Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Archdiocese of Regina, and all viewers,
Warm greetings in the Lord. This coming Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, marks the middle of Lent, and is traditionally called Laetare Sunday. Laetare means ‘rejoice’, and the tradition of a day of rejoicing in the middle of Lent is an old one. The opening antiphon sets the tone, drawing on passages from Isaiah and the Psalms, as it proclaims, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning…”
I was part way through preparation for this message when the news broke yesterday that restrictions on faith communities are easing up as of March 19, and we will be returning to 30% capacity, up to 150 persons, as long as all the other protective measures are kept. That is definitely cause for rejoicing. March 19th is the Feast of St Joseph, and on this Year of St Joseph, we will have additional reason to celebrate.
Tomorrow, that is Thursday March 11th, we will be marking one year of the pandemic in Saskatchewan. A vigil is be held virtually ( https://www.covidvigil.ca/ ), with the title, ‘Together in Remembrance, Together in Hope’. As society and as church, we can use a boost in terms of hope. The joy quotient was getting pretty low out there. When Lent rolled around this year, more than one person said to me, we started Lent a year ago and it’s like it’s never left. The challenges, experienced on so many levels, have left many feeling rather raw, and our communal and individual wounds and tensions have been in full display. The level of frustration and grumpiness has been higher in recent days than I can ever remember. Yesterday’s announcement means that many more people will be able to take part, in person, in Holy Week and Easter celebrations. For this we give great thanks.
But the joy and hope which Easter bring are meant to resonate at a much deeper level than the good news of easing restrictions. Even as tensions around covid start to ease, we know well that human life in general, and life in the Year of Our Lord 2021 in particular, is marked by a seemingly endless set of challenges and tensions.
Years ago I came across a quote from Pope Paul VI, from 1975, late in his papacy, when the tensions surrounding the Encyclical Humanae Vitae were in full bloom, and the Pope was being seen as indecisive and trapped. In that context, Pope Paul wrote down these words: “What is my state of mind? Am I Hamlet or Don Quixote? On the left? On the right? I don’t feel I have been properly understood. My feelings are ‘Superabundo Gaudio’, I am full of consolation, overcome with joy, throughout every tribulation.” Superabundo Gaudio, overflowing with joy. He is quoting St Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor 7:4), who was also writing in the context of significant tensions.
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, how do we find our way to that place, a place where we carry a deep internal joy despite the brokenness of our world and the stresses within ourselves? That is a very good Lenten question.
In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, we hear about Nicodemus, an influential Jewish leader who comes to Jesus at night, under the cover of darkness, searching for understanding. Nicodemus is obviously attracted by Jesus’s ministry and teachings, as he says, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” But he is also puzzled. I think we can understand him as a person who is struggling to believe. He is a helpful person for us to accompany, for many of us can relate to that struggle. Jesus speaks to him about the need to be born from above, to be born of water and Spirit. He shares with Nicodemus that he will be lifted up, foreshadowing his death on the cross, and speaks these beautiful words that we know well: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
We don’t hear how Nicodemus reacted, but we do hear of him again later, speaking in the Sanhedrin for the need for a fair trial, and then present after Jesus’ death on the cross, providing spices for the burial as was the custom.
I encourage you, and myself, let’s go to Jesus as Nicodemus did. Let us present him with our questions, our struggles, our wounds. Jesus told Nicodemus that light had come into the world, a light which exposes our darkness, and we might add, brings healing, and renewal. Jesus’ words didn’t likely answer all of Nicodemus’s questions, but the conversation led him to accompany Jesus on the road that led to his death and ultimately to his resurrection. The Lord extends that same invitation to us. He allows us to live in the tensions of the present moment, in the incompleteness of our lives, but to do so with hope. And to see things in a paschal way.
I have a poster near my desk these days which reads: “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” It takes faith and trust to see things that way when we’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or buried.
We are living in this time between Winter and Spring. Many of us have the experience that when we leave work, we now drive home in the sun. The days are getting longer. We yearn for more light, and we know it is coming. The earth is still frozen, but it is starting to give way to warmer days. That is a good Lenten metaphor. The light is coming into the world. Three weeks from now we will gather, or watch on livestream, as we light the paschal candle in the darkness and proclaim the victory of life over death. Let us trust that light and go to the Lord in order that God’s light might find its way into all the corners of our hearts and our lives that need to be touched by its healing rays.
As we listen to the splendid hymn “Now the Green Blade Riseth,” let’s pray with the help of the first and last verses:
Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
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