Fourth Sunday of Lent: Joy in the CrossFATHER FRANCIS FERNANDEZ
Joy is essentially a Christian characteristic, and in this liturgical season the Church does not fail to remind us that it should be present at every moment of our lives.
26. Joy in the cross
26.1 Joy is compatible with mortification and pain. It is the opposite of sadness, not of penance.
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her ... we sing in the Antiphon of today's Mass: Rejoice with Jerusalem .... 1
Joy is essentially a Christian characteristic, and in this liturgical season the Church does not fail to remind us that it should be present at every moment of our lives. There is a joy proper to the hope of Advent, then the joy of Christmas itself, so lively and warm. And as the year advances there is the joy of increasing closeness to the risen Christ. But today, as we approach the end of Lent, we meditate on the joy of the Cross. It is one and the same joy as that of being united to Christ: only in him can each of us say truthfully with St Paul: He loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal 2:20). This should be the source of our greatest happiness, as well as the source of our strength and support. Should we have the misfortune to encounter sorrow, undergo suffering, experience misunderstanding, or even to fall into sin, how quickly will our thoughts turn to the One who always loves us and who, with his infinite love as God, overcomes in every trial, fills our emptiness, forgives all our sins and eagerly impels us towards a new path that is safe and joyful.2
This Sunday is traditionally called Laetare Sunday from the opening words of the Entrance Antiphon. The strictness of the Lenten liturgy is interrupted on this Sunday with words that speak to us of joy. Today, rose coloured vestments, if they are available, are permitted in place of purple,3 and the altar can be decked with flowers as on no other day in Lent.4
In this way the Church wishes to remind us that joy is perfectly compatible with mortification and pain. It is sadness and not penance which is opposed to happiness. Taking part to the utmost in this liturgical season which reaches its climax in the Passion, and hence in suffering, we realise that approaching the Cross also means that the moment of our Redemption is coming ever closer. In this way, the Church and each of her children are filled with joy: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her.
The mortifications we do during these days should not cast a shadow over our interior joy. Rather, it ought to increase it, because our Redemption is near at hand; the pouring out of love for mankind, which is the Passion, is coming and the joy of Easter will soon be upon us. We therefore feel the need to be very closely united to Our Lord, so that our lives too may reflect once more the suffering He underwent for our sakes, as well as experiencing great happiness in the attainment of the glory and joy of the Resurrection through his Passion and his Cross.
26.2 Joy has a spiritual origin, arising from a heart that loves and feels itself loved by God.
Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, Rejoice5 -- and this with a cheerfulness that is real happiness, an interior joy which cannot fail to be shown outwardly as well.
It is well known that there are different degrees of this 'joy'. Its most noble expression is the cheerfulness or 'happiness' in its strict sense, when someone at the level of his higher faculties finds satisfaction in the possession of a good which is recognised and loved. . . All the more reason then, that such a one should experience spiritual joy and happiness when his spirit enters into the possession of God who is known and loved as his supreme and immutable good.6 And Paul VI goes on to say: Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the occasions of pleasure, but finds great difficulty in giving birth to happiness. For happiness has its origin elsewhere: it is a spiritual thing. Money, comfort, hygiene, material security etc, may often not be lacking, but nevertheless, despite these advantages, boredom, suffering and sadness are frequently to be found supervening in the lives of many people.7
Christians understand these thoughts of the Pope very well. They are aware that joy and happiness stem from a heart that knows itself to be loved by God and which in its turn is madly in love with him. Moreover, it will be a heart that strives to express its love in deeds, since it knows that deeds are love -- not sweet words8 though it knows itself to be that of a sinner, goes to the source of all forgiveness, to Christ in the sacrament of Penance.
Lord, it is with great joy that we offer you the sacrifice that brings everlasting healing.9 Suffering and tribulation are inevitably and eventually the lot of everyone on this earth. But suffering of itself alone neither transforms nor purifies. It may even be the cause of rebellion and hatred. Some Christians abandon Our Lord when they meet the Cross, because they seek a purely human happiness, free from pain and accompanied by material wealth.
God asks us to lose our fear of pain and tribulation and unite ourselves to him, as He waits for us on the Cross. Our soul will then be more purified, our love stronger. And we will realise that joy is inseparable from the Cross. Not only that, but we will also understand that we can never be happy if we are not united to Christ on the Cross, and that we will never know how to love if we do not at the same time love sacrifice. Those tribulations that appear to our poor human reasoning as unjust and meaningless are necessary for our personal holiness and for the salvation of many souls. Within the mystery of co-redemption, our sufferings united to those of Christ acquire an incomparable value for the entire Church and the whole of mankind. If we humbly have recourse to God, He will make us see that everything, even events and circumstances apparently least likely to do so, work together for the good of those who love him. Suffering, when seen in its true light, when it serves as a means of loving more, produces great peace and deep joy. That is why God often blesses us with the Cross.
That is how we must travel along the way of self-giving: the Cross on our shoulders, a smile on our lips and light in our hearts.10
26.3 God loves those who find joy in giving.
A Christian gives himself to God and to those around him. He makes demands on himself through mortification and in the way he faces up to difficulties. And he does all this most cheerfully, for he realises that these things lose their value if done under reluctant protest and with complaint. God loves the cheerful giver.11 We should not be surprised to find that it hurts to do mortification and penance. What matters is knowing how to set about undergoing and accepting them manfully, in the secure knowledge that they please God, who is watching us.
Happy? -- The question made me think.
Words have not yet been invented to express all that one feels -- in the heart and in the will -- when one knows himself to be a son of God.12 It is only logical that anyone who knows he is a son of God should feel such great inner happiness.
The experience that the saints have handed down to us is unanimous in this respect. It is enough to recall St Paul's confession to the Corinthians: I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed.13 And it is useful to remember that St Paul's life was in no way easy or comfortable: Five times have I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.14 Still, in spite of all this, St Paul speaks the truth when he tells us: I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed.
As Holy Week and Easter draw near, so do forgiveness, mercy, divine compassion and a superabundance of grace. A little while longer and the mystery of our salvation will be consummated. If at times we have been afraid of penance and atonement, we will be filled with courage at the thought of how short is the time involved, and how great the reward, a prize entirely disproportionate to our own little efforts. So let us cheerfully follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to Calvary, to the Cross. After all, is it not true that as soon as you cease to be afraid of the Cross, of what people call the Cross, when you set your will to accept the Will of God, then you find happiness, and all your worries, all your sufferings, physical or moral, pass away?15
Father Francisco Fernández Carvajal. "Fourth Sunday of Lent." from In Conversation with God: Meditations for Each Day of the Year vol. two Lent -- Holy Week -- Eastertide (London: Scepter Publishers, 2004): 157-162.
Reprinted with permission of Scepter Publishers.
In In Conversation with God: Meditations for Each Day of the Year, author Francis Fernandez-Carvajal makes generous use of the writings of the great saints as he brings you focused and moving meditations on themes taken from the Mass readings for that day, the liturgical season, and more. This work is rich and extensive enough to serve as your spiritual reading for a lifetime, as it helps you relate the particulars of the message of Christ to the ordinary circumstances of your day. Each volume is small enough for you to carry to Adoration or some other suitable place for meditation.
Francisco Fernández Carvajal (or Francis Fernandez), born 1938 in Granada, is a priest in the Opus Dei Prelature. He is best known for his seven volume work Hablar con Dios (In Conversation with God), which has sold over two million copies in several languages, including Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Romanian, Slovakian and Polish. It consists of over 450 meditations, one or more for every day of the year, as well as three meditations for each Sunday, corresponding to the three year cycle in the Catholic lectionary. An updated, four volume edition with over 550 meditations was completed in 2004. Father Fernandez has also had published, in English, Children of God: The Life of Spiritual Childhood Preached by Blessed Josemaria Escriva, and Lukewarmness.
Copyright © 2004 Scepter Publishers
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