The mystery of joy in the midst of suffering

By Donal Anthony Foley

We are now more than half way through Lent and this Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is a good point to assess how we have spent Lent so far.

This Sunday is also known as Laetare Sunday, since the first part of the entrance antiphon for Mass begins with the words: “Rejoice, Jerusalem,” which come from the Latin, Laetare, Jerusalem. And so this day should also have a joyful aspect amid the hardships of Lent, since we are drawing closer to Easter and the joy that comes from celebrating the Resurrection of the Lord.

There is not very much joy, though, in the early part of the first reading of the Mass, which details how God sent many prophets to the people of Israel, but in their sinfulness they ignored His messengers. As a result, they suffered the punishment inflicted upon the people of Jerusalem for their infidelity to God’s law, which resulted in the Temple being burned down and those who survived being deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.

But then the reading goes on to describe how Cyrus, the king of Persia, fulfilled the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who had prophesied that this Gentile king would proclaim that Jerusalem should, in the fullness of time, be rebuilt. And that is exactly what happened.

The second reading this Sunday is definitely more joyful. In it, St. Paul tells the Ephesians they need to recognize that God’s love is so great, He was generous with His mercy even when they were spiritually dead in their sins, so as to be brought to life with Christ – which is a type of resurrection – and He gives them and us the right to a place in heaven. Thus, St. Paul extols the infinite riches of God’s grace, which is a great divine gift, and which has saved not just them, but everyone who avails of it, to the extent that believers are described as “God’s work of art.”

The Gospel continues this theme in the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, in which the Lord tells him that, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

And so, despite Lent and any personal sufferings we may be enduring, we are also supposed to have an inner joyfulness, safe in the knowledge that Christ has saved us through his infinite mercy and promised us a place in heaven.

This promise was also given to the Fatima seers during the very first apparition, when Our Lady promised that the children would go to heaven, Jacinta and Francisco soon. And she also promised salvation to everyone who embraces the devotion to her Immaculate Heart – so there is a promise of heaven for everyone who lives out the Fatima message to the full.

This assurance of heaven was a great source of joy for the little shepherds, despite all the sufferings they had to go through. And it was not hidden from them by the Blessed Mother, for she told them in the first apparition after they gave their “yes” to bear all God asked of them, “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”

And this grace was a comfort and joy for them as Sister Lucia revealed in her memoirs. Jacinta, so entranced by the beauty of the Blessed Mother, enthusiastically exclaimed after the May apparition, “Oh what a beautiful lady!” She also expressed her joyfulness at seeing Our Lord in the light from Our Lady’s hands that engulfed them during the June apparition: “I love Our Lord so much. At times I seem to have a fire in my heart, but it does not burn me … I never get tired of telling Our Lord and Our Lady that I love them.”

Shortly before she died, Jacinta told Lucia: “If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much!”

Francisco, too, constantly expressed his desire to love and console Our Lord and Our Lady, so uplifted was his heart to heaven.

It is a mystery that the children were able to experience such joy in the midst of their sufferings – a mystery that most of us find very difficult to understand.

Lent is a part of that mystery; it encourages us to enter into the sufferings of Christ as a preparation for his Resurrection, just as the children of Fatima suffered during their lives and are now in heaven.

Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, including Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people – details can be found at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk/

 

 

 

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