The fourth Sunday of Lent is Rejoicing (Laetare) Sunday, named after the opening antiphon: “Laetare, Jerusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam.” (Rejoice, Jerusalem, and come together, all who love her).
Traditionally, this Sunday has been a day to relax the rigor of Lent and encourage one another to press forward along this strenuous walk toward Easter. The rose vestments, the joyful songs, the presence of flowers in some churches… are a visible manifestation of the joy with which the Church seeks to live this day. However, nothing in the liturgy is quite so joyous, encouraging, and uplifting as the readings. In the first reading, we hear of the arrival of the People of Israel to the promised land on the 10th of Nissan, the first month of their calendar. Exactly 40 years before, also on the 10th of Nissan, they started the preparations for the Passover feast and their departure from Egypt. Back then they were slaves, but now they are free and can finally see the promises of God fulfilled.
Similarly, in the Gospel we hear of someone who has arrived at his destination after a long way. This young man had left his father’s house in search of happiness and freedom, but found instead rather the opposite: vice, hard labour, and an utter indifference from others toward his suffering once he became poor and needy. So, he decided to return to his father’s home, and there he found the happiness and the freedom he had sought—that which only his father’s unconditional love could give. His journey brought him back to the very place he started, but internally he went a long way to a place where, in fact, he had never been before.
We, too, have a demanding and long spiritual journey, but those two experiences help distract our attention from the sacrifices and penances and set our minds and our sight rather on our destination: Easter. So, let us press on with eagerness and enthusiasm, hoping that this year’s journey may also take us to a place where we have never been before.
Fr Daniel Herrero