4th Sunday of Lent 2015:
Today is often called Laetare Sunday. Laetare Sunday is one of the 2 Sundays during the Church year where we don pink, or if you prefer Rose, colored vestments. We do so as a way to mark the fact that while we are still in Lent, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The word Laetare comes from the entrance antiphon from today’s Mass: Rejoice Jerusalem. So even though we are in the midst of a penitential season, a season that began with the somber reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return, the Church is reminding us to be joyful. Remember that joy is not the same thing as bubbly enthusiasm. Rather, joy is the peace of heart that comes from a relationship with Christ our Savior. Joy comes from faith in the gospel.
So, in a way, Laetare Sunday is meant to be a bit of a pick-me-up. I don’t know about you, but I’m sort of getting tired of Lent by now. I wish I could have some sweets! I miss singing the A word during Mass. I’m about ready to be done with all this Penance. This Laetare Sunday is the Church’s way of saying that Lent can be long and hard, but that we practice penance as a way to prepare ourselves to celebrate the joys of Easter. It is a time to purify our intentions, to regroup and refocus our penance for the final push to Easter, when we will renew our baptism. If we have lost our enthusiasm for penance today is a day to regain it.
Today we are continuing our exploration of the baptismal promises. For the last three weeks have been thinking about rejecting Satan and his works and promises. For the next three weeks we will look at the other side: proclaiming faith. I think this is an important thing for us to do, because it shouldn’t always be gloomy Catholicism. I know that some people think that the Catholic Church is just against a whole bunch of stuff, or that all we do is point out what is a sin. But, that is certainly not how I see our Catholic faith. While we need to reject Satan, it is ever so much more important to grow in our faith.
Do you believe in God the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth? Do you believe in God? I think most people, at the end of the day, believe there is a higher power. I think most people probably believe there is something more than just what we see. But, who is God? As Christians we understand God because his Son Jesus told us about him. We believe that God is almighty, creator of heaven and earth. But, we also believe he is our Father. This is a unique perspective, not shared by everyone. God is not only the maker and the creator, but he is our loving Father.
Today’s gospel is one of those places where this is revealed to us: John 3:16 God so loved the world that he sent his beloved Son. And one of my personal favorites: John 3:17 Jesus did not come to condemn but to save. These two passages form, in many ways, the very heart of the gospel. Jesus came to tell us that God is not some distant master, or some cosmic energy. Rather, God loves the world and he sent Jesus here to save the world, to save each one of us. This is truly a remarkable and groundbreaking belief: God loves us and sent Jesus to save us. Hopefully this moves our hearts with love for God.
But there is one important feature to today’s gospel we cannot neglect. Sure, John 3:16 and John 3:17 tells us that God is our loving Father, but listen again to how this love makes itself known: Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the son of man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. Love is manifested in the cross. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus not to condemn but to save, but this love comes to us precisely in the suffering and death of Jesus.
This gets me back to the season of Lent. Lent is a time of struggle, a time of purification, a time of penance. Lent is a time of sacrifice, of self-denial, of almsgiving. Lent is a time to enter into the sufferings of Christ. And, it is precisely through our suffering, our penance and self-denial, that we enter into the suffering of Christ, and in this way we are prepared to enter into the great Joy of Christ at Easter. Our penance helps us to purify our hearts so we can renew the promises of our baptism.
In our own lives we live out the paschal mystery, namely that God loves the world, he sends Jesus to save us, Jesus shows this love on the Cross, which leads to the resurrection, which fills the world with Joy. Love leads to joy, but it gets there by way of the cross. Hopefully we start with love of God, and we want to get to the Joy of the resurrection. But we too get there through suffering, we too get there through the cross. Our love for God will lead to the joy of Easter, but only by going through this season of Lent, which is how a season of penance is lived as a season of Joy. We are getting close to Easter, no wonder the church reminds us to rejoice.