June 6, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Come, Holy Spirit, bring us joys that never end

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinThe Solemnity of Pentecost completes our celebration of the joy of Easter. In the images contained in the marvelous Sequence of Pentecost, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” we call on the third person of the Blessed Trinity to come into our hearts, bringing light for our darkness, comfort for our distress, healing for our soul’s sickness, warmth for our frozen hearts, and joys that will never end.

Why would we ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of unending joy? We know that our lives are filled with sorrow and disappointment. We know that even after receiving God’s saving grace and being reconciled to him in the sacrament of penance, we will sin again. We know that all those whom we love, and we ourselves, will one day suffer and die. What’s the point of asking for joy that will not end?

Our faith is weak, isn’t it? Just six weeks ago, we celebrated the great miracle of our salvation and the true source of all human hope and joy. We believe that the Lord is risen, that he has conquered sin and death, and that we are truly free.

We believe this, and yet we have our doubts. We hope in him, and yet we give in to sadness and despair. This is precisely why Christ sent us his Holy Spirit—to give us courage in our weakness, to sustain us in our fidelity to his Word, and, yes, to fill our hearts with joys that never end!

Recall what Pope Benedict XVI once said in an Easter message “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world): “Easter does not work magic. Just as the Israelites found the desert awaiting them on the far side of the Red Sea, so the Church after the Resurrection always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish.”

Joy and hope do not eliminate our grief and anguish. They transform them—making them like the Lord’s Passion and death: a participation in the painful pilgrimage of human suffering to the abundant joy of eternal life.

This is why Easter is the season of hope. Our hope is not idealism, a form of “wishful thinking.” Our hope is not political or ideological. It is Christian realism, grounded in the person of Jesus Christ and in the story of his life, death and resurrection.

Christian hope is not an illusion. As the Letter to the Hebrews assures us, “We have [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19). We are truly anchored regardless of the storms we encounter every day. For Christians, life’s difficulties are not eliminated. They are endured with confidence and transformed by the joyful hope of the Risen Christ.

That’s why we dare to ask for joys that never end. We know that we need the help of God’s grace to face the pain and the weariness of daily life. We know that we need the Spirit’s sevenfold gifts (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord) to sustain us in life’s journey. We know that, as Pope Benedict reminded us, “the Church after the Resurrection always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish.”

That was certainly true for the disciples of Jesus. Many faced bitter persecution and death as they carried out the Lord’s great commission to go out to the whole world as missionaries and to preach the Gospel and heal the sick in his name. They experienced no end of suffering and disappointment, but they served the Lord joyfully because they were empowered by the Holy Spirit and they were burning with the fire of God’s love.

When the dark days come—in our personal lives and in our common life as disciples—we invoke the Holy Spirit in prayerful song:

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
… Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray…
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.

We long for joy that never ends. As Pope Francis tells us, this joy is available to us if we can step out of our comfort zones and become missionary disciples who give ourselves wholeheartedly to proclaiming the Good News.

So, let us pray: Holy Spirit of God, come, pour your dew on our dryness. Melt our frozen hearts and guide us when we go astray. Give us endless joy. Amen. Alleluia! †

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