St. Joseph, the Prodigal Son and the Blossoming of Faith
User's Guide to Sunday
BY Tom and April Hoopes
| Posted 3/11/10 at 9:27 PM
Sunday, March 14 (Year C, Cycle II), is the Fourth Sunday of Lent: Laetare Sunday.
Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday is the day that — since we have passed the halfway point of Lent — the Church looks forward to the joy of Easter. It’s called “Rose Sunday” for two reasons. First, priests may wear rose-colored (practically pink) vestments today. Second, it’s the day of the “blessing of the golden rose” in St. Peter’s, a ceremony that was already called an “ancient ceremony” in 1051. The intricately fashioned solid gold roses were once sent to Catholic monarchs. Now they are bestowed on shrines.
A rose comes from a thorny stem yet has beauty and a sweet smell. This is a symbol of the way Christians’ faith blossoms in Lent from sacrifice.
Pope John Paul II awarded four golden roses; Pope Benedict XVI has awarded seven.
Pope Benedict XVI has given roses to shrines in countries he has visited. For instance, in 2008, the year of his U.S. visit, he bestowed the golden rose on the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. March 19 is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus. The “solemnity” designation is important; it means it’s a major feast, and since it happens to fall on a Friday in Lent this year, it means it’s not a penitential day of abstinence from meat. Tom looks forward to Friday solemnities all year long — and knows when they are coming up.
Joshua 5:9, 10-12; Psalm 34:2-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
This Sunday’s readings include the Prodigal Son parable, and it’s interesting that it begins the week in which we also celebrate St. Joseph.
The first thing to notice about the parable of the Prodigal Son is to whom it is addressed: “Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So to them Jesus addressed this parable.”
The parable is not meant to comfort sinners like the Prodigal Son, though it certainly does that. It is meant to warn sinners like the older brother in the story — people with a “holier than thou” attitude.
If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t a prodigal. But you may very well be a bit of an “older brother.” Perhaps you avoid talking to “prodigals” in social situations. Perhaps you only send Christmas cards to “older brother” types. Perhaps you love to talk about the faith — but only with those who agree with you.
So, how do we avoid these human tendencies?
This is where St. Joseph comes in. In the Gospel he learns that Mary is pregnant. He knows he’s not responsible. How could he respond? He had a “holier than thou” option and a “holy” option.
The “holier than thou” option: Report that Mary is pregnant — and not by him — denounce her, and see her ostracized to the full extent of the Mosaic Law. This would save face for him, keep his status as a good guy, and address the apparent violation of the law represented by her pregnancy. This wouldn’t necessarily mean she would be stoned, but it would certainly mean she would be an outcast.
What would the “holy” option be? That was his choice: He chose to “quietly divorce Mary.” Think about what that means. “Quietly” means privately: no public denunciation of Mary; just a separation of himself from her. What would that look like in practice?
In a few months, two things would be obvious to everybody: A) Joseph was no longer with Mary. B) Mary was pregnant. Absent a public denunciation, people would be forced to assume that her pregnancy was Joseph’s fault and that he had abandoned her out of shame or some other selfish motive.
This would mean that Joseph, not Mary, would become the target of blame and ostracism. By handling the situation as he did, Joseph took Mary’s blame.
How would Joseph have acted if he were the Prodigal Son’s older brother?
He would have not only welcomed his brother home — he would have accepted some portion of the blame for his younger brother leaving the family (as, no doubt, the jealous, severe older brother in the story probably deserved). And he would have been relieved by his brother’s return and celebrated with his father.
We can take this approach to the “prodigals” in our midst. We can accept some of the blame for them rejecting the right way: After all, if we were more loving, more giving, more heroically generous, people would be flocking to the Church, not leaving it.
And since it’s our fault, to whatever extent, that they are prodigals, we might be a little more careful how we treat people outside the faith — and who we spend our time with.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas. For Lenten and Holy Week resources, see “Guide for Lent” and “Holy Week Guide” under “Resources” at NCRegister.com
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