Laetare Sunday 2020

Those of us unable to attend Mass or receive Holy Communion this unusual Laetare Sunday may need to dig pretty deeply to find any meaning in this experience of desolation.

In many ways, today is like Good Friday–except that on Good Friday we can still participate in the mysteries by receiving Communion.

With a great deal of help I have come up with the following provisional meaning for myself. And as so often, my best teacher is St. Therese of Lisieux.

During the last year and a half of her life, throughout her last illness, St. Therese profoundly experienced the absence of God. Instead of her clear and lively faith, in which heaven appeared as self-evident as earthly things or even more real, her world was covered in cloud and shadow. She passed through a tunnel, making more acts of faith than in the rest of her years combined, but without any sense of feeling that her faith was true.

Remarkably, she found in this experience a sympathy for atheists. And it’s here that I think this Sunday can find its meaning.

From the cross the Lord cried out Psalm 22. He said this for all of us, to those who are far off and those who are near. He wants us all near to Him, and so many in our world are not. Some of them are dying today, under very difficult circumstances. In Hopkins’ words:

“…Heart, go and bleed at a bitterer vein for the
Comfortless unconfessed of them…”

For them, at this moment, in our experience of desolation, we can intercede with something like existential reality. We can really experience a solidarity with those who cannot, or will not, believe. As Pope Benedict XVI said of St. Therese, “The Carmelite was aware that she was living this great trial for the salvation of all the atheists of the modern world, whom she called “brothers”.”

If it’s not through our fault that we cannot share in the one cup, we can still share in His, and theirs, and help make up in ourselves “whatever is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col 1:24).