FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
Easter is a joyous time! There is always great joy in the presence of the Risen Christ, who is the same crucified Lord – now gloriously transfigured – the same Jesus of Nazareth. For this glorious day, all rejoice! Mary and the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord (Jn 20:20).The community of the first disciples rejoiced! The converts by Paul and Barnabas “were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). After baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip was snatched away by the Spirit and disappeared, “but the eunuch continued on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). The jailer of Paul and Silas in Philippi rejoiced with his whole household after having received the gift of faith in God (cf. Acts 16:34).
Following the Apostles, the disciples of Jesus through the ages believe in Christ’s Resurrection, which is pure joy: “Joy to the world; joy to you and me”! All the saints are joyful: “the greatest of their gifts was their smile.” Thanks be to God, because we believe in the Resurrection of the Lord, and therefore we are happy, joyful. Joy is “the daughter of happiness” (Fray Luis de Granada); and the smile, an expression of joy – like the “alleluia”.
We all know that the core of Jesus’ preaching is the Sermon on the Mount, and the heart of the Sermon, the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are eight forms of happiness. Some love to add a ninth beatitude for us: “Happy are those,” Jesus says to Thomas, “who have not seen, and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).
How did the first Christian communities experience Christ’s Resurrection? The first Christian communities celebrated the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus through one whole night and day. We are told that many nonbelievers waited for them to come out of the place of celebration at dawn – after the long Easter celebration. What for? To see the radiant expression – the joy – on the faces of the Christians. In fact, St. Augustine tells us, their boundless joy converted many unbelievers to the Risen Lord.
We imagine the two disciples of Jesus on their way back to Emmaus from Jerusalem: Jesus had died; they were deeply sad. They had a reason to be sad: they believed Jesus was dead. Therefore, the end of the story. Period. What is unfortunate is that those who believe that Jesus rose from the dead are sad, according to J. L. Martin Descalzo. “There is little use telling people that Christ will bring them joy …, if our own lives are gloomy …” (W. Barclay, on Jn 4:43-45). “It is impossible to be sad in the presence of the Risen Lord” (Schillebeeckx). No wonder the monk and theologian Evagrius Ponticus (4th century), following the Desert Fathers, added to the traditional seven capital sins the eighth capital sin, that is, sadness, which is the contrary to joy.
We are believers in Jesus, how may we not be joyful? Joy, or true satisfaction and delight, is a quality in the lives of good people, of believers, in particular of authentic Christians. We believe that God is One and Triune – three Divine Persons: God the Father is our creator and power; God the Son is our savior and redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit, our advocate and grace. (Joy is one of the fruits and blessings of the Holy Spirit – Gal 5:22). “No one is as happy as an authentic Christian” (Pascal). This is the reason why some of our brothers and sisters add to the Ten Commandments, the eleventh commandment: “Be joyful.”
What is the main cause of Christian joy? God’s love: God loves us. In spite of our sins, God our Father loves us, Jesus heals us, and the Holy Spirit strengthens us with divine grace and joy (cf. Lk 15:10). True love – a share of God’s love in us – is the main source of real happiness and joy. Indeed charity – or love of God and of neighbor – causes real joy,an effect of charity. Love is joyful.
But – a big “but” – how can we be joyful when suffering comes to us? Suffering is part of life: we all “carry the wounds of Christ”; we all carry our own personal cross. But suffering is not directly opposed to joy. This is also true today, in spite of the pandemic and the wars – and our tears. Disordered or not well integrated suffering does wound the virtue, or good habit, of joyfulness, or gladness. The key word that gives meaning to our life and makes it joyful is love. And love can make suffering bearable, light, and – yes – even joyful. Disciples of Jesus through the centuries, when persecuted and martyred, were and are “full of joy” (cf. Acts 5:41). The prophet cried out to God: “Though the tree does not blossom…; though the flock is cut off from the fold…, yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Hab 3:17-18).
The way of the cross is the path to our resurrection: there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. Like Christ, our cross is a victorious cross. Our lives have a mix of joy and suffering. In the life of St. Dominic, for instance, joy and tears mingled, but he always had spiritual joy.
We are pilgrims on the way to our Father’s house. Therefore, “Be joyful in hope” (Rom 12:12). We joyfully hope and pray – prayer always helps – that at the end of our journey, Jesus will tell you and me: “Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21-23).
How wonderful! We are Easter People and alleluia is our song! Alleluia, that is, praise the Lord!
(Photo: Fotorech at Pixabay)