Of Contagion And Joy

Of Contagion And Joy

Laetare Sunday

“ Rejoice, you who were sad”

How can we rejoice with the news that reaches us every day of more deaths, more infections, cancelled Masses, closed borders, crashing economy, etc? Is it really possible to rejoice in this situation?

The Church’s answer is an emphatic and resounding YES! It is also a command. St Paul, whose sufferings were far beyond anything any of us would accept to go through (a partial list of them can be found in 2 Corinthians 11-12), is clear: we must rejoice, and we must always rejoice. That brings up the question: what can be the motive of such joy? If we must rejoice at all times, then there must be an abiding motive of that joy, one that does not pass. Our present experience shows only too clearly that such a motive is not to be found in health, beauty, success, prosperity, or anything the world can offer, for it is all ephemeral, it is all passing, none of it lasts. Times of epidemic are there to remind us that no, we are not made for earthly satisfactions of any kind.

What then is the fundamental reason that could give us joy at all times? There is only one, and that is to be a friend of God, to be with God, to be a part of God’s family, to have God in our hearts. St Paul in his epistle to the Philippians says that the cause of joy is that “the Lord is near”(Ph 4:4). Today’s Mass reminds us that we will soon be in His House, that house which is eternal, whose foundations are unshakable, the eternal Jerusalem to which we are called (Ps 121) and where there will be unending songs of praise and indescribable bliss.

But is our joy only in looking forward to something to come? In a way it is, for in this life there is no lasting joy without the shadow of sadness. We are here in a land of exile, we are not home yet, and even when things are at their best, we must always look forward to the mighty joy to come, when, to use an expression of Our Lord at the Last Supper, “your sorrow shall be turned into joy, and your joy no one will take from you” (Jn 16:22). That is the eternal bliss to which we are called, the hope of which should inspire us with a deep peace and a tranquil joy even in the midst of trials, including sickness and death.

But in another way, the command to rejoice binds us here and now for a very fundamental reason. Our faith teaches us that the soul which is in a state of grace has God, the Three Divine Persons, dwelling within it. God takes up His abode in the soul of one who has left sin behind and strives to live in a way that is pleasing to Him. And that is why this celebration of Laetare Sunday comes in the midst of Lent, that is, in the middle of the most penitential season of the year. Throughout Lent, our thoughts are brought back continually to our unworthiness, our failings, our sins, and the chastisements they so rightly deserve. If we spend time meditating the gravity of sin, which according the Catechism, is the worst evil in this world – : “To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1488) –, one is rightly saddened and humbled, but it is a sadness according to God which leads to penance, and penance leads back to joy. King David, after his double crime of adultery and murder, composed the Miserere (Psalm 50), that masterpiece for all ages of the path of the repentant soul which must weep for its sins, but who finds in that very repentance and in those tears, the cause of an immense joy that no one can take away: the certitude of being forgiven, and of having recovered God’s grace, God’s friendship. To be the friend of God! More, to be the son or daughter of God! Such is the great revelation of Christianity, such is the great joy we celebrate today.

But how do we have that certitude of being forgiven, of being reconciled? For this Our Lord instituted the sacrament of Penance, Confession. When we bring our sins in confession to the priest, when we come with a contrite and humble heart to place them at the feet of Jesus who is there in the priest, when we hear the priest pronounce in Jesus’ name over us the words of absolution, we know, with the certitude that only faith can give, that God dwells once again in our soul. The Blessed Trinity, whom we had chased away by our sins, once again takes up His abode, He is “at home” in our heart as St Elisabeth of the Trinity loved to say. That is the awesome motive of our joy on this day, my dear Friends.

In the present context, many find themselves unable to attend Holy Mass; Confession too may be hard to get to, but no priest can refuse the God-given duty of reconciling a sinner who has recourse to his ministry. As Holy Week approaches with the great feast of the Resurrection, let us be reminded that of all seasons of the year, this is the most holy. The real danger of contagion in many parts of the world should inspire us even more to receive the sacrament, for yes, there is danger of damnation for the soul in mortal sin, and no Catholic should ever find himself in that state. If one is unable to get to a priest, one should make a perfect act of contrition, that is, from the heart, a sincere act of repentance for the single motive of having offended God’s love, and the intention to confess as soon as it is possible. Contemplation of the crucified Saviour is the most power motive of obtaining this perfect contrition. Perhaps that is why the stational Mass today is at the Holy Cross of Jerusalem.

To Calvary now, our eyes are set. Let us now manfully climb that path, our eyes ever on the Saviour and on His Precious Blood flowing for each of us. Let His mercy be poured out upon our souls, and fill them once again with that joy of God’s salvation of which David sang, and which is infallibly given to the soul that has recovered God’s grace and loves Him with all its heart. Confess to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.