Today is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent, which is a day of joy in the midst of this penitential Lenten season. Similar to Gaudete Sunday in Advent, it is a day when we are encouraged to remember that even in Lent we still have the presence of the Resurrected Lord in our lives.
But maybe you are carrying your own heavy cross this Lent, and joy is difficult to find. Monsignor James P. Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismark, ND stopped by Morning Air® this week to discuss finding joy in the midst of Lent, and even in the midst of suffering.
“We’ve had a tough year in the Church, and the Holy Spirit is the Consoler,” Msgr. Shea said. “He draws near to broken hearts. God is close to the brokenhearted and in the midst of the challenge. In the difficulties of our life and in our world, God draws near to us. He reminds us of His tender care and He reminds us who we are.”
Msgr. Shea pointed out that during Lent the readings we hear at Mass clearly illustrate the relationship between God and His people. They point to His love for us and His mercy toward us, no matter how far we stray from Him.
“The story of salvation is told in a very bright and clear way during the course of the season of Lent,” he said. “And as long as we keep that story, which is the story of the romance and the friendship and the relationship between God and humanity, as long as we keep that bright before our eyes, we can navigate our lives. When that story goes dim, then we get lost. And that’s when we lose joy.”
But perhaps it isn’t just the fasting and the penance that makes joy hard to find. Perhaps you are experiencing particular suffering this Lent, and don’t feel God’s presence in your life. Msgr. Shea suggested that if you are carrying a particularly heavy cross this Lent, to remember that just as Mary was at the foot of the Cross with Jesus, she is with you as you carry your cross, too.
“Christianity isn’t about avoiding suffering,” Msgr. Shea said. “It’s not about having a trouble-free life. And God doesn’t promise that anywhere. But it’s not about having crosses that aren’t ours either. So we have to discover the cross that is for us. And the way we can discover that cross is that Mary is standing there by it.”
“The Blessed Mother helps us in this way,” he continued. “She’s a consoler too, that in the midst of our life when we have crosses and sufferings and struggles we want to reach out to her. We want to say, ‘Mary, my mother, I need you now.’ And we need to have that confidence that God is with us in the darkness.”
If you feel abandoned by God, Laetare Sunday is a day to remind you to rejoice, because even in the desert God is always there for us, inviting us to draw ever closer to Him. When it is difficult to believe that, Msgr. Shea pointed out that one of the beautiful things about the Catholic faith are the ways that the Lord makes Himself present to us in such tangible, physical ways.
“God does give us visible, tangible markers of His presence in the world, the sacraments of the Church,” Msgr. Shea said. “And so if we feel like we’ve sinned in such a way that we can’t be forgiven, the words of absolution heard with our human ears is so important, it’s so healing, because it has a tangible presence to it.”
“If we feel like God is missing, we have the Eucharist itself, which is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” he continued. “That Eucharist, that physical, true, real presence of Jesus on the altar, and then within us when we receive Communion, these indicators along the path, these bright and clear tokens and signs of God’s presence are really important for us. So especially if we’re having a challenging time, the sacraments help.”
Listen to the full conversation with Msgr. James P. Shea below: