The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 21, 2023 - 5:33:57

Gaudete Sunday by the Waters of Babylon

Devra Torres, Dec 16, 2012

Sometimes a piece of writing seems all set to go.  You’ve wrestled it into shape: you’re not altogether satisfied, but it’s probably good enough, and anyway, the deadline is here.

But you keep sensing the very inconvenient need to file it away, start again from scratch, and address something else altogether.

That happened when our friend, Peter, died—I realized how pointless it was to try to write anything but a tribute to him.   Something similar happened today.

Here it is, Gaudete Sunday.  That means we’re commanded to rejoice.  Not just encouraged, but commanded (gaudete: plural imperative). 

That seems surprising, because sometimes the Good News is presented in a deformed state, and you’d think God wanted us continually guilt-racked and gloomy.

In fact, though Lent lasts forty days, Easter lasts fifty.  Even Lent is relieved by Laetare Sunday

just as, today, Gaudete Sunday breaks in upon the (theoretically) sober season of Advent.

And fifty-two times a year, each Sunday, we get a “little Easter.”

Maybe it’s our Puritan heritage

 that makes Americans forget to focus on the feasts.  You’d never hear a Puritan say, as the Spanish do, “For every day a saint; for every saint, a pastry.”

 Maybe, too, it’s just a universal tendency to fall for the devil’s efforts to keep our eyes fixed on what’s most discouraging.

But here’s what’s prodding me to address this weird mixture of suffering and rejoicing.  Not one, not two, but three of my friends have lately received an adverse diagnosis for their unborn babies.  One miscarried early, one is in the hospital with her newborn as he recovers from the bypass operation he endured at twelve days of age, and one is undergoing induced labor today.  Her little girl has anencephaly. 

And then all those little children were gunned down in Connecticut.

Rejoice?  We’re like the exiled children of Israel, by the waters of Babylon,

 asking, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

It’s all the more mysterious because at least in the Psalm it’s the captors, the tormentors, urging the exiles to sing in the midst of their captivity.  Here it’s God Himself who requires us to rejoice.

I keep thinking there’s been some misunderstanding—that maybe, when Pope Benedict declared a Year of Faith,

God misheard it as a Year to Test Their Faith. But I don't really think this year is so unusual.  All over the world, millions of people live with poverty and disease unimaginable to suburbanites like me.

We’re wired to want to understand why these things happen,though.  In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, philosopher and Holocaust survivor,

addresses this universal need.  If we can discern a meaning behind the suffering, we can endure even a death camp.  We need meaning, literally, as we need air and food and water.

But our understanding of the mystery of evil has its limits.  As I tell my own young children, our minds are just too little for some things to fit in them.  That’s pretty much what God told Job.

 It’s not that there is no meaning, or no hope of understanding it a little better, even in this life.  But, as Msgr. Charles Pope points out in “Where is God At Times like These?”

it’s best not to be glib, pretending we have a pat answer--even to ourselves, and especially not to a challenger, or a seeker, who doesn't share our faith. 

We have partial answers.  Some of these are ably sketched by Msgr. Pope in the article linked above. For instance:

How is that better?  What sense does that make?  I'm not sure. It doesn't fit in my mind.  I know He loves us, and I know He knows what He's doing.  

He's not like some human writer who figures out haphazardly what she wanted to say as she goes along.    

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(For a more thorough treatment of such questions, many have found C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain and Peter Kreeft's Making Sense of Suffering helpful.)