Laetare Sunday / 25 & 26 March 2017 / Church of St John, Agawam & Church of St Martha, Enfield
Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled (Is 66:10, 11).
Rejoice? When our nation is so divided and sick? More acutely, rejoice, when the Church in our times has been grievously wounded by scandal and decline? Rejoice, when our culture is flying headlong away from the law of God? Rejoice, when our young people become daily more disaffected and victimized by this same culture? When common sense has fallen prey to political correctness, and common discourse rendered impossible by the dictatorship of relativism? Rejoice? When the ancient use of the Mass we love so dearly is scarce and beleaguered; when ecumenism replaces perennial doctrine; when we the clergy are so often weak and forgetful of our vocations? Rejoice, when we and our loved ones so often feel the strain and disappointment of life in a fallen world? And on and on the list may go. And we are to rejoice?
How tempted we are at times to allow the prophet’s command to ring hollow and absurd.
On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten fast, Mother Church furnishes us with the Gospel about true fasting. At the Benedictus antiphon, from that same Gospel, the priests of the Church prayed: Cum ieiunatis, nolite fieri sicut hypocritae, tristes. “When you fast, do not become like the hypocrites, sad.” Or rather, grim, grave, sullen. The hypocrites—and their counterparts, the Pharisees and scribes—failed to see beyond the exterior of their religious observance. The Old Law was noble, because it was given by God; but it was misused, and its inner purpose forgotten. Note well: what was the result of this failure to understand the Law for what it was? What happened to the souls of those who fixated only on what was carnal and exterior? They became grim and sad. Christ, however, commands the opposite. Not accidentally, Isaiah, at this very hour, issues the same command: Laetare.
Do you see, dearly beloved, how we are to rejoice?—We must be unlike the hypocrites who see only what is natural; we must be like Catholics who understand what Divine Providence is about. We have, undeservedly, received what is supernatural. And what is that first supernatural truth, the first, fundamental dogma?—The Father loves his Christ.
In God, the Father eternally begets and loves the Son; and the Son eternally returns this love to the Father; the Spirit proceeds from them both. The 2nd Psalm tells us: “The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee . . . the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Or again, in the 109th Psalm: “The Lord said to my Lord: sit thou at my right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.” The Father delights in the Son; this eternal movement of love is the inner life of God—and it is this life of God which we share by Baptism; we call it sanctifying grace.
These are the most basic truths of Trinitarian theology—but they are the most sublime principles on which the Catholic faith rests. The Father loves his Son; in that Son, we are loved by the Father. Thus the source of our rejoicing. Isaiah says, “Rejoice, Jerusalem”— Jerusalem, that biblical type of the holy Church. If we heed Isaiah’s command, then we rejoice, not in mere appearances, but in unassailable supernatural truths: we rejoice, then, in the Church that is triumphantly within the nuptial love of Christ before the Father. In that Church, we are the adopted sons and daughters of the Father. And while it is true that there is so much to obscure this supernatural vision—the world, the flesh, the devil—there is nothing in truth that may obscure the love between the Father and the Son, and therefore between the Son and his Church. The Father loves his Christ; the Church is the home of our adoption in the Son. Therefore we rejoice; it is the beginning and end of our joy.
Bl Columba Marmion (1858-1932) wrote the following; his words tell of all the love and triumph of God and could only have been spoken by Catholic theology:
Christ, in order to give the Divine adoption back to us, has had to triumph over the obstacles created by sin; but these obstacles have only served to make the Divine marvels in the work of our super-natural restoration shine forth more to the eyes of the whole world: . . . . all the elect are so many trophies won by that Divine blood, and that is why they are like a glorious praise to Christ and to His Father: ‘unto the praise’ of His glory.