2020 Lent IV – Rejoicing in the Silence

Postulant Ken Kubo
22 March 2020

“For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.” – Galatians 4:27

Speaking about rejoicing seems a little odd given all that’s going on in the world and in the middle of this penitential season. Yet this is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. The Latin “laetare” means “rejoice”. The introit for the day begins “Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam…” or “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you that love her…” As with the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), the joyful tone of the readings – the remembrance that the Lord provides what we need – brings a tone of celebration to the day and allows the use of flowers at the altar.  This is also called “Rose Sunday,” not because of the flowers. In medieval times, the Church would present a golden rose to Christian rulers and other dignitaries. Laetare Sunday was when the roses would be blessed; possibly to allow time for the rose to be delivered before Easter. The rose symbolizes Christ, the thorns and red tint hearkening to his Passion, and the bloom itself reminding us that “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” (Is 11:1). Some also point to the opportunity to use rose-colored vestments – possibly originally dyed purple but faded over time. As any of our clergy or altar guilds know, vestments and altar cloths are not cheap, so being able to put faded ones into use is smart. Remember that we live in an era of recycling! Laetare Sunday is also important because it marks the turning point in Lent; we are now officially closer to Easter than to Ash Wednesday, and we can thus begin to look past the Passion of Our Lord to the joy of our redemption that followed.

In one of our current seminary classes, we discussed the evolution of the monastic orders. One of my brethren students quipped that thanks to our situation, we are all on the road to being cloistered. For some, the idea of being shut up is difficult to contemplate; we have not seen such measures in Los Angeles since the riots, and they were much shorter lived than the lifespan of an epidemic. This kind of limitation on individual movement hasn’t been seen over such a long term since the days of WWII. For others, embracing the cloister and the chance to unplug from continuous bombardment of information is a potential opportunity. As the hustle and bustle of the world decreases (although here in the Valley, the freeways and stores do not seem to yet reflect enforced quietude), it gives us all the chance to use the silence to write to a friend or family member we haven’t spoken to in a while, to catch up on reading a good book (or The Good Book), and to have a conversation with that still, quiet voice that has been so hard to listen for. Remember that we are children of promise, not born into the covenant of Abraham, but part of the blessed company of all faithful people by choice. We are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem because of the redeeming sacrifice of Our Lord, not because of a birthright or any entitlement. This makes the gift we’re given even greater. It’s important not to take this for granted; as previous readings this season have touched on, we are like the dogs eating of the scraps that fall from the master’s table. We are fortunate, because the smallest part of unending love, everlasting forgiveness, and eternal life is as great as the whole – that’s actually mathematics at work, for those who are studying at home. Half of infinity is still infinity!

One of the duties of the monastic orders was to pray. In the Mass we have a bidding prayer for the state of Christ’s church. In the Litany today, we prayed for God’s blessing, protection, and aid against perils of all kinds. Monks prayed for the church and the world. The Liturgy of the Hours evolved in the monastic life to pray formally at eight specific times around the clock, although the goal was to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). While I’m not suggesting that we all take on praying the hours, I do invite us all to make space for prayer, especially in this day and age, and like the monks of old, to pray for God’s protection and aid for all those who serve the greater good in this day and age:

“For those who minister and heal, and spend themselves, their skill, their zeal; Renew their hearts with Christ-like faith, and guard them from disease and death” – John Oxenham

Understand that praying for the success of doctors and the triumph of science against the scourge we face today is not taking away from the power of faith. God gave us our intellect and our curiosity. God called men and women into the paths of medicine and research, and God inspired those who serve as first responders to place themselves between their fellows and peril. As an old story goes: A man sat on his porch in a driving rain. An emergency worker drove up in a truck and said “Get in – the river’s flooding.” “I’m okay. I’ve asked God to save me.” The water came up over his porch so the man retreated into his house. A small rescue boat came by a short time later, and a fire and rescue team member called out “Get in.” “Don’t worry about me. I’ve asked God to save me.” Soon, the man found himself on the roof of his home with swirling waters all around. A helicopter came by. “Grab onto the ladder!” “Go away. I’ve asked God to save me.” And his house collapsed and the man drowned. When he met his Maker, the man angrily demanded, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God replied, “I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter – why wouldn’t you accept my help?” So let us pray for the success of all the gifts of intellect and creativity that Our Lord has given to our doctors and scientists. Let us pray for the safety of all those on the front lines of this conflict. And let us pray for ourselves that we will accept good guidance and help when it is offered. In this time of Lent, we focus on Our Lord as the sacred victim, but He is also our strong Deliverer. Let us also be more than victims and, as we are able, to share our bounty and be the cup of comfort to suffering souls. Truly, let us rejoice, for we have more tools and knowledge than any previous time in history. Scripture reminds us that however challenging our situation, our covenant makes us rich in spirit. Let us be glad and give thanks even in these circumstances for the abundance of what we have – temporary shortages of toilet paper notwithstanding – and use our prosperity in charity and prayer to help others.

The message of this day – and truly of every Sunday – is one of joy. We know by faith that Our Saviour has released us from sorrow and sin. This does not mean that we can depend on an untroubled life. We inhabit a fallen Creation – not necessarily an evil world, but one which is separated from the full light and love of our Creator. The world presses in on us, with its share of triumphs and tragedies and, in the reality we now inhabit, the unknowns that we face every day. Our Lord promises that we will never face that world alone, whether we are out and about in it or shut up in safety, that we will be given the strength we need – just as the children of Israel were given manna in the wilderness and the five thousand were fed beginning with the charity of a single young lad. All darkness must eventually yield to dawn. For every separation or isolation, there will be joyous reunion. In J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Two Towers, the hobbit Sam Gamgee puts it this way: “It’s like in the great stories… The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.” So even in the midst of Lent, even amidst the uncertainty of our times, let us hold to the plenty that we have, let our eyes be lifted up to see Our Saviour, and let our voices and prayers and – yes – rejoicing rise from darkness to the light of our eternal Easter.

O most mighty God and merciful Father, help us humbly to accept your workings in our lives; bring us through the doubts and uncertainties forced on us by the world, strengthen us to your holy purpose, and guide our footsteps in your ways, that all that we do and all that we are may prosper and find favor in your sight, during this Lenten journey and all our days.