The Church provides us with three preparatory Sundays before the beginning of Great Lent.  Each of these Sundays offer the spiritual tools necessary to begin our journey through the Lenten Season.  Our first Sunday shows us the way to combine the zeal of the Pharisee and the humility of the publican.  The gospel teaches us that we need to temper our zeal with humility-to dedicate ourfelves to Christ and His Church without boasting or bragging while reminding ourselves of how often we have fallen short through humility and forgiveness.  The prayer of the Publican, "Have mercy on me a sinner" is a shortened version of the Jesus Prayer, "O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner."  We ought to memorize this prayer and use it as a weapon against evil thoughts, unkind words, and foolish actions.  

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The Sunday of the Prodigal Son demonstrates how far we can fall, and through God's compassionate love for us, bring ourselves out of the mire of sinfulness and return back to the loving embrace of God the Father.  We must constantly remind ourselves that with open dialogue with our Lord, we can come to our senses and find the path back to His Love which endures forever. And today, the Sunday of the Last Judgment reinforces the ultimate test of any Christian as our Lord spells out the works of faith:  feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned.  It is not our job to question why a person has fallen on hard times, is without a home, in need of shelter, or in prison.  We are not judge nor jury-we are fellow travelers along the path to salvation, and along that path, we will encounter many in need.  How we treat others will reflect on how we are judged at the Awesome Judgment Seat of Christ.  

So in one week, we begin our journey that will take us down some familiar roads and lead us to place we did not expect to visit.  As we prepare for that trip, let us pack our kits with the necessary tools to ensure a safe, enjoyable, and God-pleasing journey.  Our final destination, the empty tomb on Pascha Morning-Easter Sunday, will provide us with the greatest gift that any of us can expect in this world-Our Risen Lord.