Lent is moving quickly. It’s certainly no respecter of persons or circumstances. The season rolls along whether we’re on board or not. And so, we need to be intentional in using the season to grow in our spiritual lives. We can either use this season well or let it sit and pass it by.
With these options in mind, today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Lent. This Sunday is traditionally called Laetare Sunday, which is Latin for “Rejoice Sunday.”
In light of its name, today is a quasi-festive Sunday! Among other things, the Church tempers her usual violet clothing with a subdued rose color (not to be mistaken with pink, as many priests are quick to point out). The different coloring is used in order to capture our attention and so provide us with a chance to deepen, or reboot, our Lenten observance.
Plainly put, Laetare Sunday is a Lenten half-time show, intended to refocus our spiritual energies and remind us of our call to hunger and thirst for righteousness. It’s a midway pause and reminder of our call to holiness and the fast-approaching celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What does it mean, however, to hunger and thirst for holiness? How can nurturing these dispositions of our soul help us to prepare for Easter?
God is infinitely blessed. He is Beatitude itself. And so, God’s life is one of happiness, not misery or uncertainty. He shares a consummate communion and blessing within himself. He is completely satisfied. God created us in sheer goodness so as to generously share this happiness with us.
Since we are all made in such a fashion, we are hardwired for worship, happiness, and acceptance. In our lives and in our culture, we can find a litany of apparent goods that claim to fill these desires. These desires are heightened in what is called the capax Dei, which is our capacity for transcendental realities, oftentimes called the “God hole” within us.
As much as we might try to fill this hole and pursue a false happiness in other things, we are only led to the humbling acknowledgement that we – and the world around us – are finite and imperfect, and that nothing in this world (even those things that are inherently good) can completely fulfill us.
As our world proves inadequate to satisfy our hunger and thirst for worship, happiness, and acceptance, we are led to turn to God. We realize that only in him will our hunger and thirst be satisfied.
In the Gospel reading today, we see the religious leader Nicodemus come to Jesus. He had questions for the Lord but he wished to guard his reputation and so he came at night. The Pharisee’s inquiry gives expression to his own hunger and thirst for righteousness. The Lord uses Nicodemus’ questions to lead him to an understanding of rebirth from above.
At first, the religious leader is confused by the disclosure. The Lord continues and places the spiritual rebirth within the context of God’s immense generosity, as he teaches: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.”
Jesus then describes a path of light that is opposed to darkness. This paradox is given by the Lord so that his proposed spiritual rebirth can be seen as an opportunity for enlightenment, conversion, and peace, and as a path that points to proper worship, happiness, and acceptance.
As with Nicodemus, so with all people of good will who hunger for what is right and who thirst for what is good, the Lord Jesus teaches that this spiritual rejuvenation is above us. We cannot give it to ourselves or find it completely in our world.
The act of yearning for righteousness, therefore, is a precondition for our rebirth since it points our hearts to God and to the transcendental, life-giving powers of our spiritual soul. When we nurture it, such an interior longing frees our hearts and helps them to love, hope, believe, give thanks, and make noble sacrifices.
This way of life shows us an inner logic to our yearning for happiness and acceptance. It displays the central role given to an interior craving for goodness within us.
The journey for spiritual growth, therefore, could be summarized by using the Beatitudes as a series of signposts: We move from a poverty of spirit – “Lord, I need you!” – to a sorrow over darkness and evil – “Lord, have mercy on us!” – to a meekness that calls us to find our purpose in the world – “Lord, show me my place!” – to a deep drive and desire for holiness.
The three earlier Beatitudes have ushered us along the way and now help us to see the irresistibility of divine worship, happiness, and acceptance, and to labor for its fulfillment in our own lives.
With this awareness in mind, we can celebrate our Laetare “Rejoice” Sunday as a Lenten reprieve. It can serve as a rose-filled occasion for each of us to assess where we are in our own pining for righteousness. It’s an occasion for each of us to look above, and to make resolutions to do better.