My time in Vancouver is proving to be a challenge on the blogging front - lots of energy and time spent in other directions, quite properly. We had a wonderful day of recollection for young women yesterday; today we have (of course) the Sunday Masses and a few other things happening to boot.
So, in lieu of a 'normal' blog post, here is my homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent--Laetare Sunday--after the break. Enjoy!
Traditionally this Sunday has been known as Laetare Sunday – Rejoice Sunday – based on the first word of the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass. ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem. Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice for her, you who mourned for her.’ In the midst of Lent, which is supposed to be a serious, sober, reflective time, we have this Sunday where the invitation is to rejoice, to be glad, to take heart because of the hope of our faith.
So let’s talk about joy a little bit. Is there anyone in this Church who doesn’t really want to have any joy in their lives? Any members of the anti-joy coalition present here? Of course not. Joy, by definition, is what we want to have. We want our lives to be joy-ful, full of joy. But what is this thing, joy?
Aquinas defines ‘joy’ in rather technical terms, as ‘resting in the good’. In non-technical language, that means simply that you want something, you determine that it is a good thing, you see it, you go for it, you get it, you have it. And ahhhh… joy is yours. You crave that chocolate chip cookie, and there it is, and you take it to yourself and gobble it down. Joy! Joy is the happy ending, be it a chocolate chip cookie, marrying the man or woman of your dreams, getting the job you want, winning the lottery.
But we know, then, that there is joy that lasts, and joy that doesn’t. A chocolate chip cookie brings us joy, but not for very long, really, and too many of them in a row ends up being counter-productive, to say the least. Your dream job is a great thing to have, but in the end we know that it doesn’t quite satisfy our deepest longings. Marrying the one you love is a very great joy indeed, but then comes the hard work of building a life together, raising a family, living the hard but very beautiful vocation of marriage.
So there is joy that comes for a moment and passes away, joy that endures but is not perfect joy, that brings with it all sorts of challenges and difficulties, and then there is the joy of the Lord, and that is what the readings today are all about. Joy is the happy ending of life, the resting in the good, enjoying the good that is ours. God, my brothers and sisters, holds out to us a good that is so good that it truly endures to eternal life, a happy ending that has no ending, a joy that is untouched by any sorrow or shadow or imperfection.
We see in the first reading at first the very opposite of joy. Instead of the happy ending, there is tragedy—the exile to Babylon, the destruction of Jerusalem. Worse yet, it’s their own fault. They messed up, and they blew it. And who of us cannot identify with that, somehow, some point in our life? Everything goes wrong, we make terrible mistakes, perhaps fall into terrible sins, and our life falls apart. No good, no resting, no joy. But we see here in this reading that God never wants that to be the last word in anyone’s life, no matter what. God always opens the door to joy for us, and the open door of joy in our lives is mercy, forgiveness. We can make the most dreadful mistakes, our lives can be terribly blighted by all sorts of afflictions and sufferings… and God extends to us mercy.
Pope Francis has just now declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Church, starting on December 8, 2015. Mercy is the word for the Church and for the world at this time—God is merciful, and because of this there is a happy ending offered to every human being. We only have to turn to Him and ask His mercy. Mercy is given, because we need mercy, because we are sinners, but God loves us.
“He loves us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy.” The second reading tells us so. Sometimes people hear the word mercy and interpret it to mean that ‘our sins don’t matter, then’, or ‘God doesn’t care about our sins’ or ‘There is no such thing as sin, then’. But that is not what God’s word tells us. Our sins matter so much to God, it is such a big deal to God that we have broken his laws and refused to follow his ways, that He sent His Son to die for us.
‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life.’ You see, this is our joy. This is Christian joy – that Jesus has done this for us, and because He has done this for us, no matter what our lives are, what they have been, what they will be – no matter what misfortunes befall us or what terrible mistakes we might make, the door is open, and there is a glorious beautiful happy life offered to us.
So God has told has what we need to do to attain this joy that is lasting and perfect. We need to believe in Jesus Christ. And believing in Him, take the Gospel seriously, take it to heart, and live our lives according to what we read there. Loving God, and loving our neighbor. Doing what is right and good, as we have been taught to do by God, by Jesus, and by His Church, and seeking his mercy and forgiveness when we fail to do so.
This is the sure path to a joyful life—imperfect joy in this life, and perfect joy in the life to come. Happy Laetare Sunday to you all, and may we all rejoice in the mercy of God that is poured forth above all in the Eucharist we celebrate and receive in this Mass.