Today is “Laetare Sunday.” On this day, priests wear rose-colored vestments, and our liturgy begins with a Latin introit commanding us to rejoice. “Laetare!” we sing. Lent is half-way over.
So. This morning’s sermon starts with a riddle: What do Gerard Manly Hopkins, Earnest Hemingway, Prostitutes and pink vestments have in common? To be honest, I don’t know the answer to this riddle. It’s just that I started writing this sermon four times, kept getting distracted, and then finally, fell asleep. So what I’ve got here are four ideas with nothing to connect them except, perhaps, the parable of the Prodigal Son. Your job this morning will be to draw some sort of meaning from it, and then convey that meaning to me after mass so that I’ll know what I said.
While I was looking for sermons to plagiarize, I ran across a poem of Gerard Manly Hopkins. Apparently, he wrote this sonnet while he was struggling through a seven-year bout of depression.
'My own heart’ it’s called. And it’s very short, so I’ll read it to you now:
My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst's all-in-all in all a world of wet.
Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather — as skies
Betweenpie mountains — lights a lovely mile.
I don’t actually understand most of that poem, but I have a sense that it’s what we’re doing here today: We’re calling off sad thoughts for awhile so that we can let God’s smile light the skies.
Earnest Hemingway wrote a short story in 1936 entitled “Capitol of the World” which he begins with the following anecdote: “There is a story they tell in Madrid,” he writes, “about a father who came there in search of his wayward son, and not knowing where to look, took out an advertisement in the personals of the paper that said: PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA, NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN. PAPA and how a squadron of police had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement.. For Madrid is full of boys named Paco.” I can’t stop thinking about those eight hundred Pacos, all longing to be reunited with their fathers. All those prodigal sons…
What’s the deal with the prostitutes in this parable? When the prodigal son’s older brother complains about his father’s generosity, he says, “when that son of yours returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.” Where did the prostitutes come from? There’s nothing in the story about prostitutes. They are purely the construct of the older son’s imagination. He couldn’t possibly know what his younger brother did with the money; but we do know what the older brother imagined his brother was doing with that money. Must have spent some good amount of time fantasizing about it. Shame on him.
My fourth and last thought is this:
Every Lent, the monks of Saint Louis Abbey resolve to make three devotions: to give something up, to do something extra, and to read a book. Well, we’re half-way through Lent, and I have come to the sad realization that I may never give up sugar, I may never be early for Vespers, and I may never make it past page seventeen of my Lenten book. In short, my Lent has been a failure.
But not today! Because today is Laetare Sunday—Rejoice Sunday—and on this Sunday, we are commanded to celebrate. We’re half way through Lent.
Laetare Jerusalem et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam;
Rejoice, O Jerusalem; and gather round, all you who love her!
Everyone gets to celebrate today, even the prodigal son. Everyone gets to take a break from their Lenten fast, even the self-righteous older brother. Everyone gets to rejoice today, even if that means taking a break from failure. And all the Pacos in the world are reunited with their fathers, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.