Ash Wednesday Mass near the White House formed part of the "Lenten Ceasefire Campaign" launched by Catholic and other Christian groups to call attention to and mourn the war in Gaza (OSV News photo/Kate Scanlon).

“I struggled with this text,” is a phrase I hear a lot in doctoral studies. From undergraduates to doctoral students, to “struggle” with the text often means to disagree with its arguments or to reject its method. What it almost never means for people with a certain type of pedigree, however, is “I did not understand this text.” As I read today’s Gospel, however, I must admit that I struggled. In the past, I might have been able to focus on the idea that what these passages are really about is God’s love and reminding us in Lent, a season of penance, that we are called to remember that God loves us. This year, however, I just could not shrug off the perplexing parts of this Gospel passage. 

Perhaps it is because the world in which these Gospel passages will be proclaimed this Laetare Sunday is one requiring of moral clarity. With what many understandably believe to be an active and highly visible genocide going on, a dramatic U.S. presidential election, and increasingly divisive leadership in our Church, the Good News feels, perhaps more than ever, ephemeral. In past years, I might have been able to understand that reading these passages during Lent allows us to think about our sins through “Easter eyes.” This year, however, I found myself bitter that the readings spoil the surprise. Jesus himself announces that the Son of Man will rise (John 13). What in past years seem like a “break” this year seem like a distraction. The scandal of the Resurrection, I must admit, feels blunted in these readings. In a time when most of us should be torn apart by how drastically we have failed, these readings just seem to jump too fast to love and forgiveness. 

One might think that everyone around Jesus realizes what is going on and they run to the safety of salvation. He just told them what they needed to do; why would they not? However, at the end of the Gospel of John, the book these passages are taken from, the Resurrection is anything but predictable. Despite the fact that Jesus says that he has come for them, that God loves them deeply, and that the Son of Man will rise, Mary Magdalene and the male disciples are still somehow shocked. Thomas, as we know, doubts so much that he must touch Jesus’ wounds (John 20). 

With what many understandably believe to be an active and highly visible genocide going on, a dramatic U.S. presidential election, and an increasingly divisive leadership in our Church, the Good News feels, perhaps more than ever, ephemeral.

Read within this larger context, I was reminded of words that have echoed through my soul since the moment I read them. St. Bonaventure at the end of his Itinerarium writes, “Ask grace, not learning; desire, not intellect; the groaning of prayer and not diligent reading; the Bridegroom, not the academic teacher….not light, but the fire that inflames one totally and carries one into God through spiritual fervor and with the most burning affections.”

St. Bonaventure’s words reminded me that I should not look to gain from the Gospel a sense of clarity or self-assuredness. Indeed, the condition of the world around us should never allow that. The Gospel should seem stark, it should engage our whole person. God is a mystery and Jesus is a miracle worker in a world that has no time for mystery and no interest in miracles. As modern human beings, we seem to be enlightened past the age of mystery. It would make sense, then, that the Gospel, an invitation into the ineffable mystery of God, sometimes makes no sense.

This Laetare Sunday, then, I do want to focus on God’s love and my sins in light of God’s love, but not to the point of apathy, and instead to the point of further struggle. We should push ourselves to struggle in community with one another. We should struggle against oppression and marginalization of all people and struggle for those whose struggle is silenced or made to be invisible by social structures. I pray that I might struggle not only through frustration, but through action. That my struggle leads me deeper into God and that that depth only creates further struggle. That I am not complacent, that I do not look for learning over grace or a calming light over a fire that will move me. I want to struggle this Lenten season, recognizing that it is only in that struggle against personal and social sin where the Resurrection becomes truly shocking.

Amirah Orozco is a PhD Student in Systematic Theology at the University of Notre Dame and received her MTS from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and a Bachelor’s in Philosophy from Boston College as well. 

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