Lectionary Readings: 2 Chron 36:14-17a, 19-23 / Ps 137 / Eph 2:4-10 / Jn 3:14-21
This Sunday, the priest will wear rose vestments for Laetare Sunday, the Sunday of Joy which marks the midpoint of Lent. However, this year’s Laetare Sunday for me, is different than most years. Yesterday, it was announced by the government of Ontario, where I live, that places of worship will be able to reopen at 15% capacity. That means that starting Monday March 15, 2021, public worship will be able to return, and Masses with the presence of the faithful will make a return just in time for the last weeks of Lent, and thankfully, in time for Holy Week.
In light of Laetare Sunday, the joyful announcement, and the Lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, year B, I wish to reflect on the theme of “joy.” I have a little cousin and she loves those Kinder Surprise eggs… you know, those chocolate eggs with a plastic capsule that has a toy inside. From what my aunt recounts, on Easter Sunday some years ago, the neighbours brought over to their house a large Kinder Surprise, the type you would see sold in supermarkets around Easter time. Having received it, her face just lit up. Being a fan of those little Kinder Surprise eggs, there is nothing more pleasing to her than a large Kinder Surprise. It was that large Kinder Surprise that brought her so much joy.
Perhaps we find a sense of joy in something that we have wanted for a some time. Maybe the newest iPhone that you have been waiting to buy, but someone gets it for you as a birthday gift, or maybe a sense of joy from being able to get tickets from a sold-out Shawn Mendes concert (that is, if those concerts will come back soon). Those things may, depending on the person bring about a sense of joy. However, those joys are only temporary. Once you consume the Kinder Surprise, it’s gone. The toy that comes from it will only entertain you at most for a couple weeks. The iPhone you received will sooner or later become something of the past. It will either break down, or many choose to upgrade. The Shawn Mendes concert, once it is over is over. You may have memories of the concert, like I do of my travels, but they are merely memories and nothing can replace the actual experience.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,” (Jn 3:16) Have you ever experienced a deeper sense of joy, maybe from a specific moment at a Catholic retreat, or maybe at Mass? Upon the reception of the sacraments? Or maybe from praying in front of a tomb of a saint, or maybe by reading the Lives of the Saints? I have certainly had those moments. The lingering flame sticks with you for a long time. The key thing though, about these spiritual experiences lead you to some sense of conversion. There are some who experience 180 degree turns, while some who have already been practicing Catholics, find themselves an urge to challenge themselves further. The fruits of what we get from these conversion lasts a lifetime and they will never leave you. But why?
The reason why spiritual experiences linger around for long is because deep within it, you have experienced the love of God. God’s love is so great that it penetrates the human heart and draws you closer to him. That in no way jeopardizes your free will. God’s love overflows, but it is our will to pick up the cup and leave it opened to accept that overflowing love.
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph 4:10) We are made for “good works,” the end of the second reading reminds us. We are destined for God, and God alone. The earthly things that we have will eventually pass away. However, our spiritual lives, our love for God and God’s love for us is eternal. It is that two way relationship between us and God that will bring us that everlasting love. That is why Carlo Acutis once said, “Sadness is the gaze turned towards oneself, happiness if the gaze turned towards God. Conversion is nothing more than lifting your gaze upwards from low to high. Just a simple movement of the eyes.” Even we just made a single movement of the eyes towards God, we are doing it out of freewill and in a sense, get a foretaste of what true joy is. The question is, do we want that everlasting joy? Or will be constantly look at ourselves, at the material things we don’t have, or the popularity that some people have? No, just “alza il tuo sguardo – raise your gaze,” fix yourself upon what is important now, to what is good, to what pertains to God. Realizing that should instill in us eventually everlasting joy. What matters most is that we become saints and be near the heart of Jesus Christ, whose love has been poured out for us when He offered Himself on the cross – that Mystery, which we will be commemorating in a short while.