Sadness & Joy

For I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight … No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying… – Is 65: 18-19

Joyful funeral. Two days ago I received this surprising and rare gift. I attended the Funeral Mass for the father of one of my brother Jesuits, an 84-year-old patriarch who had lived a long, good life. When the services began, his widow could be heard sobbing loudly, at times even wailing. Her audible crying triggered more than a few tears in the congregation, from the younger to the older. Her son’s thoughtful, heartfelt, eloquent, and poignant homily, as well as prayerful presiding, facilitated a genuine encounter between the sadness of loss and the joyful remembering of an impactful life well-lived. A particularly moving moment for me occurred during the Kiss of Peace when all of the widow’s nine children and sixteen grandchildren huddled around her with understanding and comforting hugs, painting an a reverse image of God as a mother hen gathering her brood under her wings (Lk 13:34). The ensuing reception overflowed with food, lavishly provided by parishioners “who treasured the deceased and his much-loved family,” as one woman remarked. Typical of this family’s gathering, the children sang and the grandchildren danced, like the Trapp Family in “The Sound of Music,” replete with a concluding “So Long Farewell” rendition from the same musical. The evening was filled with story-telling and remembrances marked by humor, tenderness, delight, punctured by tears of both joy and sadness. The final medley showed the widow grinning ear-to-ear as she sang and danced (in her wheelchair) with three of her youngest grand-daughters while everyone rapturously applauded. Her spirit significant shifted since that morning. I went to bed that night with a heart full of joy and sadness, deeply grateful to have participated and tasted the heavenly banquet three times that day: at Mass, at the reception, and at evening reverie. I had experienced one of the most joyful funerals in my life. A contagious celebration of life that helped me welcome anew other deaths in my life.

Yesterday, we celebrated Laetare or Rejoicing Sunday to direct our sometimes austere journey of Lent toward the banquet of life fully manifested through Easter Sunday. Today’s readings, as well as those of the next few days, point to the horizon of abundant life and joy that is promised and already given. The gift I received this past weekend was a glimpse of heaven. Sadness, loss, grief, and struggle continue to visit us all. Yet, this foretaste is just enough to shift my Lenten pilgrimage from looking at my sins and shortcomings to gazing at the expansiveness of God’s goodness and delight. An invitation that widens my perspective and deepens my receptivity towards greater life in God and community.

Lord, where and how do You invite me to recognize, revisit, or remain with You this second half of Lent?

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