Somber but Joyful

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

When one enters most Catholic churches during the Lenten Season, one is greeted with decorations that are both stark and spare. We don't use floral decorations; rather many churches will use dried branches and reeds. Some churches will fill the holy water fonts with sand rather than water. If drapes are used in the sanctuary, on the ambo, or as antependia, they are usually violet, grey or black in color. To be sure, the atmosphere is somber.

Yet the prayers that we use during our liturgies speak of the "joyful" season of Lent. So one could validly ask the question whether our decorating options speak of joy? Can we be both somber and joyful at the same time? I believe that the answer to that question is affirmative in nature.

During Lent we contemplate the reality of sin and its place in our lives. The Lenten Scriptures ask us to consider the gulf that exists between God's love for us and our response to God's love. That reality is a somber subject for even the most faithful among us. No matter how much we love God and, consequently, keep God's commandments, our love will never come close to balancing the scales. God's love for us is so much more than our love for God. We are, all of us, sinners. Try as we might, we fall short in so many ways. Indeed, this is a somber subject.

At the same time, we observe Lent by drawing closer to God in prayer, in acts of sacrifice and in concern for God's poor. The three-fold charter of Lenten practice that comes to us from the Gospel of St. Matthew urges us to pray, to deny ourselves, and to give alms during this season in order to impress upon us that without God, we are completely at the mercy of sin. That realization helps us to understand how dependent we are upon God's mercy. We go hungry to remind ourselves that only God can fill us completely. We pray more ardently to increase our faith, to solidify our hope, and to fill ourselves with the banquet of God's love. We share with the poor to remind ourselves that love for God is empty without love for one's neighbor. Following this three-fold charter, drawing closer to God, will lead us to, you guessed it, JOY. Jesus tells us that he came among us to share his joy with us and to make our joy complete. However, the only way to experience that joy is by drawing closer to God.

May your Lenten journey "complete" your joy.

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