Three things that caught my eye in today’s Morning Prayer.
“The Lord delights in his people”
(antiphon, Morning Prayer, Sunday Week 1 of Lent)
God is not angry, he is not sad, he is not fed up with us, or tolerating us. The Lord delights. The word delight makes me think of the way a parent is enthralled with everything a newborn does. The baby smiles: his mother is delighted. Baby cries; still she is delighted. Baby sleeps: mother is delighted.
God love you. Not in a generic way. He delights in you. He finds you delightful. God loves you the way a mother of a newborn thinks her child is the most amazing thing in the whole world.
“Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened today, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”
Nehemiah 8: 9, 10
I am intrigued and puzzled by the final phrase: “rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.” What does it mean that rejoicing in the Lord must be my strength?
Why should I rejoice? Aren’t there plenty of reasons to be sad and to mourn? Life isn’t always happy. Does this mean we must stuff down negative feelings and put on a happy face, to put on a show of rejoicing? That might fool some people but it wouldn’t fool God and it wouldn’t make your heart whole.
So what does it mean to follow this commandment? I don’t think it’s telling people who have genuine reasons to mourn that they shouldn’t mourn. If your dad just died or your child, you have every reason to mourn. Rather, I think it’s say that we shouldn’t mourn and weep over our sins today. This is not a day of penance but a day of rejoicing that God has already extended his mercy and forgiveness to us and all we have to do is repent and accept them. The gift is there, sitting on your doorstep, all you have to do is open the door and unwrap it.
Every Sunday is a little Easter. Sunday is the day of resurrection, the day of new creation. Sundays in Lent are no exception. And it’s no accident we hear this injunction on the first Sunday of Lent.
I think of one of my favorite hymns:
On this day, the first of days,
God the Father’s Name we praise,
who, creation’s Lord and spring,
did the world from darkness bring.
On this day the eternal Son
over death his triumph won;
on this day the Spirit came
with his gifts of living flame.
Father who didst fashion man
godlike in thy loving plan,
fill us with thy love divine,
and conform our wills to thine.
Word-made-flesh, all praises to thee!
Thou from sin have set us free;
And with thee we die and rise
Unto God in sacrifice.
Holy Spirit, you impart
Gifts of love to every heart;
Give us light and grace, we pray,
Fill our hearts this holy day.
God, the blessed Three in One,
May your holy will be done;
In your word our souls are free,
As we rest this day in thee.
I love the injunction not to be sad and not to weep.Yes, this is Lent, but it’s not a season of gloom. We should be sorry for our sins, sure, but we should also rejoice in God’s love and mercy. Because as soon as we are sorry for them, they are forgiven to us. God wants to us to come close to him. He delights in us, remember?
And if you are mourning over the death of a loved one, over a family crisis, over a situation which seems to have no solution… be sure that even while you are sad over that terrible grief, it is still ok to rejoice in the Lord if you find your heart filled with joy inexplicably in the midst of your grief. But it’s also ok to not feel joyful. It’s ok to be sad or angry or whatever you’re feeling. Rejoicing in the Lord isn’t about trying to make yourself feel a certain way. It’s about acknowledging the God who delights in you and seeing the good things he is giving you even now. Rejoice because he is with you in your grief. Rejoice because he made you and loves you. Even if it feels like it couldn’t possibly get any worse and there’s no way God is with you because you are in the darkest depths, know that he is indeed in the darkest dark.
3. Finally, the antiphon for today’s Benedictus:
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil, and when he had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”
I just love that final phrase: he was hungry. He didn’t eat for forty days. ‘He was hungry’ has got to be one of the biggest understatements ever. The kids all giggled with me over it.
But it’s also so relatable. Jesus was hungry. And that hunger opened the door to temptation.
In Lent when we fast, we are putting ourselves into a place where we will be tempted. At first glance that seems a foolish thing to do. Today’s Gospel reminds me that I’m not alone in my temptations and my struggles. The God who delights in me and who wants me to rejoice, he also shared in my temptations and trials so that I wouldn’t be alone in them. And so that even in temptation I can find a way to him… even temptations can be a reminder to turn to him.
In the car on the way to Mass we talked about how Jesus responds to Satan’s temptations with words from Scripture. And I pointed out that we can do the same. When you are tempted, there is no better response than to have a verse of scripture on your tongue. It is the word of God and with his words in your mouth, you will be saved. One child despaired: But I can’t remember any. I suggested the verse that begins every hour of the divine office: God, come to my assistance, Lord, make haste to help me. And pointed out that even the name of Jesus will suffice. And I encouraged them to find their own verses to memorize and hold on to, to have handy for those trials and temptations.