May 16, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Salvation in Christ, the source of our joy

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinThese past four weeks since the celebration of Easter Day, I have been writing about joy. It’s a very small word, but it speaks to our deepest longing, and our most profound hopes, as human persons. Without joy, life is empty, lonely and full of fear. There are many substitutes for joy stemming from the pursuit of pleasure or status or power, but none of them truly satisfy us.

We Christians believe that the source of lasting joy is our salvation in Jesus Christ. As Pope Francis teaches in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), salvation is the ultimate gift from God. “Jesus Christ loves you,” the pope says. “He gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (#164).

Without Christ, we are in deep trouble. We are trapped by our own selfishness and sin. We need help. We need divine intervention and the gift of freedom in order to break out of the prisons we have made for ourselves by superficiality and self-seeking.

That’s what Christ’s Resurrection is all about: Christ gave his life to save us. And that’s why we have hope: Jesus is with us now (“living at your side every day”) to open our eyes to the truth, to give us the courage to persevere even in tough times, and to free us from the power of sin and death.

In the third chapter of “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis reminds us that the primary way we hear the good news of our salvation in Christ is through the witness of others.

When we see Christ in others, when we hear the words they speak from their hearts, and when we listen to the stories of holy women and men whose faith in Christ set them free, we are enlightened and set free ourselves.

I recently met with a group of campus ministers here in the archdiocese. I was impressed, and very pleased, by the ways they are helping young people proclaim the Gospel.

On a trip to Boston in March, I learned about a program at Boston College called “Agape Latte” where students gather to hear someone (often a faculty member) share what his or her faith means to them. This is the kind of thing that Pope Francis—and all of our recent popes—believe is so important to the proclamation of the Gospel. We must speak from the heart; we must reach out to others; and we must share our joy.

Are you worried you don’t have much joy to share? You’re not alone. For many of us, the gift of salvation is hidden deep within our hearts, overshadowed by fear, worry or guilt. That’s why Christ gave us the sacraments—especially reconciliation (penance) and Eucharist.

His Resurrection freed us from the power of sin and death, but we still feel their effects in our daily lives. When Pope Francis tells us that Jesus is with us now, living at our side, to enlighten, strengthen and free us, he is encouraging us to take advantage of the ways in which Christ is present to us in sacred Scripture, in the sacraments and in the witness of others, including the poor and the marginalized, “the least of these, my brothers and sisters” (Mt 25:31-46).

Christ is also made present to us in the homilies that are preached at Mass. How well do we bishops, priests and deacons carry out this awesome responsibility? Do we bring Christ to others and manifest his joy? Or do we obscure him and confuse his message of hope and mercy?

In Chapter 3 of “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis offers practical advice to those of us who are called upon to proclaim the Gospel through homilies at Mass. In a nutshell, the Holy Father admonishes us to speak simply, to make Christ the center of attention (not us), to speak from our hearts to the hearts of our people, and to live what we preach in our daily lives.

Pope Francis strongly opposes “moralistic or doctrinaire” homilies that emphasize what’s wrong over what’s right with the world (#142). Above all, he tells us to speak of God’s love and mercy and, so, share the joy that can only come through our salvation in Christ.

This Easter season, let’s share the joy of the Gospel by proclaiming in our words and in our actions the wonderful news that Christ’s Resurrection has saved us from sin and death and set us free! †

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