HOMILY for 24th Sunday per annum (C)
Ex 32:7-11. 13-14; Ps 50; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
- preached at the 7:15pm Student Mass at the start of a new academic semester.
I wonder how many of us can identify with the younger son in today’s parable? Going off to a “far country” – well, some of you will have travelled quite far to get to sunny Scotland, whether physically or culturally; socially; intellectually. Then, he “squandered his property”, spending everything he had – well, that’s certainly possible given the fees, rents, new gear and gadgets to get, as well as the many bar and societies trying to get your money; £5 to join the CSU, anyone? And, so Jesus says, the younger son engaged in “loose living”. Well… it is Freshers Week… maybe the less said on that the better – for now!
But you get my drift. Leaving home, and coming to University; having a blur of activities, choices, timetables, lots of information, and countless new faces thrown at you, can be quite bewildering. Even if you’ve just crossed the city to Edinburgh to get to University, or come from the Borders, you’ll still have travelled metaphorically quite far, and, it will seem, into quite a distant and strange place. And soon, as the laundry piles up, and your flat begins to resemble a pig sty, and the food stocks run down, home and its comforts may seem very attractive but distant. Like the younger son, you may feel that “a great famine” has come, and you may “be in want”. And you will long for home. So, this is a very appropriate Gospel for this Sunday.
But it’s appropriate, not so much because of how much you may resemble the younger son or not. Rather, it’s appropriate because Jesus wants to remind you and me of what God is like. God is our home. We were created by him, we are held in existence by his love, and we are destined for eternal life with him. And no matter how far we go from him, no matter how many things we believe may separate us from God, in fact, he is always here, waiting, searching for us, waiting to embrace us and take us home to himself.
This is the reason why this Chaplaincy has been called your “home away from home”. It’s not just a cheesy tagline, but it was something that students came up with to describe this place, and I think it’s because it is here, especially in this chapel, that we can come home and be with God our Father. One student who was here last year put it this way in a letter she wrote to us chaplains: “I had no idea when I picked Edinburgh that I would find this community. I have found a home not only with the people of the CSU, but I have found once again my Catholic home”.
So, yes, when the food runs out, there’s always the 3-course Mid-Week Meal here at the CSU, and daily lunches. Yes, here people have made some of their best friends ever, and even met their future spouses. But here, most importantly, in the time that you spend in University, is your chance to find your Catholic home, to come home, and to be at home with God, at home in his Church, and with the beauty of Christ’s truth.
For what does Jesus show us in today’s Gospel? That God favours sinners. That would mean he favours me… and a good number of you, too, I suspect! Very often, people, especially in University, feel that they should keep away from church or from God because of their sins. Or maybe they feel bad, like the younger son did, and they feel deeply unworthy: “I am no longer worthy… treat me as one of your hired servants”. But Jesus shows us God’s way of dealing with sin. Firstly, by his actions, he shows that God wants to associate himself with all sinners, and to receive them and be their companion, breaking bread, dining with them. Then, in this well-known parable of the prodigal son, he shows us the extravagance of God’s love, of a God who runs out to embrace and kiss us, and welcome us home, even when we’re still “at a distance”, and makes us his favoured Son; not just a servant but an heir, a Son.
We’re probably used to hearing that the prodigal son stands for sinners. But it is possible, too, (and some of the saints like St Augustine agree) that the prodigal son actually stands for Jesus, the Son. In becoming Man, Jesus journeyed into a far country, and ends up as a servant, sharing the lot of sinful humanity. So, Jesus is there in the messiness – the pigsty – of our life, in our failures and fears, in the desperation and turmoil of life, and he accompanies us in the wrong, and even sinful, choices we may have made. Because when we have sinned and are far from God, God doesn’t avoid us even if we try to avoid him and hide from him. Instead, Jesus shows us that God comes closer; he comes looking for us – not to condemn us or punish us but to save us; to heal us and raise us to a new life with his love. This is why St Paul said that even though he was the greatest of sinners, God was merciful and looked for him; the risen Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus and raised him up. So, Paul says, we can be sure of this: “that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners”. And elsewhere, in his letter to the Romans, St Paul says that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20). Which means that the greater our sins, the more present God is with his grace. Why? Because our need is greater. Because God desires our greatest happiness. Because God is compassion and love.
This is what the Pharisees, and so many people in our world today do not understand. Because God is not like Man. The first parable in today’s Gospel asks “what man among you would not leave the 99 sheep in the wilderness to seek the 1 lost sheep”? Well… no sane human person. But God’s way is different because he is so madly in love with you, each and every single person. So, Jesus today shows us God’s ‘mad’ way of doing things. He receives sinners and dines with them. He seeks out the lost to bring them home. He gives us his Son in these most ordinary of ways so that, with Jesus, we can arise and go to the Father. Hence, through the sacraments Jesus reaches out to us in Confession to embrace us and renew us with our Father’s mercy and healing love. Hence, in the Eucharist Jesus receives us and dines with us; he breaks bread with us, making us sinners into his companions and friends, and in Holy Communion God kisses us. So, it is here in the Mass that we are united to God in love; here that God kisses and embraces us; here that God comes to make his home in us, so that we can find our truest home, our deepest satisfaction, our most lasting joy with him and in him.
So, no matter how far from our families we may be, or how bewildered and alone we might become, or how distant we think we’ve gone from God, here, in the Church, in this Chaplaincy community is our home. Right here, in the Eucharist. And all it takes to get home is for you, me, to say: “Amen. Yes. I will arise and go to my Father”. So, even though many of you have just arrived, the fact that you’re here means that I can say to each of you: “Welcome home”! And there are many more who are not here yet, so go and help bring them home!