By Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
Today, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, has traditionally been called Laetare ("Rejoice") Sunday because of the strong sentiment of joy found in the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass: "Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts." (Isaiah 66:10-11)
The Church takes a break from the rigors of Lent and stresses the joyfulness of Jerusalem, the city of the followers of God. Rose vestments may be worn at Mass, symbolizing the contrast with the penitential violet of Lent.
The virtue of joy is not often associated with Lent. Instead, other spiritual qualities come to mind: patience, humility, piety, willingness to suffer, etc.
Yet, the Church today encourages us to reflect on joy, even in the middle of a penitential season. Why? What is the connection, if any, between joy and sacrifice? Are these two realities mutually exclusive?
The witness of the bruised and tortured Christ, the example of the Sorrowful Mother and the other saints, especially the martyrs, answers this final question with a resounding "no." Spiritual writers throughout the centuries have emphasized various ways in which a person might achieve union with God. All seem to agree that authentic joy--described in much spiritual literature as "the possession of some good"--results only when a person has accepted God's will in his life.
Fighting God's designs ensures that joy in a person's life will always be elusive. But embracing the divine plan brings the promise of spiritual happiness.
Often, joy is confused with an outgoing or gregarious attitude. However, joy lives much deeper and is less perceptible than a grin on a person's face. While joy is often expressed outwardly, nevertheless, its primary manifestation is internal.
As Jesus hung upon the Cross, His pain was evident. Bleeding profusely, His exterior demeanor was consonant with one who is in agony.
But, if Christ's "food" was doing His Father's will as He said to His disciples just a short time earlier (see Saint John 4:34), then Jesus must have had some sense of inner joy. His Father's plan was being accomplished! For the Son, that must have resulted in indescribable joy.
Contemporary society should take note: joy can come from suffering. For all of the modern world's attempts to evade pain and anguish, we haven't succeeded in becoming a world of joy. It seems that many try hard to escape from necessary suffering, repelling even beneficial burdens.
Of course, it's OK to avoid some pain. For instance, parents have the right and responsibility to comfort a sick child and to provide the necessary therapy to alleviate the pain. But some suffering must be accepted and borne with a greater good in mind: the glory of God and the salvation of souls, including one's own.
Indeed, Lent is a time of sadness as we look upon the suffering induced by a jealous world. However, we can witness first-hand that pain and agony need not conquer the inner spirit.
Christ has undergone pain and demonstrated its worth. When God allows one of His friends to suffer, He alone knows the value of it and the joy that can result. Conformity to Christ is the reward of those who humbly and joyfully accept His Cross.
(Slightly edited from its original appearance in the "National Catholic Register", March 10, 1991, page 4. Used with permission.)
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Our Lord Jesus Christ; Lent; Laetare Sunday; Suffering
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