April 15, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Our faith should bring us lasting joy

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral,” Pope Francis writes in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” #10). Missionary disciples (the pope’s preferred term for baptized Christians called to share the Good News with “those who do not know Jesus Christ”) are called to evangelize with joy.

This Easter season, I am offering some reflections on the experience of paschal joy that is a direct result of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. In previous columns, I have argued that Easter joy is unlike what might be called the ordinary joys of daily life. Easter joy penetrates deep into the heart of human longing. It helps us make sense of the mysteries of life, including grave illness, death, injustice, loneliness, despair and alienation from society due to racial, cultural, economic and social differences.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus’ disciples experienced many 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 and in his teaching.

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.

What is this Easter joy that is so special and so closely tied to the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection? How do we experience it today—more than 2,000 years later? What difference does this season of joy make in the way we feel, and in the way we live as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ called to share his Good News with people on the peripheries, the margins of human society?

Pope Francis, like Pope Benedict XVI before him, speaks of joy often. Christians should not be gloomy, both popes have told us. 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 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 (or, as Pope Francis says, his tenderness and his closeness toward us).

“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.

Most of us don’t do much shouting or singing or dancing when we are joyful. We tend to be more reserved. That’s why it’s important to note that it’s OK to transmit our joy more simply, if we prefer, with a smile, with a kind word, with some small help, with acts of forgiveness that reflect the face of God, the Father of mercy.

Easter joy should give us the confidence we need to overcome the negative voices that are all around us all the time. It should help us smile, enjoy ourselves and give thanks to God always for his great goodness to us.

Christians can be joyful because 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 God’s people who gather into the Church and are united in Christ. We need not be afraid; he is with us always. Our sins have not damned us; the grace of Christ has saved us.

Our faith should bring us lasting joy. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, “Let us give this joy to others, and the joy will be returned to us. Let us seek in particular to communicate the deepest joy, that of knowing God in Christ. Let us pray that the presence of God’s liberating joy will shine out in our lives.”

No one who follows Jesus should look like someone who just came back from a funeral!

May this season of grace bring us lasting joy. May we share this joy generously with others during this Easter season and always! †

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