According to the Catholic liturgical calendar, the fourth Sunday in lent is known as laetare Sunday. Laetare is the singular imperative of the latin laetari, to rejoice. The invitation, nay command of the 4th Sunday of lent is to be joyful (the entrance antiphon for mass is Isaiah 66:10-11, which begins “Laetare, Jerusalem” (“Rejoice, O Jerusalem”).
I am reminded of the words of Father Alexander Schmemann Orthodox Christian priest, teacher, and writer, who in a journal entry (Dec 3, 1976) wrote:
“God will forgive everything except lack of joy; when we forget that God created the world and saved it; Joy is not one of the ‘components’ of Christianity; it is the tonality of Christianity that penetrates everything– faith and vision. Where there is no joy, Christianity becomes fear and therefore torture…
This world is having fun; nevertheless it is joyless because joy (different from what is called ‘fun’) can be only from God, only from on High – not only joy of salvation, but salvation as joy….”
(The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983)
The story of the father and his two sons (aka the prodigal son story), which was read at mass this past Sunday, confirms that this joy onto which we are commanded is not so much a pursuit (like ‘fun’), but a gift that we receive as we find our way into the warm, loving, and forgiving embrace of a God who tenderly welcomes us home! A very good reason indeed to ‘rejoice’!