COME BACK TO ME
“Remember this. When people
choose to withdraw far from a fire,
the fire continues to give warmth,
but they grow cold.
When people choose to withdraw
far from light, the light continues
to be bright in itself but
they are in darkness.
This is also the case when people
withdraw from God”.
A Time of Reconciliation and Restoration of Relationships
The period of Lent offers Christians an opportunity to reflect on their relationships with God in a deeper way and the role played by sin in keeping us away from that loving relationship with God. In reflecting on our relationship with God we are bound to reflect on our relationship with ourselves and others. Sin wounds us, our relationship with each other and ultimately with God. Sin leads us into darkness, sorrow, desolation and isolation from those whom we love most.
It is in this darkness and isolation that God reaches out to us like a mother who goes out every day to search for a lost child. Come Back to Me, Chapter 14 of the Book of Hosea is about exhortation to repentance and promises of comfort to the penitents. It is not only sin that keeps us apart from God but fear as well. Christian faith is based on a loving God. However, how many of us believe in a distant, fierce and judgmental God whom we fear to build a relationship with? Our Father Longs for His Children to Return Home. The lyrics of the song, “Come Back to Me”, reflects God’s deep longing for His children to be with Him once again, “Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.”
Lent is a period to return home to the Father and live deeply a new life of love and oneness with God. When we return to the Lord, “He will refresh us with his comforts, so that our souls shall be as watered gardens.” In Is. 58:11, God draws us to Himself, out of the abundance of His love. God expects and desires the repentance of sinners, He is well pleased with it as He takes no pleasure in the ruin of a sinner. God meets the penitent with mercy, He harkens and hears the prayers of the penitent. God goes out of Himself, incarnation, to reach out to a penitent sinner.
After prophet Hosea has rebuked the people of Israel for their sins, turning away from God’s covenant, He focuses on directions in repenting, encouragement to the repentant taken from God’s longing to receive sinners and comfort that God gives to penitent sinners. The call is to return to the Lord, take steps towards the Lord. Don’t let fear keep you from the Lord. When we return to the Lord we must let go of our old ways and be committed to new life with God, a life of love and forgiveness which after receiving and experiencing, we are called to share with our brothers and sisters.
Opening our Hearts and Welcoming Those Returning
The story of the Prodigal Son is the greatest illustration on the love and compassion of God. God loves the prodigal son and his elder brother equally, one in his weakness and the other in his bitterness. God’s love for us is not a reward for our being good but our being good is a consequence of being loved. This story reminds us that we are not only restored to God but to the family of God’s people too. We are called to create a welcoming community for those who return to the Lord as we can be like the first-born son who refuses to welcome back his brother.
Even though the first born says he is always with the father the reality is that he has grown too cold and distant to enjoy the love and compassion of the father, he no longer sees himself as a son but as a servant. In the sense that father reaches out to him, outside the homestead to plead with him to come home. Let lent be a period when we open our hearts, homes and communities to those who chose to return to the Lord. This is done practically through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programme of preparing to receive the newly Baptist at Easter. Like God, let us embrace and welcome those who return to the Lord.
In returning to the Father we experience the deep compassion of God that compels us too, to be compassionate to others. Jesus challenges us to, “Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.” In John’s gospel, the institution of the Eucharist is replaced by Jesus washing of the feet of His disciples. According to John, the Eucharist is the reaching out to one another, across the divide of gender, race, status, religion and even ideology, to let God’s embrace enfold everyone equally.
To be compassionate as the Father is, calls us to never be content but reach out to our brothers and sisters who are not among the fold of God’s warm embrace. The family or Church is never complete when even one of her members are separated. Like the parable of the woman who has lost one coin could not rest until she found it. Lent is a period for us to reflect ways in which we have been contented or have even rejoiced when some members of the church, family or community walked away from the fold. We need to put our boots on and go to the streets in search of that lost wholeness.
Jesus Walks With Us On Our Road to Emmaus
There are times we feel like walking away from our faith because we have been deeply disappointed, discouraged, once our firm faith has been shattered like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. This late evening experience can come to us at any time. In my life as a priest I encounter Christians whose faith and hope have been shuttered because of death of a loved one, terminal sickness, loss of job, divorce or separation, abandonment; they decide to move from Jerusalem (Church, place of crucifixion) to Emmaus (place of escape and human consolation). Yet in all these situations, Jesus walks with us yet we are unable to recognize Him. Jesus does not leave us when our faith is shuttered, He journeys with us in our desolation and pain to restructure our faith. Through the word of God, Jesus helps us to see that whatever situation we may be going through, the humiliation of the cross, is integral part of our faith. This is fully revealed in the breaking of bread; when God Himself becomes visible in the Eucharist.
In recognising Jesus in the broken bread, our eyes of faith are opened, and we begin the journey back to Jerusalem with a deeper understanding of God, Christ and the church. As the mystics say, we have to go through the ‘dark night of the soul’ as we sort out through death of what is precious to us religiously, so as to recognise the compassionate embrace of God in a new and deeper way. Jesus continues to walk daily by our side from Jerusalem to Emmaus to bring us back to Jerusalem. Since Jesus is faithful to us, we as His family will have to continuously repent, return back to God, open our hearts to welcome our returning brothers and sisters and reach out to invite those who do not know His love to know Him. As Christians, believing in the risen Lord, we need to continue the journey of faith beyond the Lenten period.
A few years ago at the parish, we had a serious infestation of jiggers (tiny sand-fleas) mainly on elderly people who were mostly living alone. As a Lenten campaign, the parish organised a reach out programme to assist these elderly people. The catechumen who were preparing for baptism also joined in. We would go out to clean the houses of the affected, help them wash, get treatment and offer them food. Two months later, when I went for a house blessing in one of the villages, I met a group of the newly baptised coming from one house of the elderly having cleaned and given her some food. The conversion we go through during Lent carries us through in fervent prayer, fasting and more so acts of charity in the community.
Lent prepares us to be better Christians; like the newly baptised who during Lent learnt to reach out to the needy, the post resurrection experience made them see this as part of daily life of a Christian. Like the two disciples, we hasten to return to Jerusalem to share the joyful experience of encountering the risen Lord by walking alongside our brothers and sisters in their pain and suffering through acts of charity so that they too may experience the joy of the risen Lord. Let us hear God singing to us, “Come back to me with all your heart, long have I waited for you.” Let us not tarry but hasten to return home to our Father who runs out to meet us and reclaim our rights as sons and daughters of God.
Philip Adede mhm in: Catholic Asian News Magazine