Today is Laetare Sunday, or the fourth Sunday of Lent. Catholic parishes might use modest flowers today, and a bit more music to note this festive turn in Lent.
It seems that most reflections I've heard about this Sunday lean towards saying "Aren't you glad Lent is half over with? Soon you can get back to all those things you gave up!" But to me, this is missing the beauty and the point of Lent that the Church intends to give us.
I think of an experience I had several years ago as a member of the on-line Catholic infertility support group I belong to. Someone suggested that all who wished should join together in praying a 54-day rosary novena. (This was the first of many novenas the group prayed.) The idea was that for the first half we would be praying for each other for the healing we all desired, and for the gift of children. Then in the second half we would pray in thanksgiving for the graces God had given and would give.
This was the first time I ever participated in something like this, and praying the rosary every day for 54 days was a major undertaking for me. I was in a very painful stage of our infertility journey; the ache in my heart for a baby was intense and unrelenting. I did all right with the first half of the novena, pouring out my pain on my own behalf as well as for my on-line friends. But when it came time to shift to thanksgiving... ooh, that was hard. I didn't feel like I'd gotten all the pain emptied out. I didn't suddenly feel more hopeful. But the directive was to start praying in thanksgiving and gratitude for what God had given and what He would do. The directive was to make an act of faith and hope. I felt more like staying attached to the pain.
But I did it.
I didn't miraculously become pregnant during those 54 days, but some women did. And one woman who had long since given up hope of ever being able to conceive discovered at a medical exam that she was actually five months pregnant! We were all deeply encouraged at the power of praying for each other.
And I learned something about Lent.
If we live this season honestly and openly, I believe, we encounter again our intense desire for the glory of God to be revealed in us, through us, and in our world, and the utter impossibility that our own power should accomplish this. We are simple vessels. The power is the Lord's. It is His power, His initiative, and our need, our ache. Our emptiness for Him to fill. We are invited again to look at our lives, make emptiness where perhaps we have cluttered ourselves, open up the space to invite Him in.
And then, we are invited to rejoice. Not because soon we can clutter our lives again, but because in this wonderful dance, in this wonderful harmonization with the Lord, we know He will not fail to do His part! We may well fail, and we do! But He will not. We rejoice because He is coming in power. He is coming to break the bonds of death. He is coming to bring new life that we cannot now even imagine. He is coming to breathe on us, filling us with His Spirit, recreating us -- and the whole world! We are filled with anticipation and hope, not because of anything we can do to bring on the power, but because He is the one who fills the hungry with good things and raises up the lowly from the dust.
So with great joy, let's allow ourselves to experience our hunger, our lowliness, our poverty, the beauty of Nothingness. Jesus overflowingly fulfills all of our expectations, usually in ways we least expect. Let us walk on towards Jerusalem now, with the loving and longing eye of Our Lord ever on us.