Joined by parish Deacon Michael Abatemarco, Bishop O’Connell speaks to the congregation during Mass March 20 in St. William the Abbot Parish, Howell.
Joined by parish Deacon Michael Abatemarco, Bishop O’Connell speaks to the congregation during Mass March 20 in St. William the Abbot Parish, Howell.

Taking an opportunity to spend time at various parishes of the Diocese, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated Mass for the Third Sunday of Lent in St. William the Abbot Parish, Howell, and the Fourth Sunday of Lent in St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel.

On March 20 in St. William the Abbot, he spoke about the need for a personal assessment of how one’s Lenten journey is proceeding.

“We might pause to ask ourselves, ‘how am I doing? Have I made progress in my spiritual life during these past three weeks?’” he queried. “‘Have I accomplished anything to advance my relationship with God and with others?’ If you have, that’s a blessing. If you have not, it’s not too late. And if you’ve stalled, plug in the charger, get moving again.”

Pointing out the journey the Sunday Lenten Gospels have taken thus far – beginning with the temptation of Jesus in the desert, followed by the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the Bishop drove home the point of conversion exemplified in the Third Sunday’s Gospel.

“Jesus talks about the fig tree … again and again, year after year, it bore no fruit. What was the point?” he asked. “People wanted to cut it down; the gardener said, ‘wait, give it a chance.’ He gives it one more opportunity to bear fruit.

“So we have to ask ourselves today… are the fig trees of our own Christian lives bearing fruit?” Bishop O’Connell continued. “Has the time come for us to put it on the line, once and for all, as Jesus said in the Gospel? How many more chances will we get? … What are we waiting for?”

He stressed the need to make Lent mean something more, and not to waste any time making it count.

“It’s not just about going through the motions,” he said. “Lent is about being the person that God has called us to be. Lent is about believing in the possibilities, to be better, to be holier, to be converted in heart and mind by the conviction of faith.”

In St. Catharine on March 27, Bishop O’Connell focused on the Gospel’s themes of reconciliation and restoration.

The parable of the prodigal son, he pointed out, is third in a series of parables Jesus gave in response to his critics, which “invite us to consider something very important in our lives: the depth of God’s compassion, his mercy and forgiveness.”

While the Pharisees taught a scrupulous observance of the law, he said, pointing out how Jesus’ disciples did not wash before eating, Jesus responds with his approach to the law.

“When we think of the [prodigal] son, do we say, ‘how bold and audacious for him to go to his father and say “gimme everything you got before you die.”’ Didn’t indignation rise up within us?” Bishop O’Connell observed. “Having been disgraced by the younger son, the father just waits … for a change of heart. And when he sees his son coming back from a distance … all that’s important to him is that this lost son has returned.”

We can relate, he continued, to the resentment felt by the older, faithful son. However, “there’s a very important lesson in today’s Gospel: Love conquers all,” Bishop O’Connell said. “The mercy of God is there for each and every one of us. As we live our lives, as we make our mistakes, as we sin, the father is there ready with open arms to welcome us back.

“And when you think about it, especially during Lent,” he continued, “as we’re spending some time in penance … it’s very important for us to realize that God’s mercy, forgiveness and compassion and love is a source of our joy in life ... and it’s revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord, through his passion, his death and his Resurrection.”