April 25, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

We are an Easter people connected by humility, hope, purpose

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinAlleluia! Christ is risen, and our hearts are filled with joy. If we accept the Lord’s offer of salvation, Pope Francis tells us in his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), “we will be set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” #1).

During the six weeks of Lent, I invited a diverse group from various regions and ministries in our archdiocese to join me in meditative reading and discussion of The Joy of the Gospel. I also asked this group to help me reflect on this question: In the context of Pope Francis’ teaching about joy and evangelization, where is the Holy Spirit opening a door for us here in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis?

I was delighted by the generous responses of the 12 study group participants, which included two of our priests, a deacon, two consecrated religious, three lay women, three lay men and me.

Each expressed a willingness to serve, a need for the courage to help me make tough decisions and the hope that these decisions will reflect the inspiration, the joy and the love of humanity that Pope Francis has shown in his first year as pope and in his writing of “The Joy of the Gospel.”

All of us as baptized Christians find ourselves on a journey. We walk together in the footsteps of the risen Christ as we travel toward our heavenly home. This sacred pilgrimage is not meant to be a time of drudgery and sorrow.

Although it’s true that we are called to follow Jesus on the way of the cross, we should always remember our Lord’s promise to his disciples, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20).

For 2,000 years, the saints and martyrs have shown us how to live the Gospel—and take up our crosses—with joy. We are all invited, with St. Paul, to rejoice in our sufferings!

“The great danger in today’s world,” Pope Francis writes, “is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. … That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ” (EG, #2).

We are called to a dignified and fulfilled life, a life of freedom and joy. “No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her,” Pope Francis says, “since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”

By a very happy coincidence (a gift of divine Providence), there is a delightful synchronicity between Pope Francis’ teaching and the motto I chose when Pope Benedict XVI called me to serve the Church as a bishop. With this in mind, “Rejoice in the Lord” (“Alégrense en el Señor”) is the title I have chosen for my weekly column in The Criterion.

The articles that I will be writing for The Criterion during this Easter season are inspired, first of all, by Pope Francis, but, secondly, by the insights and concrete suggestions offered by the study group during our weekly meetings this past Lent.

“Pope Francis has breathed new life into the Church,” one of our members said. Others shared their hope that the pope’s influence, teaching and example will inspire future efforts of our archdiocese to develop the spirituality of the poor, present the Catholic faith in a joyful way to young people, explore and embrace the diversity within our archdiocese, continue to celebrate Catholic schools as communities of faith, articulate a way of life that reflects a universal call to holiness, and boldly speak the truth of God’s love while respecting the history of the Church and the archdiocese.

We Christians should be joyful all year long, but the Easter season is a time when we are especially conscious of the reasons we have to be filled with joy. “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter,” Pope Francis writes. I hope that’s not the case with us. “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (EG, # 6).

My hope for every man, woman and child who lives in central and southern Indiana, the territory that makes up this great archdiocese, is that when everything is said and done, we will know we are infinitely loved! †

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