April 18, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

We are invited to experience, share the joy of Easter

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin(Editor’s note: With this Easter column, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin begins writing a weekly column for The Criterion. It is titled, “Rejoice in the Lord,” which is the archbishop’s episcopal motto. The column will be published in both English and Spanish; see the Spanish version.)

This Sunday, we celebrate the great feast of Easter and begin the season of joy. What is this Easter joy that is so special and so closely tied to the Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection? What difference does this season of joy make in the way we feel, and in the way we live as disciples of Jesus Christ?

Joy is not something we experience every day. It is not the same thing as happiness or contentment or even enjoyment. We can enjoy a nice dinner with friends without being joyful. Joy is something different. It’s more profound.

Parents experience joy when a son or daughter returns from Iraq or Afghanistan unharmed. We can experience joy at the wedding, or ordination, of a close friend. Joy can surprise us—when we discover something precious that we thought was lost forever. Or joy can deepen gradually over many years, and finally express itself at a golden jubilee celebration.

Joy comes when many years of suffering and adversity are overcome; when an extended battle with cancer appears to be won; when a forgiving father welcomes home a prodigal son; when a political prisoner is finally released from captivity; and when love and fidelity are victorious over evil. This is Easter joy—the Lord’s triumph over sin and death, the forgiveness of our sins, and the opening up of the gates of heaven to all God’s children.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus’ friends experienced mixed emotions at the time of his Passion, death and resurrection. They were afraid, bitterly disappointed, hopeless, full of doubt and uncertainty. And then came the joy of the Resurrection.

For some, like the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning, the experience of joy was immediate (even if it was mixed with confusion about what really happened). For others, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, joy came more slowly—after they experienced the Lord’s presence in the breaking of the bread.

For Peter and most of the disciples, the joy of Easter was intermittent; it came and went with Jesus’ appearances in the upper room and in Galilee. It was not until they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that the joy of Christ’s resurrection became deeply rooted in their hearts.

Pope Francis speaks of joy often. With characteristic bluntness, the pope says in his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) that Christians should not be sourpusses (“vinegar faces” in the original Spanish). We shouldn’t act like our faith is a burden or that Christian life is made up of an endless series of oppressive rules and regulations.

We should be joyful—rejoicing in our freedom and in our abiding sense of confidence in God’s love for us. The joy of Easter springs from our gratitude to God for his saving grace, for his forgiveness of our sins, and for his presence in our lives. “Shout for joy!” the Scriptures tell us. “Rejoice and be glad!” the angels sing. “Alleluia! Praise God” the saints tell us by their words and example.

Easter joy should give us the confidence we need to overcome the negative voices that we hear constantly in the news media and in our own anxious fears. As a matter of fact, things are not awful. God has reached out to us and loved us. We are not doomed to a disastrous fate; Christ died for us and set us free. We are not alone; we are the gathering of God’s people, the Church, united in Christ. We do not need to be afraid; he is with us always. Our sins have not damned us; the grace of Christ has saved us.

The joy of Easter coincides with the coming of spring and the emergence of new life. This year, more than most, we have suffered the pain of winter, and we are more than ready for a new beginning. What better way to celebrate new life than to rejoice with the more than 1,000 of our sisters and brothers who will be baptized or enter into full communion with our Church during the Easter Vigil!

As Pope Francis writes, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” #1).

This is the source of all new life. May this season of grace bring us lasting joy. May we share this joy generously with others during this Easter time and always! †

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