Rejoice, Jerusalem. Rejoice because the Lord lives, and He loves His children. We rejoice even in the hardest times, even in the most uncertain moments, because God has made one thing absolutely clear: He wills to deliver us from evil. He wills to bring us home to Him.
Did the prodigal son have pure, spiritual motives when he decided to return to his father’s house? Doesn’t seem like he did. He wanted to eat the pig-slop, but no one gave him any. Hunger, not noble contrition, drove him back home.
Doesn’t mean that he did not love his father. He simply had not yet learned everything that love involves. He came back home looking for food, and he found food and love. He came looking for a tiny exception to the rigor that justice required, since by right he had no claim whatsoever. He found boundless mercy and a completely fresh start.
We find ourselves, dear brothers and sisters, living at a time when the relationship between the Church and the world will be refreshed. A new start will be made. I don’t think we go too far if we say that this springtime of 2013 opens before us as pregnant with possibilities as the springtime of 1963, the first spring of the Second Vatican Council. That spring saw a papal transition, too. Blessed Pope John XXIII finally succumbed to his illness, and Paul VI became the new pope.
Now, I think we can say that we have grown a little wiser over the course of the past fifty years. As our beloved Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI put it last fall, when he stood at his window and spoke to the people, recalling the opening night of Vatican II:
Fifty years ago tonight, I, too, was in this square, with my eyes turned toward this window, as the Good Pope, Pope John, spoke to us…the great ecumenical council had begun, and we were sure of a new springtime for the church… We’re happy today, too [fifty years later]… I would say, however, that our joy is a more sober one, something more humble. Over these fifty years, we have learned and experienced that original sin exists, and that it translates itself into personal sins which can become structures of sin. We have seen that even in the Lord’s field there is discord, that even in the net of Peter we find bad fish, that human weakness is present even in the church, that the ship of the Church journeys in the face of an opposing wind, amid storms.
With this wisdom of the past fifty years under our collective belts, so to speak, we greet this new springtime of 2013. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council longed to accomplish one thing: to show the face of Christ to the sons and daughters of this modern age. Christ, the light of the nations. Christ the Redeemer sent to save. Christ the Word of God. Christ the joy and the hope of the world.
Sometimes it can seem like the Church and the world live alongside each other like next-door neighbors who speak different languages. From where we sit, the world sounds to us sometimes like a deranged parrot, squawking through our window, “Woman priests, gay marriage, priest scandal, contraception! Women priests, gay marriage, priest scandal, contraception! Women priests, gay marriage, priest scandal, contraception!”
But it’s not always just parrot squawking. Sometimes the world asks us an honest question. Sometimes the world knocks at the door, not to borrow sugar, but looking for an explanation of the truth about God.
We try to answer. But if we ourselves are not truly humble and penitent, if we presume to hold ourselves aloof from all the agony of human life, then our words—no matter how they sound in our own ears—wind up sounding like, “You don’t measure up. Get lost.” Or even worse, we sound like we are out back, whining to God, “Look, all these years I did right and did not once disobey, and you never gave me even a kid goat. But then the world walks in here all disheveled and scraggly, all confused and hungry, all lumpy and totally disorganized, and you slaughter the fattened calf.”
The Lord’s parable aims to instruct the older brothers among us just as much as it aims to call the prodigal sons home. The fundamental moral of the story is: The Father wants everyone in the house. And the only way in is to accept His mercy. The sin of the older brother grieves the heart of the father just as much as all the voluptuary dissipations of the prodigal.
But, listen: Let’s not ever get discouraged. Jesus Christ is alive, and He is with us. Which means God is with us.
If Jesus Christ is our language—everything about Him, from the crown of His head to the soles of His feet; everything from Genesis to Revelation—if Christ is the language we speak, then the world will hear the truth, and will see our love and our joy.
Soon we will rejoice to have a new pope, a new Vicar of Christ. And the world will see that the Church is very much alive—alive with the power of God.
The new start that the Fathers of Vatican II hoped and prayed for fifty years ago–that the men and women of our age could meet Christ as He truly is–alive and full of love and grace: such a new start will come this very spring. And we will be able to tell the generations yet to come that we were alive to see it—and to be a part of it.