Saturday, April 2, 2011

Laetare Sunday: He rose, giving Himself for mercy, and we rejoice

Some years ago, now a period of more than two generations, an earthquake rattled the 2000-year-old edifice of the Church. Some called this ground-shaking experience the "spirit of Vatican II" and others called it a very risky business, involving as it did in many places the sweeping away of many traditions and customs in the Church, like a tsunami which leaves the earth bare, denuded and unrecognizable to those who once called it home.

One of the customs that some thought it necessary to eliminate was the Church's expression of joy on this day which we call Laetare, or "Rejoice", Sunday in the use of rose-colored vestments, more elaborate music and flowers in the midst of the liturgical desert of Lent, bereft as it is of Alleluias and Glorias. Often, young priests found themselves in conflict with an older generation if they wished to explore the potential of this and other customs that help to explain and to make more tangible the mysteries of our Faith. Now this custom is reappearing in many places, embraced anew by a younger generation who are joyfully discovering for themselves the riches of our holy Faith.

Thankfully, many of these generational conflicts are now a thing of the past and there is more concern about crucial issues: how to bring lapsed and alienated Catholics back into the fold through the New Evangelization, how to encourage families to use the sacraments properly, attending Mass on Sundays and celebrating confession for the forgiveness of mortal sins before reception of the Eucharist, for example. There are new movements in the Church that are very effective in promoting and safeguarding the sacrament of marriage and a plethora of orthodox programs to attract our young people to more deeply and authentically living and celebrating our Faith.

Which brings us to right here and right now. We are a people who celebrate, who have cause for rejoicing even in Lent. Every Sunday throughout the year is a little Easter and we remember this fact more powerfully today.

In only three weeks we will make this ancient cry of joy in the Church our own once again: "This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it"

"Jesus rose from the dead 'on the first day of the week.' Because it is the 'first day,' the day of Christ's Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the "eighth day" following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ's Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord's Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday: "We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead." (CCC 2174)

Some of us might be lagging a little bit in our Lenten journey of fast, abstinence and almsgiving at this point of the fourth Sunday in our forty-day observance. As with any journey, it is the goal we seek which makes all of the suffering worthwhile along the way. I recently ran in the National Marathon. I am unable to count the number of times during that often painful trek that I thought of and imagined in my mind what the finish line must look like, where my parents had promised they would be waiting for me. I did reach that goal, and the hugs I received from my mother and father were among the most beautiful I can remember in my life.

All of us have been given the Faith so that the goal of life eternal will be real and tangible for us. We touch the goal every time we receive Christ worthily and lovingly in the Eucharist, every time we fully and honestly confess our mortal sins in confession, every time we reach out in love, without judgment and with compassion, to the others that God has placed in our lives.

" 'Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.' Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, 'an upright heart', as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.
"You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. (St Augustine) (CCC 30)

Jesus rose. We remember Him in this way every Sunday, as we do today through the bright rose color which the Church wears in the midst of penitential violet in the Lenten season. He truly goes before us to show us the way and promises us a share in His life eternal which we touch and which we receive already through His holy Church in Word and sacrament.

Jesus gives Himself for mercy. He "for-gives" us each time we approach Him in sorrow, he gives Himself back to we who have rejected Him in the evil we have done through the sacrament which restores the joy of our youth and enables us to approach His holy altar, receiving Communion worthily, attentively and devoutly.

And we "re-joy", we receive in Christ once again the gift of joy because through this inestimable gift of the holy Mass we are able to give ourselves to Him in love who first gave Himself for us.

He rose, giving Himself for mercy, and we rejoice.


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