“The Lord has made promises. Our joy comes from believing He is faithful.”

This Sunday is Laetare Sunday, that small breath of celebration in the middle of Lent. We are halfway through the season, and it is time to take stock of where we are, what might need additional purifying, and how we can continue to follow Christ through the desert.

The name of the Sunday comes from the opening words of the introit for Mass: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her…”  Today, just like on Gaudete Sunday, Laetare’s companion during Advent, the Church commands us to rejoice.  

This time last year, most of us experienced our very first Sunday without public Mass. Perhaps in that moment, it was a hard command to understand, much less obey. We were confused and anxious. Things were changing rapidly around us, so quickly it was difficult to absorb and react. One day, everything seemed normal; the next, business were closing and people were fleeing inside. Perhaps few of us expected public Mass would be suspended in our lifetime. And the very first words we hear from live-streamed or television Mass was: “Rejoice!”?

How was I supposed to rejoice at such a time?

What is true joy? Is it a feeling? Or is it a gift given to those who ask? True joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, given to those who are docile and living the gifts of the Spirit. Paradoxically, it is found not in the absence of suffering, but in the middle of it: by picking up our Cross and living in the present moment. We can only experience true joy if we consciously decide to live not for ourselves, but for Him. I have joy not because my life is easy, but because it is lived for Him. He has come to save me, and I believe He is faithful to that promise. That promise, however, is not one free from pain. Our Savior has come, but not without cost.

The Introit and command to rejoice comes from the sixty-sixth chapter of Isaiah. While there’s some modern disagreement about the authorship of Isaiah, we know that Isaiah is not speaking these words at a peaceful, idyllic time in the history of the Chosen People. Isaiah is prophesying to a people who are going to be chastised by Assyria and later Babylon. They will be taken into captivity and exiled far from Jerusalem. His message of rejoicing does not come to a people who feel like rejoicing; rather, it is a promise that better days are ahead. Rejoice not because life is easy now, but because the Lord has made promises. And we believe him.

As we see in Advent, Isaiah is a book full of expectation and eschatology. He’s announcing a new kingdom, a new creation, a new covenant. He is warning the Chosen People of suffering, but also giving them hope in the future promises of the Lord. Isaiah’s prophecies are fulfilled both by the coming of our Savior and our ultimate vocation: heaven. He is prophesying both the time we are living in right now, but also the one for which we are longing.

The Lord has made promises. Our joy comes from believing He is faithful. Even in the suffering, even in the confusion, even in the darkness. Our Lord is faithful.

We aren’t rejoicing in the midst of Lent because life is easy and suffering-free. We are rejoicing with our eyes focused on the promises – those already fulfilled and those yet to be fulfilled. The second reading reminds us that we have been given the greatest gift of all:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Do we live our lives as if this is true?  This is why we rejoice. And this is why we continue to press on through Lent. We are halfway through. Rejoice, knowing that our Savior has come: not to condemn, but to die for us and with us. Are we ready to pick up our cross and follow Him? That is where we will find joy.

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