Joy Undefiled | The Paradox of Lenten Joy

by Maria Grizzetti

Imagine forty days of Lenten joy.

What would the world be like if the chosen penances of Lent were centered on joy?

So much of what we choose to do in depriving ourselves of things we enjoy, in sacrifices of one kind or another, is aimed at experiencing privation. Privation, as a chosen form of purification, means severing ourselves the ordinary pleasures of life which we take so much for granted. When the six weeks of Lent come, we often choose to extract these indulgences from our daily routines.

While necessary and good in and of themselves, the purpose and significance of these privation exercises, their orientation and scope, could also be revisited through the liturgical manifestations of Lenten joy. On what is traditionally known as Laetare Sunday, the liturgy offers us a foretaste of the joy of Easter. Throughout the forty days of Lent we are given to contemplate not simply the great stories of mercy, but the personal reception of that mercy and the jubilation that results. Together, these become revealing glimpses of Lent’s purpose: the anticipation of the Exultet, of the rejoicing in the coming Easter light.

If forty days of waiting are directed to the Exultet of Easter, perhaps we can look to the jubilation of the Resurrection and have it pervade even our Lenten exercises, such that joy might purify the sacrificing anew.

A joyful disposition in our experiencing sacrifice is Lenten penitence. The cultivation of a spirit of joy is given us subliminally as a first instruction on Ash Wednesday. When we fast, we are instructed not to look gloomy, to wash our face and anoint our heads. There is both the instruction to fast and give alms, and there is as well the command to do so privately and without pretense. The reward is given by the Father who sees what is secret; the secret reward is joy.

Lenten joy is fundamentally an interior joy. Sowing this joy of heart is hard work. Paradoxically, it requires the full power of our intellect and will exerted on our frailty, weakness, doubt, and sorrow. It is the capacity of the saintly: to suffer and hope. The inextricable link between suffering and hope is so very necessary in our modern context, and in the varied experiences of life’s great disappointments. Six weeks of Lent are a momentary lapse, a reminder of the greater story of privation that is each human life.

No longer content with ordinary, temporal satisfactions, the human heart comes through numerous chasms of privation, to long for a joy that is undefiled. Unsatisfied, it sits sometimes paralyzed, at the threshold of grace, longing perhaps hopelessly, for the infusion of that light that might guide it to the promised lands of a new life. Such is the pilgrim journey, wearisome and cold, that comes at last to a joyful resting place by the streams of Zion, and there has its fill of the waters of life.

This is the joy of the woman at the well, who, an outcast both among the Jews because she was a Samaritan, and among the Samaritans because of her dissolute life, would find One who would tell her all she had done, and promise her living water. She went away rejoicing, leaving behind her water jar, the symbol of her previous life, and told them all she had heard. And they believed because of the testimony of her joy.

This joy is the joy of the prodigal son, who having squandered his father’s wealth, having in effect wished him dead by asking for his inheritance (by Judaic custom, one would not ask for an inheritance prior to the death of their father), returns to the overflowing jubilation of the very man he had cut himself off from, and finds him expectant in his rejoicing.

This is the joy of the woman caught in adultery, who hears spoken from the Savior’s lips the words of mercy ‘Neither will I condemn you.’ As one literally risen from the dead, she rises from the place of stoning to find herself face to face with the Redeemer.

This is the modern joy of so many lives fulfilled in their commitment to love more purely, to give more generously, to console more personally, to suffer more closely, to banish fear and doubt, to believe in despair, to stand apart in derision and courageously in temptation; lives that sacramentally become the incarnation of Christ’s life in the world of today.

This is the undefiled joy that comes from a first attempt at belief in that Mercy which knows no bounds. It is the joy each heart yearns for– lasting and true; complete.

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete”
-John 15.11

This interior joy is not one sided. It is met by the response of joy that awaits a heart that longs for it. ‘My joy…your joy.’ The finest robe the Father offers his ‘dead’ son is a robe of joy. Penitence and exultation meet and embrace.

And in that embrace we find Christ Himself, who waits daily, in the churches of our modern world, at the threshold of such vast disbelief and despair, and invites gently to a discovery of hope.

“Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create;
For I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight;
I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people.
No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying;
No longer shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime;
He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years, and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed.
They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant;
They shall not build houses for others to live in, or plant for others to eat.
As the years of a tree, so the years of my people; and my chosen ones shall long enjoy the produce of their hands.
They shall not toil in vain, nor beget children for sudden destruction;
For a race blessed by the LORD are they and their offspring.
Before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hearken to them.”
-Isaiah 65.7-24

There shall always be rejoicing and happiness in the things that He creates.

Our purified Lenten privations are also then enrobed in His rejoicing. They become a fragrant offering, rising heavenward; a pure sacrifice. Our hearts may gladden as we remember that sacrificing all, we will soon find All we seek.

May that Garden of Gethsemane, presently endured, become the garden of Easter jubilation.

Before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hearken to them.

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You may reach Maria Grizzetti at incarnationandmodernity@gmail.com

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