Celebrate! – it is Laetare Sunday, that oasis in the midst of Lent – reminding us that there is reason to celebrate even in the desert, even in the midst of Lent, even in the midst of other sorrows. O be joyful Jerusalem! Rejoice, Jerusalem! , that is where the Latin word laetare comes from. We are on the way to Easter, that is where our path leads– do we follow it – or do we create the path as we walk? – either way, the light that beckons us – is Easter – the path leads to Easter as it does every year, count on it.
Meanwhile, as Benedictines–Oblates and Sisters-we recall that Benedict exhorts us to strive to make our lives a continuous Lent, and that the chapter on Lent is actually the most joyful of the entire Rule! The Lent that Benedict calls for centers on the concept and the practice of purity of heart. Purity. From Old English, Lent refers to the lengthening days that we are now experiencing, whose light leads us into Spring and rebirth, to new life. Light.
And this morning, even in the midst of that promised joy, some of us have heavy hearts that we struggle to or are not even bothering to purify our hearts, maybe due to the high school’s closing, maybe due to agonizing sorrow on the death or illness of family or a friend, maybe due to fears around instability of housing, employment, or finances, maybe due to addiction, broken relationships, or negative thinking. Nevertheless, joy is possible. We each have stories of times and people where we saw God’s grace shine brightly in an individual’s response to adversity and suffering. In those times we see that it is possible, that it is True, that God Is. We see God at work right before our eyes. I know many of you have stories like this. Maybe you will take time to share some of those stories with each other later today, on Laetare Sunday.
It is that same Spirit, Spirit of Life, the Holy Spirit that inspires the responsorial psalm this morning, the praise of an artist in utter misery and despair who despite his or her lament, cannot help but to sing out in praise. This song of home, that remembering and longing for home, leads us into today’s readings and their images of home – God’s home and ours, of growing in the light, of healing in the light, of healing the home - these are themes that stand out for me in today’s readings. Maybe I notice them because the monastery home, hospitality, and healing are all Benedictine principles. Possibly because I recently began a work schedule that means I am not home very much. At any rate, reading and reflecting on some of the images of the readings, I see the front door of my parent’s home. When you are standing inside, in the entrance hall facing the front door, on the right is an embroidered sampler that shows a house with a carriage pulling up in front and the message that The way to a friend’s house is never long. On the left, is an old colored lithograph print in a carved wooden frame, you know the one-it shows Jesus standing outside a cottage door, holding a lamp in one hand and getting ready to knock with the other. These pieces of human handiwork speak of hospitality and connection-human and divine. Just as Jesus and salvation are God’s gifts to us, we are called to be gift to each other.
That expression, gift of God, always speaks to me in a special way: My mother’s name is Dorothea, which apparently in ancient Greek, means gift of God. This is what she used to tell me and my sisters during our teen-age years when sometimes we were less appreciative of her than we should have been. Dorothea, that means gift of God, that is what I am to you. You can call me G.G. for short. This was an effective tactic she used because it would throw our adolescent opposition into confusion. I mean, it is her name, how could we argue with that? Of course, now, we do recognize her as a gift of God. Next time you see her, you can call her G.G., she will know what you mean.
This gift from God that St Paul famously writes of in Ephesians is grace, the grace to believe - amazing grace. Here Paul tells us that the grace to believe, that salvation, is a gift, freely given. And just so, our brother Jesus tells us elsewhere, that as we were feely given, we are to give in return. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul helps us understand that we do not earn that grace, that salvation, by things we do. It is something we believe deeply, and in that belief, we are healed and we become a source of healing for others. Then, living from that place of graced faith, we do indeed act. From that place, we do not threaten, we do not insinuate, we do not spread fear. We become home. Home, knowing we are saved, believing in the Christ, we become home for one another. Paul says that we are God’s work, God’s handiwork, God’s creation, God’s artwork. Our home, Paul says arethe good works God gives us to do; he writes that we are to live in those works. Benedict, early on in the Rule, sets out the tools for good works, he portrays us as craftswomen and men, participating in God’s creative work. In these passages, for Benedict, the monastery is the workshop; for Paul, the good works themselves are our home, given to us by God to live in them and through them. As Benedictines and as Christians, our home is not a roof, it’s a way of life. So out from under whatever darkness or sorrow that tries to cast a shadow on your joys today, celebrate our way of life. Celebrate by sharing stories of faith, celebrate by being good to someone else, celebrate by taking time to read Chapter 4 of the Rule quietly with Christ. The homeland, Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, is wherever we are present, actively seeking God. Let us become God’s gift of home to each other today.