Today the Church celebrates “Laetare Sunday,” taken from the first word of the Introit for today’s Mass. This marks one of the two times in our liturgical year in which the priest may wear rose-colored vestments (the other is “Gaudete Sunday” in Advent). The rose color of the vestments today is meant to cheer us up as we feel the length of our Lenten fast setting in during this penitential season.
The joy of Laetare Sunday – “Laetare” is the command to “Rejoice” – reminds us of the hidden kernel of wisdom in our Lenten observance. The sadness or suffering that we feel in depriving ourselves of certain created goods is only temporary. Even in this life, that sadness will give way to an abiding divine joy, if we allow God to do the work in our souls that He wishes to do. The saints are clear on this point: the more our wills are in harmony with God’s will, the happier we will be.
The whole structure of our Lenten fast presupposes that we find our true happiness only in God. For this reason, we are detaching from creatures. By removing ourselves from these usual distractions from God, we allow ourselves to feel the pain of desire. This can be scary. We ache for God at the core of our being. We do not like to admit this because it means that we will never truly be happy in this life. Even the happiest and most fulfilled person, living the holiest of lives on earth, still experiences a profound loneliness at his core which can only be filled by God in Heaven. As St. Augustine famously exclaimed to His Beloved: “You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You!”
This resting of our hearts in God is the joyful aspect of Lent. This is why we can wear rose vestments even as we are well into our penitential practices. The more we are detached from creatures and attached to God, the more we are already living the true happiness of Heaven. We can have even now, in an imperfect way, a share in what will be our perfect happiness. Because of this, the Church is commanded by her Lord to “rejoice” on this Fourth Sunday of Lent!
In our Gospel today, the Church proclaims the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 from five loaves and two fish. This miracle reminds us that our true food is Jesus Christ, Whom we eat in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus makes it possible for us to set aside the usual ways for us to satisfy the hunger of our hearts and to rely on Him as our only Bread. He is enough. This is the joy of Lent: there is need of only one thing and His Name is Jesus. Only by falling deeply in love with Jesus during this Lenten fast will we experience the true joy that He wants to give us. It is a joy that is independent of circumstances and the goods of this world, a joy that wells up in our hearts through grace, that nothing can touch or destroy except for mortal sin. We ask our Blessed Lord to feed us always with His Bread, so that we may never hunger again for anything but Him.
Yours in the Lord,
Fr. Joseph Previtali