March 14 is traditionally called Laetare Sunday because the opening word of the entrance chant in Latin is "Laetare", which means "Rejoice!"
Really? During Lent? Only two weeks away from Palm Sunday?
Yes, really. The Church's liturgical calendar on both the Second and Fourth Sundays of Lent urges us to look up! Take your eyes off your feet, growing sore and weary on that desert road. Discouragement is one of the traps the Enemy sets on our Lenten way because it turns all our attention to ourselves (cf. Psalm 140:5-6; Psalm 142:4), Look instead at Jesus on that same road to Jerusalem so long ago, no doubt encountering the same snares. He kept his eyes on his destination and drew from it the determination to keep going. He was headed toward his death, and he knew it. But that death was only the last narrow gate through which he would pass to reach his final destination: the Resurrection. On Lent's Second Sunday, we caught sight of the fire of Easter already burning in the transfigured Christ. On the Fourth Sunday, we hear the greatest argument against discouragement ever written: "...God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (John 3:16). Rejoice indeed!
Not too long ago--and I'm sorry I can't remember exactly what day that was--we read "“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Luke 6:37-38). The blog entry entitled "The Work of Lent" (February 16, 2021) considered some of the tools St. Benedict recommends for clearing away the thorns that prevent God's word from taking root and flourishing in our lives. Today, we look again at clearing space in our hearts, this time by uprooting the really bad habit of sitting down by the roadside to contemplate all our grievances against others. We can't keep Jesus in sight on that Jerusalem road if we do that. But it can be so much more comfortable, can't it, in this season of penance and conversion to catalogue everyone else's faults while ignoring our own?
Instead, says the Gospel, take that Lenten pruning hook to this particular thorn bush. Clear out all those criticisms of everyone else, be they people you know (even people you love?) or all those people you don't know but whose faults you find readily catalogued on in the news or on the web. Are the flaws of the British royal family or of American politicians really worth the cost of the time and energy you could otherwise have spent on your own Lenten work of conversion? When you remove all those faces from your personal rogues' gallery, you may be amazed at how much inner space you've freed up.
But Jesus warns of the danger of empty space recently vacated by your personal demons. They'll be back, he says, with all their destructive families and friends (Luke 11:25). Instead, open all your inner doors to the Holy Spirit, the breath of God's creative love bearing a new set of vocabulary into whatever dark corners you've opened up. It's an invitation God never refuses. Oh, and don't get preoccupied with another catalogue, this one of all the judgemental habits you've now become ashamed of. That's another trick to make you sit down again and focus on yourself and fill up with guilt, shame and remorse.
No, Jesus says that all the space you've made by clearing away your grudges is space God will fill with the Spirit, that love that impels God's never-ending work of redemption. And one of fruits of the Spirit's presence, says St. Paul in Galatians 5:22, is joy!
So, make space! Laetare! Rejoice! The risen Christ is already breaking through, even here and now two weeks away from Holy Week.
Copyright 2021 Abbey of St. Walburga