Laetare Sunday: Finding Joy in Suffering

By Fr. Scott Borgman
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Dear Friends, on this Sunday dedicated to Joy, our unique Catholic experience with Redemptive Suffering reminds us that our experience with the Cross reminds us that our Redemption is near. Traditionally the fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare Sunday from the opening antiphon: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her.[1] So we interrupt this Lenten Season with a Sunday dedicated to Joy. In this way the Church wishes to remind us that joy is perfectly compatible with mortification, pain and suffering. The mortifications and the pain we suffer should not cast a shadow over our interior joy. Rather, these trials ought to increase our joy.

How is your joy in this moment?

Just think of St. Paul’s confession to the Corinthians. Nothing was further from St. Paul’s daily  life than comfort and ease! Five times, the forty lashes less one. Three times beaten with rods; stoned. shipwrecked three times; a night and a day adrift at sea; frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, robbers, from his own people, from Gentiles, danger in the city, in the wilderness, at sea, from false brethren; in toil and hardship, sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.[2] Still, in spite of all this, we can say with St. Paul: I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed[3]

How do we do this?

God asks us to lose our fear of pain and tribulation and unite ourselves to him, as He waits for us on the Cross. By the end of this pandemic, our soul will be more purified, our love stronger. And we will realize the secret that joy is inseparable from the Cross. Rejoice in the Lord always: writes St Paul to the Philippians: again I say, Rejoice.[4] And this with a cheerfulness that is real, an interior joy which appears outwardly as well. I didn’t say it would be easy. I once had the chance to serve at the Canonization of Pope Paul VI, who wrote This Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the occasions of pleasure, … but finds great difficulty in giving birth to happiness. Because, happiness has its origin elsewhere: it’s a spiritual thing.[5] As Christians we know that joy and happiness grow from a heart that knows itself to be loved by God … … and which in turn is madly in love with him. Besides, it will be a heart that strives to express its love in deeds, since it knows that deeds are love —not just sweet words.[6] Although we know that we are sinners, we go often to the source of all forgiveness, to Christ in the Sacrament of Penance. As Christians, do we give ourselves to God and to those around us in a constant renewed joy? Making demands on ourselves through mortification and in the way we face up to difficulties. With a fighting spirit, close to our Lady at the foot of the Cross. The experience of the Saints is unanimous on this. If you get only one thing today, get this:

These tribulations that appear to our poor human reasoning as unjust and meaningless are necessary for our personal holiness and for the salvation of many souls.

Within the mystery of co-redemption, your sufferings united to those of Christ acquire an incomparable value for the entire Church and the whole of mankind. If we humbly have recourse to God, He will make us see that everything, even the Coronavirus, works together for the good of those who love him.[7] Redemptive Suffering is the solution; when seen in its true light, when it serves as a means of loving more, produces great peace and deep joy. That is why God often blesses us with the Cross. But you must make up your mind to follow the way of self-surrender: the Cross on your shoulders, with a smile on your lips, and a light in your soul.[8] Because Suffering and tribulation are inevitably the portion of everyone on this earth. But suffering of itself alone neither transformes nor purifies… It may even be the cause of rebellion and hatred. Many Christians abandon Our Lord when they meet the Cross, because they seek a purely human happiness, free from pain and accompanied by material things. Should we have the misfortune to encounter sorrow, undergo suffering,  experience misunderstandings, even falling into sin, how quickly will our thoughts turn to the One who always loves us and who, with his infinite love as God, overcomes in every trial, fills our emptiness, forgives all our sins and eagerly compels us towards a new inner path that is safe and joyful.[9]

As Holy Week and Easter draw near, so do forgiveness, mercy, divine compassion and a superabundance of grace. So let us cheerfully follow Jesus to Jerusalem, during these difficult times, to Calvary, to the Cross. Next to Mary… After all, is it not true that as soon as you cease to be afraid of the Cross, of what people call the Cross, when you set your will to accept the Will of God, then you find happiness, and all your worries, all your sufferings, physical or moral, pass away?10]

            So be filled with Comfort, and Rejoice with Jerusalem.

—————Endnotes—————

*Much of this text is inspired by the meditations In Conversation with God by Francisco Fernandez Carvajal, 1988

1 Is 66:10-11

2 2 Cor 11:24-27

3 2 Cor 7:4

4 Phil 4:4

5 Paul VI, Exhortation, Gaudete in Domino, 1, 9 April 1975

6 Luke 22:39

7 Romans 8:28

8 J. Escrivá, The Way of the Cross, Second Station

9 John Paul II, Address 1 March 1980


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