I like to think of the Prodigal Son, despairing and destitute, falling into the loving arms of his Father. Coming back home prompted merrymaking on the part of his father rather than judgment. This is such a beautiful illustration of turning around and coming home, the true meaning of repentance. It is a moment of sorrow that leads to celebration.

from http://goinswriter.com/prodigal-son/
from http://goinswriter.com/prodigal-son/

Searching your soul

The Prodigal had to do a lot of soul searching to humble himself and come back home to his father. After all, in essence, he told his father to “drop dead” by taking his inheritance money early. We can learn from his example.

Tools for soul searching

Keeping a journal, whether you are a writer or not, is a wonderful way to search your soul. I took up the practice again a couple of years ago and find it especially helpful for sorting out confusing times in my life. A block of quiet time and a notebook can help you connect the past with the present in powerful ways. It can even be life-changing.

lent purple journal
from http://yourhighestself.com.au/why-journal/

Tough times make for good soul searching

Since writing things down was not done in the Prodigal Son’s time, he had sort out his life without that tool. He had the other essential tool however: time. As he was feeding pigs and longing to eat his fill, he had plenty of time to recall his past life (which he realized had been quite good), his past behavior (taking his inheritance and squandering it) and his current situation. He realized in the end it was worth the price of killing his pride to come back home to his father.

My soul searching

We are lucky because we can write things down. Of late I have been exploring in my journal why I feel the way I do about losing my singing voice and music in general (a series of posts for another day) and have made some important discoveries about how I have treated (or mistreated) this special gift that God gave to me. It has shone a glaring spotlight on past sins which I am now bringing before God, asking for forgiveness.

I am using my Lenten journey to focus on how I can too return home to my heavenly Father, make peace with past actions, and learn again to embrace my gift for his people and his glory. Through taking the time to be quiet and write down my thoughts, I have been able to navigate through murky waters and come to understand what I did, how I feel, and how everything can be made right again.

Connections and healing

More than one author I know has told me they see writing as a spiritual experience, even as prayer. I am beginning to see this too. I do know it helps me connect the fragments of my life, bring them together and make sense of them. This is the beginning of wholeness and healing.

How are you taking advantage of Lent this year?

Share with us what you are doing.

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