18 Mar – Memorial for St. Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop and doctor
Cyril (315-386) was raised a Christian in Jerusalem. He was well-educated, especially in religion. He was ordained a priest by St. Maximus, and was a great instructor of catechumens. His instructions are still source documents for the Church’s early teachings. He became Bishop of Jerusalem in 348. He was exiled three times by the Arians, usually on some trumped up charge like selling church furniture, but actually on theological grounds. He attended the Council of Seleucia in 359, and the Council of Constantinople in 381. He is a Greek Father of the Church, and a Doctor of the Church.
With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture,
the flock that is your heritage,
living confined in a forest
with meadow land all around.
Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of Egypt
grant us to see wonders.
What god can compare with you: taking fault away,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
tread down our faults,
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Grant Jacob your faithfulness,
and Abraham your mercy,
as you swore to our fathers
from the days of long ago.
The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:
‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.
‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”
‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’
“… all I have is yours”
The story of the Prodigal Son is a well-known parable and is always shared and reflected upon. Many of us identify so much with the younger son and with his repentance, turning back to his father after a long period of debauchery and licentiousness.
We read about the father’s love for his son, who upon hearing of the latter’s return, ordered his servants to slaughter the calf in celebration.
In recent years, however, the story of the elder son has been foremost on my mind. It is in his story that has really given me a better understanding of God’s kingdom.
I imagined myself in his position, working hard for his father. In my mind, in a similar situation, I would have thought that I would stand to inherit everything, especially after how my younger brother had demanded for, and received, his share of the inheritance. Whatever I work hard for would ultimately be for myself!
I can commiserate with him when he then saw his brother receive the kind of treatment he did upon his return. All his work and dedication had been for nothing, and he must have felt less important than his brother.
And yet, when we reflect on this passage, we understand when we remember that God’s grace is given and not earned. In the older son’s story, he had earned and deserved his position. It wasn’t fair that his brother could still come back to a good life! On the other hand, God’s grace is a gift that no amount of ‘work’ on our part gives us a right to!
I teach Catechism to primary school level children and even at such a young age, they express the view that they cannot sin, so that they can go to heaven. These children consistently share the view that we need to always work hard (either doing good or not doing bad) in order to earn the right to heaven. This is ‘elder son’ thinking!
We need to remember that our place in heaven is assured and that while we still need to do good, this desire should stem from God’s love in us and not the desire to earn something out of it. Thank goodness for this, for if a meritocracy-based approach were applied, so many of us would fail miserably!
(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)
Prayer – Father, help us to always remember that your love for us is infinite and that our place in heaven is a gift given by you. Help us to do good because of your love for us, and that no matter what we do, we could never hope to earn our place by your side.
Thanksgiving – Thank You Father God, for loving us and for sending your son Jesus to die for our sins and to be a bridge back to you.