Fourth Sunday of Lent - Lenten Day

Source: District of Asia

We think of Lent as a gloomy season: it is because we do not love God enough. The same thing has happened to our word, "sacrifice": we think of it as something painful and repulsive, something we do because it has to be done, but which we do not pretend to like; we forget the idea of a sacrificium laudis, a thing of praise and joy. It is because we do not love God enough. Who has ever found it repulsive to make sacrifices for someone he loves deeply? On the contrary, to give is precisely what love impels us to do. And we should think of Lætare Sunday, not as a brief respite from the rigors of Lent, but as a needed emphasis on the fact that it should be a time of joy. Non sicut hypocrita tristes (Be not as the hypocrites, sad): that is the worst thing, to assume a glum and suffering appearance so as to impress the onlooker; but to let ourselves in fact be saddened by such sacrifices as God asks of us, that is still very imperfect, for it means that we have not yet learnt to love because as yet we do not love to give.

Perfect Freedom as Source of Joy

The Mass of this Sunday makes all this very clear: We are the sons, the Epistle tells us, not of the bond-woman but of the free. The psalmist rejoices, in the Introit, because we are in the house of the Lord: we are free with the freedom of God's sons. Now, to be free is to be able to give (the slave has nothing to give); but to be able to give gladly, that is to be fully free. Because there are the three freedoms: you can be free of bondage to any other man, but still you may be a slave to sin; you can be free of that bondage, too, and still, as St. Paul tells us, be under the bondage of the law; but if you can learn to love God so much that your own will becomes identified in everything with His, then the law is no longer a bondage, you are free of that, too, because it has become the desire of your own heart. Et mori lucrum (To die is gain). Our Lord told His disciples that with joy He rejoiced in His coming passion, His coming sacrifice.

But how are we to acquire that perfect freedom? The power can come only from God; but we have access to that power because we are in God's house: the Lord is round about His people, as the Tract tells us; and in the Gospel story of the feeding of the multitude we have the symbol of our greatest source of power, the Eucharist-man's giving of thanks to God, God's giving of life to man. But the same Gospel suggests the essential condition, for the Sacraments are not magic. He fled again into the mountain Himself alone, because they wanted to make Him king - the kind of kingship which it was not His Father's will for Him to assume. We shall find the power to acquire perfect freedom only if we stop thinking that of ourselves we have any, only if we stop assuming a mastery we do not and cannot possess, only if first of all we try to be humble.

Joy Linked with Humility

The two things-the humility, the joy - go together. If we think of the acceptance of crosses that God sends us, or of the sacrifices we ourselves make, as something that we are doing, as of ourselves-I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all I possess-then we are going in the wrong direction; we are going away from the house of the Lord. By definition, a son receives life, receives everything, from his father; and, knowing that dependence, gives it all back again in the form of love. If we think of our fasting and our tithes as ours, then God will do as we wish; He will leave us to our own devices; austerity will become a form of self-regarding stoicism, and in the effort to live up to the plan we have set our- selves we may very well become tight-lipped and hard and gloomy. When he gave everything to God, even his clothes, St. Francis sang; because his nakedness was not a proud feat of human endurance but a liberation of spirit, a falling into the arms of God.

So, in our Lenten prayer we should try to make more real to ourselves the kingship of God, the nothingness of man. We can do nothing as of ourselves. We might begin by reflecting on our obvious inability, in practice, to give ourselves wholly to God with gladness. Some hard things we can take from Him perhaps, some sacrifices we can make; but we cannot manage to do what Francis did, what all the Saints do: we cannot put our whole lives unreservedly back into His hands, a total offering. We like to think we have made Him free of the whole house; but there are attics and cellars we hope desperately He will not trouble

Saints Found Joy and Peace in God's Arms

And from that falling short in practice we can perhaps go on to learn a deeper lesson in humility: go on to realize how it is not merely that in practice we give so little when we should give so much-five barley loaves when two hundred pennyworth would not be sufficient-but that in the last resort we cannot of ourselves give anything at all, because we have nothing at all that we have not our- selves received. We can give even the barley loaves only because they were given us to give. Jesus said: "Make the men sit down." We shall form quite a wrong picture of Lenten sacrifice if we think of it in terms of a man striding purposefully, self-assured, head thrown well 'back, towards a greater mastery, a more thorough domination, over the materials of life. We shall be far safer sitting down quietly on the grass. The great scientist, T. H. Huxley, spoke of sitting down before the facts like a child: humbly accepting the facts, accepting the truth, not trying to domineer over the facts and mould the truth. And the Saints sit down like children before the ultimate facts about God and man, about their own inability to serve God of themselves; they leave God, as St. Teresa put it, to accomplish His will in them; and so they can be free and happy and at peace in His arms, and in those arms they find the power to do all things.

Accepting God's Will Lovingly

And we, for our part, can hope to find there the power for our smaller purposes. It is not much use setting out to execute grandiose schemes of asceticism of our own choosing, if at the same time we grumble at every little trial that God sends us. The first thing we can learn, and must learn, from the attempt to cast all our cares upon Him is the ability to see His love in all that comes to us and so to accept it lovingly, and if possible gladly. The gladness, we know, would be there if only our sense of God's providence, and love of God's providence, were deeper and stronger. The essential thing, therefore, is try to make sure that we are going in the right direction, taking things in their right order: first, the deepening awareness of our total dependence on God; then, the correspondingly deep awareness of His constant care for us and the joy of being in His house; thirdly, the response which is thus called forth from us, the deepened gratitude for and love of that will in which His care is expressed at each moment as it comes; and so, finally, the ability to make of each moment a sacrifice of praise, something that we take humbly and gladly from the hands of God and, having done the best we can with it, return it to those Hands. Then, in that setting, we can hope that the sacrifices we try to make in addition to what comes to us not of our choosing, will similarly be sacrifices of praise, similarly theocentric, similarly motived and ensouled by love. And so we come back to the beginning: because, if they are indeed acts of love, they will certainly be also acts of joy.

Double Effect of True Sacrifice

But there is something more. The psalmist tells us in the Gradual: "I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: 'We shall go into the house of the Lord." And again in the Communion we sing of that Jerusalem which "is built as a city, compact together"-the city which the Urbs Jerusalem in its turn describes as built of living stones, a living family. Sacrifice has its social significance, and should in consequence have an added joy. The barley loaves give glory to God, but they also give food to the five thousand. It is no use setting out to be great ascetics, if in the process we make family life unbearable. When we are thinking of accepting gladly what each moment brings, we should pay special attention to the things that so often make us anti-social, make us fail in love for our fellow-men: the small services that are asked of us, the claims made on our own comfort or convenience or laziness, the testings of our patience, our tolerance and breadth of mind, our sympathy and understanding, our interest in other personalities, our brothers, and our refusal to be aloof and cold and bored. And when we think of the chosen mortifications, again we should think of the things that are not just hard and costly to ourselves, but are also useful and creative for our family life: going out of our way to help others, making special effort to overcome natural antipathies. For we learn to like people very often by going out of our way to do things for them-by putting an extra bridle on our own individualism, on the kind of mannerisms and habits and eccentricities which can make us a nuisance, and by sometimes giving up legitimate pursuits and pleasures of our own in order to do something for the family in which we live or the people who come our way.

Social Need of Sympathy and Kindness

"There was much grass in the place." Human society is so often an arid desert, peopled by self-absorbed phantoms. Desperately it needs the gentle rain from heaven- the human pity and sympathy and kindness-that will bring back life to the waste lands. And if we can answer the demands which Lent puts upon us in that way, then we are doing a doubly blessed thing: we are giving glory to God in heaven, but we are also bringing peace to men on earth.

But to give thus, with joy, to the human family is to increase the joy of the human family, and so, in the end, to find an increase of joy ourselves. To make our own social lives an ex- pression of love is in the end to lead others to the knowledge of love, to help to bring humanity back to that Jerusalem which is its home. Illuc enim ascenderunt tribus, tribus Domini (For thither did the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord): and we shall share in the zest of the pilgrimage, we shall share in the joy of the company we have helped to create. Every additional act of kindness, every sacrifice made for the love of the human family, is thus in the end a part of the healing of the world's sorrow, an increase of the world's joy. And we could hardly hope to offer a better expression of love to Him who was made flesh and dwelt amongst us precisely that He might share the sorrow and turn it into joy; we could hardly hope to fulfill in a better way the words of the Offertory: Laudate Dominum quia bonus Dominus: psallite nomini eius quoniam suave (Praise ye the Lord, for He is good: sing ye to His name, for He is sweet).