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4th Sunday of Lent

Charles Taker, Associate

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning: exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast” (Entrance Antiphon)

As a ten-year old boy growing up in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Charles first became acquainted with Marguerite Bourgeoys in Grade Five history class. He was intrigued by her story of adventure in what was an unknown “new” world. His curiosity was further piqued as this was also the year of her canonization. He went on to become an associate while at the University of Prince Edward Island on the Solemnity of the Annunciation in 1992. For 29 years, Charles has been engaged in the mission of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. For nearly two decades, he has led the RCIA at St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montréal, where he continues to be active in parish ministry.

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Thursday of this week, we reached mid-Lent. Liturgically, we often refer to this Fourth Sunday as Laetare Sunday from the latin icipit of the entrance antiphon. Today, the Church allows rose vestments to signify a change from the penitential purple. Like its cousin, Gaudete Sunday, on the third Sunday in Advent, we are once again, even in the middle of Lent, being invited in the entrance antiphon to rejoice and be joyful. If any of you are my friends on Facebook, you will know that I never miss an opportunity to celebrate. Regrettably, I’m not terribly penitential, though I do try awfully hard. So, to be invited, even during Lent, to a moment of rejoicing and merriment, I’m in! In fact, for the past 15 years (save last year and this current year – pandemic oblige), I have given a dinner on this particular Sunday for a group of good friends and we would have a feast worthy of the name with my best recipes and to create a sense of occasion, they were served on my finest china, silver, crystal and linen. It started as an alternative to Easter when people are often with their families and then Laetare Dinner became a tradition in its own right on the very day the Church invited us to rejoice before returning to our Lenten practises.

In former times, mid-Lent would be accompanied by a few days of relaxation from the austerity of the Lenten fast to allow Christians to catch their breath as they continued their journey towards Easter. The tradition of the mid-Lent reprieve (or Mi-carême in French) had its origins in many European countries in the Middle Ages. It came with the French to the Americas and there are vestiges of this practise still celebrated in a few locations in Quebec and Acadie; one place being the Îles-de-la-Madeleine - my home in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where my sister’s family still observe this custom; and another being in Chéticamp in Cape Breton, where there is a museum dedicated to this tradition. For those of you unfamiliar with mi-carême, the practise is not dissimilar to that of Halloween or mummering where people go door-to-door in disguise. The mi-carêmes are welcomed into a house, often doing a variety of performances that may include dancing, music, etc. The hosts must guess the visitors’ identities then offer them food and drink.

As we reflect on the various scriptural passages that the Church provides us with today, the cause of our joy becomes evident. God loves us beyond our wildest imagining. Our God is a faithful God, a God of mercy who calls us each by name out of darkness, who shapes us, who gives us free will and restores us to wholeness. Despite our flaws and failings, our God is there to save us, to redeem us, to sanctify us. The first reading from the Second Book of Chronicles reminds us that God’s love never leaves us, that God never forgets us even when the circumstances of life feel that God is very far from us. In these readings, we get a glimpse into the heart of God who is slow to anger and abounding in love. We also learn something of the compassion and patience of God.

In the first reading and the psalm, we also see one of several stories in the Hebrew scriptures of exile, longing, and restoration. In this particular case, we see that God’s people were unfaithful and taken from their own land into exile in Babylon. Yet, despite misfortunes, including exile, they still came to understand that God was with them. God loved them bringing them back to Judah, to Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple.

Many people in the world today have often experienced some form of exile, separation from home, family, or livelihood. We think specifically of the migrants who arrive at our borders, escaping unspeakable horrors in their own land only to be refused entry or treated with suspicion and perceived as a burden and threat rather than an enrichment to their host society. Yet, they hope for a better life and believe that God has a dream for them, perhaps not yet revealed. Or the hidden exiles, who as Pope Francis says in Fratelli tutti (paragraph 98), are treated as “foreign bodies in society” and he mentions specifically persons with disabilities who often “exist without belonging and without participating.” He also speaks of the elderly who, due to their disabilities, are often perceived as a burden. We are also reminded of our LBGTQ brothers and sisters who sometimes face alienation from our Church and their families just because of who God created them to be, or others who suffer racism and attacks to their dignity. And there are countless others who join them in the peripheries longing for enfranchisement. Longing is a form of suffering in that purgatorial space between exile and restoration. As Pope Francis says, nobody should be an “existential foreigner” as we all have equal dignity in the eyes of God.

The second reading tells us, “For we are what He has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” In other translations, Paul reminds the Ephesians that we are God’s work of art (or handiwork) and we were created for a purpose. And in his great mercy, God has sent his Son, not to condemn the world but to save it. Lent is about our journey to accept God’s love for us. Sometimes that is easier said than done.

Many of us live in exile, some of our own making, others imposed upon us. This past year has been one that has forced us to spend a lot of time with ourselves. I have appreciated this contemplative time. I have also had the chance to do some heavy introspection; scrutinizing my life, looking deeper at my own areas of unfreedom, places where I would like to make change. In my own case, it was quite likely triggered partially by the pandemic, and partially by the fact that this past week I celebrated the 365-day countdown to a significant birthday (my 50th for those who might be wondering – I know I appear older but despite being around a really long time, I am not that old!). I came to the conclusion that I was in a rut: spiritually, mentally, and physically. I have sat with this realization for some time now, unable to see a clear pathway forward toward restoration to wholeness. In the words of the Irish spiritual writer and mystic John O’Donohue, “We often remain exiles, left outside the rich world of the soul, simply because we are not ready. Our task is to refine our hearts and minds. There is so much blessing and beauty near us that is destined for us, and yet it cannot enter our lives because we are not ready to receive it. The handle is on the inside of the door; only we can open it. Our lack of readiness is often caused by blindness, fear, and lack of self-appreciation. When we are ready, we will be blessed.” It has just been within the last couple of weeks that I have felt that I was ready for restoration and I have mapped out for myself a very ambitious plan as I am now ready to be blessed.

Finally, allow me to conclude with a word on the Gospel for today. It sums up beautifully why we should be rejoicing. It speaks to our Lenten journey from darkness to light; a transforming encounter with the Son of God who gives us life to the full. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Without a doubt, this is one of the best-known passages of the Bible. This one sentence reaches to the very heart of God and the supreme act of love. May Jesus, the Exiled One, the great liberator who calls us to freedom and wholeness, subsume all our discontinuities, our divestments, and disenfranchisement. May this brief reprieve, combined with daylight saving time which started today, give you a foretaste of the Easter Light as you continue to the next half of your Lenten journey. Be ready to be blessed!

 

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