Laetare Sunday (2020)
by Fr. Victor Szczurek, O.Praem.
Today is traditionally called “Laetare Sunday” (Rejoice Sunday), a title taken from the opening words of the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice, Jerusalem.” As you might remember, there is another day like this in the middle of Advent, called “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” is another way to command someone in Latin to rejoice. So twice a year we have such a Sunday when we are commanded to rejoice. It is as if Holy Mother Church is telling us, “Stop your whining, and be of good cheer!”
Now, this year more than any other time someone might be inclined to say, “Is this some kind of cruel joke? Have you lost touch with reality?!” Far from it. The world has lost touch with reality and so is acting crazier and crazier each day, truly obsessed with the things of this world. Not only have we not lost touch with reality, we have touched, we even possess the very Creator of reality; and that is precisely why even today we can and ought to rejoice.
Remember that these words “Rejoice, Jerusalem” were spoken by the Prophet Isaiah, who lived around 700 BC and preached much about the future destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Israelites into Babylon. He tells God’s people to rejoice because though they have sorrow, they will again come into His house when their exile is over. In so doing, he borrows the words of Psalm 121, written years earlier and used as a sort of processional hymn.
St. Paul would say these very same words to the Philippians in a letter he wrote to them in 63 AD while in prison…under the reign of Nero! And we think we got problems! And St. Paul tells us why he was rejoicing and why we should rejoice: Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is near.
“The Lord is near” to us in several ways: on a natural level through the very existence of the world of nature; on a supernatural level through His divine indwelling in our souls from the moment of Baptism; in the seven sacraments, especially Holy Mass and the Holy Eucharist; and He is present in His heavenly kingdom which we, in a certain sense, already possess in hope, as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have gained access
by faith into His grace in which we stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Remember that this “Laetare Sunday,” this “Rejoice Sunday,” has been celebrated year after year after year, century after century. After St. Paul went to his heavenly reward, good Catholics after him sang the same words in the catacombs of Rome in the 3rd century; and then while the
Vandals were sacking all of Italy in the 5th century; and again in the 16th century while the Protestant reformers were closing churches and murdering priests and nuns; and again during the 18th and 19th centuries while the French revolutionaries and Masons were sending Catholics to
the guillotine; and again during the 20th century when from Russia to Mexico communists and Nazis were torturing Catholics; and till this day Catholics have kept on singing this “Rejoice”!
Mother Teresa, who lived most of her life in the midst of things far worse than a flu virus, could still say amidst all her trials: We have a right to be happy and peaceful. We have been created for this—we are born to be happy—and we can only find true happiness and peace when we are in love with God—there is joy in loving God…A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. And Bishop Fulton Sheen once said: There has never been in the history of the Church a saint who was not joyful: there have been many saints who were great sinners, like Augustine, but there have never been sad saints.
So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, slap the devil in the face today with a good Catholic smile—not because we’ve “lost touch with reality,” but because “the Lord is near,” much nearer than you might think. To Him, our gracious and loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be all glory and honor. I say it again, “Rejoice!”
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During this season of penance and mercy, the evil spirit, always envious of the human race, seeks to prevent us from profiting from God’s grace. His strategy is clever and manifold.
St. James admonishes the early Christians and us not to show partiality towards the rich and well-to-do over the poor amongst ourselves in the Church. He reminds us to fulfill the royal law according to the scriptures, Love your neighbor as yourself.
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