“Rejoice, Jerusalem! All you who love her! Be joyful, all who were in mourning!” (Isaiah 66:10)
During the fourth week of Lent, the Church brings us this reading from the prophet Isaiah inviting us to rejoice! Rejoice? In Lent? Blasphemy! Lent is supposed to be hard, and penitential, and serious, and … hard!
The other day someone asked me how Lent was going for me, and I told them it’s been difficult, not because of my Lenten practices, but because for so long, I’ve equated Lent with misery and penance. But this year just didn’t seem that hard, which led me to think it wouldn’t be that fruitful.
Somewhere along my faith journey it got put in my head that the harder something is, the better and holier it is. That the more miserable a fast or penance makes me, the more fruit it will bear. But not only was I way wrong, I learned that way of thinking that snuck into my brain is actually a heresy in the Church called
! Yikes! Why? Because it fails to acknowledge God’s grace and mercy for each and every person.
This call to rejoice comes at the half-way point with its pretty rose-colored vestments to remind us of the joy that is waiting for us on Easter Sunday. But what if its more than just a nice encouraging pat on the back to keep pressing on? What if there’s an invitation somewhere in there to seek joy in the midst of our sacrifices?
Even our good ol’ pal St. Paul tells us “God loves a cheerful giver”
(2 COR 9:7)
Sometimes, I’m not so bad at giving something up or parting with some of my comforts, but it's the “with joy” part that gets me. I’m lucky if I make it to the stage of acceptance when giving something up, but now you want me to be “cheerful” about it? That doesn’t make any sense! How can I be joyful while giving up something I love?
As I wrestle with this question there is only one thing that resonates in me: God cannot be outdone in generosity. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t give with the mindset of what we’ll get in return, but God’s economy is not like ours. His return on investment is crazy. When we give freely, he gives back a hundredfold and then some.
So why joy? Why joy during this penitential time? During this no-flowers-on-the-altar, no meat-on-Fridays, no-singing-Alleluia time?
Because whatever we’ve sacrificed, whatever we’ve given up, he gives us himself.
I give up a few shows on Netflix, and I get the Creator of the sun and the moon.
I give up a few items of clothing, and I get Beauty Himself.
I give up some pieces of chocolate, and I get the Bread of Life.
I told you, that rate of return is wack! Whatever I give up, Jesus is better.
I promise, whatever you’ve given up this Lent is incomparable to what you’re already getting, and will continue to get, in return, and that’s a reason to rejoice.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice! “