Fourth Sunday of Lent

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Dear Friends,

In this letter my goal is to try and tie together the words “Amen” and “Laetare” with the story of Nicodemus.  Amen is a little word with a big meaning.  It’s a word we say at the end of every prayer and it’s a word that we say ten times during the Mass.  Unfortunately, because it’s a word that is so frequently expressed, we may sometimes say it without thinking about it.  

In today’s Gospel we hear of Nicodemus.  And Nicodemus was a Pharisee who at this point in his life only visits Jesus at night.  He goes back and forth between faith and doubt, between trust and mistrust, and between courage and fear.  Now Nicodemus has a little bit of faith in Jesus, but it was at best a beginning and an immature belief.  That’s why he only shows up under the cover of darkness.  He doesn’t want anyone to see him with Jesus.  He had respect for what Jesus did, for His solid teaching and impressive miracles, but Nicodemus had a very limited understanding of just who Jesus was.  He believed that God was with Jesus, but he did not yet believe that Jesus was God.  Nicodemus’ faith in Jesus was wishy-washy.  Nicodemus couldn’t give a clear and firm Amen to Jesus.    The most he could manage was “maybe.”

Only to the degree that I trust someone am I able to entrust myself to that person.  Nicodemus’ faith hadn’t yet matured to that point of total trust, so very cautiously he came to Jesus under cover of night.  The darkness of Nicodemus was not only a protection against being detected, it was also a state of mind, a condition of his soul, and a sign of his immature faith.  Now looking at scripture we see other models of faith.  And during this season of lent as we make our way to Good Friday we first look to the good thief on the cross who made a faith-filled request of Jesus.  He asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  This is faith, this is trust, this is truly an Amen.   And as we continue to look at Good Friday the greatest amen of all is that of crucified Jesus Himself.  Deserted by his disciples, rejected by the very people He tried to help, condemned to die, and moments away from death, still He trusted.  Even then He could say, “Father into your hands, I commend my Spirit.  I entrust my very self to you.”  The greatest amen. 

This little word “Amen” means certainly, truly, surely.  It means I agree, I accept, I affirm, I believe.  It is a word of total conviction and commitment.  It is a word of trust, a trust that enables me to give myself to the Divine.  We can see why “Amen” is the language of prayer and faith.  It says we trust, we have confidence, and we accept as true.  Later, in the Gospel of John we read that Nicodemus was able to give the great Amen.  He later supported Jesus before the chief priests and Pharisees, he helped bury Jesus, and according to tradition he was a martyr for the faith.  With his life he gave the great Amen. 

Today is Laetare Sunday and Laetare is a word that means rejoice.  And we use the color of rose to symbolize this rejoicing.  Rose-colored vestments, and rose-colored flowers are like the pale color of the horizon when the dark night just begins to brighten just as the sun begins to rise.  Rose is the color of sunrise, it’s the color of the promise of sunlight.  Just think of that pinkish hue we see in the sky as the sun begins to come up.  Spiritually speaking it’s the promise of the coming Easter, and the promise of the eternal Easter at the end of time.  And to speak of another color, the color rose eventually gives rise to the golden color of the sun, symbolizing the eternal goldness of basking in the light of our Lord

Nicodemus once lived in darkness, his amen was very weak.  With grace he moved to the Laetare dawn of his salvation, his amen became strong and committed, and now in Heaven, basking in the golden light of our Lord his amen is perfected. 

We are all familiar with Michelangelo’s iconic painting of God creating Adam.  It’s on the top of the Sistine Chapel.  God’s finger is reaching out to Adam’s finger, Heaven is reaching out to earth.  And in that space between the two fingers that’s where we find the Mass, Heaven reaching out to earth.  This is the place of Laetare rejoicing and it’s the place of the great Amen of certainly, truly, surely, and of I agree, I accept, I affirm, I bleieve.  It’s where we live in the Rose-colored sunrise of salvation looking toward to the golden light of the eternal Easter of Heaven.  This should fill us with hopeful joy. 

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley