Are we there yet?

This Sunday at Mass you might notice an anomaly—pink vestments.  No, the Lenten vestments didn’t get ruined at the cleaner; the pink (technically “rose”) color means we’re halfway to Easter.

The fourth Sunday of Lent goes by the name “Laetare Sunday,” which comes from the Mass’s “indroit,” or opening antiphon, which begins “Rejoice, Jerusalem!”—in Latin, “Laetare, Jerusalem!”  We break out the rose on the third Sunday of Advent, too, when we’re over halfway to Christmas.

There’s something delightfully human in allowing ourselves a splash of rejoicing in the middle of this penitential season.  It’s sort of like stopping at the Dairy Queen for a sundae after passing the halfway point of a long road trip.  Of course, to my mind, Lent still is a joyful season, because penance can—and even should—be done with joy.  Good Friday is a day of mourning because that too is a part of the human experience, but penance does not mean sadness.

As we hear on Ash Wednesday, Jesus tells his disciples not to look gloomy and unkempt while fasting (Matt 6:16-18).  Part of the reason for this is to discourage religious hypocrisy, making a show of all our good works in order to be thought highly of by our neighbors.  I remember my dad telling me one Ash Wednesday when I was a kid that if you told people what you were giving up for Lent, you wouldn’t get any grace!  Now the principle might need a little theological refinement, but it was a pretty good way to get the point across to a kid.

There’s more than just avoiding hypocrisy at stake in not talking up our spiritual exploits; it’s important sometimes to save some things just for God.  Most couples, and even most good friends, have a number of “inside jokes,” funny moments they’ve shared that lose their kick when you have to explain them to someone else.  Moments like these can help to build up the intimacy of the relationship, and the whole point of Lent—in fact, the whole point of the spiritual life—is to grow in intimacy with God.  So sometimes it’s nice to reserve a few “inside moments” for the Lord alone.  (Doing something nice for another person without letting anyone know who did it is another way of sharing such an inside moment with God.)

In the end, all our Lenten practices are about growing closer to God, perhaps by removing obstacles to our relationship with him, perhaps by spending more time in prayer, perhaps by repairing broken relationships with his children, our neighbors.  And all this, fundamentally, is a joyful process.  In that literary classic, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the souls on their way to Purgatory sing as they approach the mountain (Purgatorio II, 46-48) because even though Purgatory means lengthy toil and pains almost as tortuous as those of the Inferno, all these are endured with one’s face turned toward God.  The penitents are joyful, and joy is the sort of thing that’s stronger than pain.

It should also be obvious by now that when I’m talking about joy, I mean something quite deeper than just happiness, which comes and goes depending on circumstances.  Joy is not so much a feeling as an orientation, a stance one takes toward life; it’s something the souls of Dante’s Purgatory have because they are slogging upward toward God.  Instead of evaporating in adversity, joy is refined and strengthened by it, which is why we embrace adversities in Lent.  Joy is the natural consequence of having met God, the reverberation in our bones of that stunning revelation that God has said YES to us.

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.



6 Responses to Are we there yet?

  1. William Atkinson says:

    Getting ready for Easter (We are a Easter people) young well educated teens and Youth in our mixed religious (catholic, protestant, Muslim, Jewish and agnostic pagan society) are becomming more and more pragmatic and practical in their theological (God Studies) rather than being systematic apologetic for our existence. So today lent become a time to prepare for spring vacation and sunday celebrating rabbits and colorful eggs and/or watching grandma to see how colorful her spring hat is going to be. One high school senior wanted to know how we justify Christ being a God, when (with Hubble telescope) we know earth to be 800 billion years old, mankind (as best we know) has existed for 7 million years, But God (Abrahamic single God and Jesus as God) concept only for 3800 years ago. Questioning all religious stuff like they are man made bunk really has become the general sense of our young folks, having real difficulty with how elders believe and have blind faith. Its not just a few isolated cases, but becoming general thought process going through our more and more secular speculative youth movements. Students today question the process of beliefs and having faith, especially our older groups having spent years and years of blind faith and beliefs. The religious historical fact that a creator God would make humans so corrupt and bad (some as evil) as to have to spend earthly lives in deep repentance for constant sinful living and hell bent to the “Inferno” has and is becoming repugnant to their daily lives. It is really hard for our well educated youth and young adults today to believe in a church who’s mainstay is fear of hell, Dante’s hell. More and more today our youth have the concept that man has made God in his(mans) image and likeness to explain the natural order of the universe and explain away the concept of good and bad; even to come into a belief that if there is a supreme power force or action, It is more a collective good and we are created to be a growing part of this goodness and greatness of the universe and mankind. A concept that god or God is the universe that creates and develops goodness and greatness as a universe kingdom going into the future and Christ understood this as he believed he was a part of his Fathers kingdom. He did not speak in his history as being a totality of creation, but rather the one who would lead his followers through his life sharing his being in his Fathers kingdom. As common said by our youth today, “the creator did not make Junk” we are not his evil creation.

  2. Qualis Rex says:

    Awesome post! Although I REALLY could have gone without the Dairy Queen reference at this particular moment, I couldn’t help but get a surge from reading it : )

    I am lucky enough to have some close “believers” in my life– two of which I work with. Before and during Lent we chat quietly about what we will or will not be doing, and HOW we are doing. It’s not a one-upmanship at all, but rather an exercise in mutual appreciation in our faith and encouragement to stay the course. And the conversations NEVER get negative, like “oh, this is killing me!” I completely understand the meaning of the gospel admonishon against being a hypocrite. But at the same time, it’s always nice to see a good example.

    As always, God bless you now and always! And keep the Latin coming : P

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Yes, I agree. There are a lot of times when it is good to talk about our spiritual lives with others — we need that kind of support ourselves, and it can help to build up the faith of others if we can share our own experiences. And, of course, we are called to evangelize, too, and that means talking about our own relationship with God… in a way that’s more about Him than about us.

  3. M. says:

    This year esp. we can anticipate the pink or the red and white with even more excitement ..

    5/1 / 11 happens to be The Octave of Easter , which as Fr.Michalenko mentions has been celebrated as very important , from Old Testament times on ( and like much else in O.T , to point to oour times too ); thus The Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday this year , also very significant and it is also the occasion of beatification of Pope John Paul 11 ( the Eve is 11 yr anniv.of canonistaion of St.Faustina !) ; it is Feast of St.Joseph , St.Thomas ( The Twin!:) Sunday also and this year , The Orthodox and we share Easter on same date – thus , 5 special occasions all on that day !

    Hope this year , almost all parishes and congregations would celebrate The Feast ..the requirements of which are simple ..and in turn , help many to have trust in our Lord , in His mercy , esp. through the sacraments of confession and communion .

    Confession , within 20 days before or after The Feast , veneration of the Image of Mercy at every Holy Mass and receieving communion ( Novena prayers for 9 days starting on Good Fri .) works of charity ..

    The ORIGINAL Image can be easily downloaded from this site -

    The many graces promised for our showing trust in His mercy may be an essential for our times when human greed and weaknesses hold many captive to many debts .

    One even can wonder if the celebration of this Feast would have prevented and ameliorated much of what The Church and congregations have been dealing with in recent years .

    The Fatherly compassioante gaze of the image may also be the antidote for the Father hunger and its related problems which is expressing more militantly in our culture now a days .

    Hope that some of the amount the philanthropists spend would be devoted for this very worthy cause and soon !

    The joy of remembering that our Lord undertook all His sufferings , in the power of The Holy Spirit , to help us also to have the trust in The Father and his love for us , esp. in moments of trial – may we all be so blessed !

  4. Sam Giunta says:

    I know the temptation to let the world know how I’m suffering at a particular time, this being especially true during Lent and being surrounded by non-Christian friends. You articulate the human desires of Lent very well, giving examples that I, as a teen, can relate to and even see mirrored in my own life. I also find a great amount of truth in the fact that we find joy in our penance, our coming back to God. It is a great feeling, knowing that God is willing to let me try again.
    I also have a question relating to the truth of this religious hypocrisy that you mention. I agree with the fact that fasting should be kept between one’s self and God, but my question arises when it comes to almsgiving. I recently read an essay by Peter Singer that contained both research and philosophy, and it said that when people see the amounts of money others were giving, those people were motivated to give more than they would have originally. This often occurred with the wealthier people in America. I think this also has to do with basic human instincts wanting to match or outdo others. Does the hypocrisy of the individual take precedence over the good of the poor?
    Thank you very much for your knowledge and insight, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  5. Jake Pugely says:

    The dairy queen reference at the beginning of the article really adds a nice touch to the opening. The point of lent isn’t to be sad or to be discouraged, it is about becoming closer to God. I agree that Penance doesn’t necessarily have to be all about sadness because the whole point of the season is to experience the dying and resurrection of Christ, not just the dying. The idea of religious hypocrisy is another important idea. Some people seem to go out of their way to seem like they are giving up something huge for lent. This may in turn cause others to give up things in a similar way but I don’t think it would be for the right reasons. If the main goal is to become closer to God, followers need to stop worrying about what their peers are doing and focus on themselves and God. It’s all about that close connection one can have with God so as to follow his direction and not others. As the author states, if it requires removing some hindrances and obstacles than by all means go forth and do such. At the end of it all, finding joy in one’s life is the key to living a successful and meaningful life. Should Lent be more about being thankful and joyful or about mourning and feeling sad?

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