Abraham Bids Farewell to Hagar and IshmaelOctateuch, s. XII. Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, gr. 746, f. 80r
Translation of the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday of Lent:
Brethren: It is written that Abraham had two sons, one from the slave-girl the other from his free-born wife. The son of the slave-girl had been born according to the flesh, but the son of the free woman was the fruit of the promise. All this is an allegory. The two women stand for the two covenants, one of which was from Mt. Sinai (a mountain in Arabia), bringing forth children into slavery; this is Agar, and corresponds to the Jerusalem of our time, which also is in slavery along with her children. But the Jerusalem on high is freeborn, and it is she who is our mother! That is why the Scripture says, “Raise a glad cry, you barren one who did not bear; break forth in jubilant song, you who were not in labor. For more numerous are the children of the deserted wife than the children of her who has a husband.” Now you, my brothers, are children of the promise, in the manner of Isaac. But just as in those days the son born according to the flesh persecuted the one born according to the spirit, it is the very same now. But what does Scripture say? “Cast out the slave-girl with her son; for the son of the slave-girl shall not be heir with the son of the freeborn woman.” Therefore, my brothers, we are children not of a slave-girl but of a mother who is free; by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.
Translation of the Holy Gospel according to St. John:
At that time Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to the shore of Tiberias, but a vast crowd kept following him because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. So Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus looked up and caught sight of a vast crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we ever buy bread for them to eat?” (Of course, he was aware of what he was going to do, but he asked this to test him.) Philip replied, “With two-hundred days’ wages we could not buy loaves enough to let each of them have a morsel.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, remarked to him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish, but what good is that for so many?” Jesus said, “Get these people to take their places on the ground.” Now the men numbered about five thousand, but there was plenty of grass there for them to find a place. Jesus then took the loaves of bread, gave thanks, and passed them around to those reclining there; and he did the same with the dried fish-just as much as they wanted. When they had enough, he told his disciples, “Collect the fragments that are left over so that nothing will perish.” And so they collected twelve baskets full of fragments left over by those who had fed upon the five barley loaves. Now when the people saw the sign he had performed, they began to say, ‘This is undoubtedly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” At that Jesus realized that they would come and carry him off to make him king, so he fled back to the mountain alone.
The saving words of the Gospel
Raise a glad cry, you barren ones who did not bear, break forth into jubilant song, you who are not in labor.
In the Name of the Father, of the Son, the Holy Spirit, Amen.
We just passed the midpoint mark for Lent on Thursday, and so the Church takes the following Sunday, today, as a time to celebrate whatever we’ve achieved so far in Lent. It’s a good time to review our Lenten promises and see what kind of a Lent we’ve been living; if it is one that truly gives our Lord glory, and if it is the type of preparation we ought to be making for the Paschal Mystery. We’re halfway there. And so the Church rejoices.
This Sunday has several names: It’s called Dominica de Rosa. So this is rose. It’s not pink, okay, it’s not pink. It’s rose. It’s also called Refreshment Sunday. It’s also called Mothering Sunday. It’s also called Mediana because it’s midway through Lent. And most famously, Laetare Sunday. Laetare. We have this similar Sunday in the penitential season of Advent, right, which is Gaudete Sunday, in which we are commanded to rejoice.
That sounds like an interesting command; Rejoice! And that’s an order because it is an act. It’s not a feeling. It’s not an emotion. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. And the fruit is a produce, right? A tree has its fruit. Our intellect has the fruits of reasoning when we come to conclusions. So it’s something that takes place, it’s a product, and so, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, joy is a product. This is what the Holy Spirit brings about in the soul in a state of grace. And we have to make a distinction between intrinsic joy, the intrinsic joy of the blessed and heaven, right; they have a joy that is uninterrupted. It’s called intrinsic because it’s not on the surface. It is definitive. It’s also defining, but this ought to be the life of the soul in grace here in this life, if we seek joy, and this is one of the problems of the foundational papers of this country; the pursuit of happiness. That’s always elusive. If we’re seeking happiness, we don’t find it. If we seek Christ we find joy. So joy is a fruit, it’s a product, it’s a consequence. This happiness is a consequence of an encounter of the soul with Christ.
There is in heaven, we see it in a Lady of Loreto for example, there’s also sorrow in heaven. But that’s an extrinsic sorrow. When our Lady contemplates the sins of people on earth, that does bring about an extrinsic sorrow that does not interrupt her intrinsic joy. And this is also our task to not allow external circumstances in, as much as we are in a state of grace, to affect our intrinsic joy. We can grieve, we can experience the Beatitudes; Blessed are those who mourn. And mourning is what we do when we see aberrations, sin, around us in our own lives, those sins that have been forgiven, and the contemplation of our sins causes us sorrow, but this doesn’t affect our intrinsic joy.
The readings are very rich today. They go in the direction of signs and promises fulfilled. Our Lord made a promise to Abraham that, you know, you’d have descendants greater than the sands of the sea, and he’s getting on in years and doesn’t have a child and he’s getting nervous. So solution: If his wife is seemingly sterile, well, have a child with his slave girl, and then he has Ishmael. And after that Sarah gives birth to Isaac. And Ishmael is, “What about me?” And so he is kind of a sign of false hope. And he is kind of an embarrassment now. He is the older son, but he’s not the inheritor. He’s not the heir. And so Paul is putting this, in the Church takes this from Paul and puts it here midway through Lent, that the Old Covenant is going to be surpassed by a new one. And this is all preparation. And so this covenant is going to be the covenant in the blood of Christ. So there’s already in the Epistle something of a hint of the Paschal Mystery. Christ’s covenant in the new blood then is going to be sealed in The Last Supper which is intrinsically united to crucifixion, and death, and the resurrection. It’s all of a piece. And this is the New Covenant. This is where the freedom comes from. The freedom doesn’t come from external fulfillment of the Old Law.
When you read the Old Testament, there’s very little interiority; only a couple of references to the interior life. It changes, though, when there’s this an invasion; divine invasion of grace. And we have such radical things that Paul says, in the same letter that we read from today to the Galatians, It’s no longer I live but Christ who lives in me. There’s no precedent in literature; ancient literature, scriptural, ascriptural. There is no precedent for something like that. That’s radical interiority of the life of grace. And how many times do we hear Do you not know that you are temples of the Holy Spirit? And so there’s no longer this collective notion of People of God just because I’m born into a particular tribe. But the people of God passes over to the Catholic Church and that’s why the Church puts this Epistle here midway through Lent, There’s a strategic reason for all of these Gospels in these readings throughout Lent.
So we see Christ vanquishing the devil; in private in the desert, we see Him doing that publicly, we saw the transfiguration, this preview of what the glorified body looks like, Moses and Elijah are speaking with Christ about His exodus. And now in the Gospel today, we see a new Moses. A new Moses. Moses prophesied that there would be a prophet who would take his place. And so what does He do? He leads them across the sea to this desolate place in the desert and miraculously feeds them much like Moses did. And so, Christ is showing Himself in this Gospel passage to be the new Moses. But not only that, but wait there’s more. He multiplies the bread to prove that He can multiply things that are already in existence. Not only that, right after this, He’s going to walk on the water to prove that He has sovereignty over the Laws of Nature. And all of this in Chapter Six of John’s Gospel leading up to the Bread of Life Discourse. And then we see the Eucharistic language took bread, blessed it, gave it. We see that in this multiplication of the loaves. So this too, is a prefiguring. It’s satisfying a need, for sure. But there’s much more going on here. Our Lord is preparing His disciples and the other followers, and the curious. He is preparing them for what He’s going to teach them in the Synagogue in Capernaum, which is just across the street from Peter’s house in fact, and He’s going to give them this beautiful Bread of Life Discourse. Only John presents this Bread of Life Discourse.
And so, our Lord is in the Lord’s preparing His disciples; the Church is preparing us for what’s to come. What happens next week? It’s called Passion Sunday because we’ve had this vanquishing of the devil, we’ve had this proof that Christ is divine through these miracles. And now there’s going to be a rupture with Judaism next Sunday, on Passion Sunday. And then Palm Sunday, and the rest. So there is a structure, there’s a reason for all of this.
Our Mother, as a pedagogue, is showing us that all of these things; Christ’s omnipotence, His power over nature, His power over demons, His gift of Himself in the Eucharist, and the promise of a new Jerusalem, not the Earthly one, but a new Jerusalem, which is heaven, all of these things are reason to rejoice. And so the Church does rejoice. We are allowed to have some flowers (I don’t know I didn’t check if there were any). We’re allowed to have some flowers in a discreet way. We’re allowed to have some organ today, and then rose, right? All of these are just a little bit of rejoicing in the midst of a penitential season. And we have many reasons to rejoice.
And those reasons to rejoice are Christ’s fidelity to His own promise. We know when He says something, it is so simply because He says it. We have this pop psychology notion of, you know, you hear so many times and nobody can define what it means. I asked them what do you mean when you say, “live in the moment”? What does that mean? We’re we don’t live in the moment as Catholics. We live with an inner tension. Well, there’s supposed to be a healthy tension, which means that I’m not living for the moment, I’m not living in the moment, I’m anchored in a past promise made by Christ, stretching myself trying to reach its fulfillment, which has not happened yet. Hence, there ought to be a healthy tension. We’re not satisfied with the moment, we’re not just living in the moment, we are living as viatori. We are living as travelers on the way towards the New Jerusalem. And so we’re not satisfied with this world. It will always let us down. But we do thank our Lord for it, and we thank Him for the crosses. We thank Him for the blessings. We thank Him for everything. Because if we are in a state of grace, it doesn’t touch our internal intrinsic joy. It manifests it. And so we do rejoice. Today is Laetare Sunday for a reason.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.