Christ is risen: Easter joy
By Nissa LaPoint
CNS photo/courtesy of Alinari, Art Resource
A wise woman once said that joy is a net of love by which souls are captured for God.
Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, observed April 8, marks the celebration of this Christian joy that Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata spoke about. Beginning with the Easter Vigil, Catholics across the Denver Archdiocese will join together in proclaiming and singing the praises of Christ resurrected.
The joyful greetings of “He is Risen!” or “Happy Easter!” will pass from the lips of family, friends and neighbors t Easter, the pinnacle feast of Christian faith.
In anticipation of Easter, Pope Benedict XVI reminded the faithful that at Easter Mass, and at every Mass, they should express the joy received from Christ’s resurrection and transmit it to the world.
Among all the characteristics of a Christian life, joy born out of love for God and the new life he gives people is at the heart of the Christian experience, he said.
“Go to those who are suffering and those who are searching and give them the joy that Jesus wants to bestow,” Pope Benedict said in a March 15 letter to youth. “Bring it to your families, your schools and universities, and your workplaces and your friends, wherever you live. You will see how it is contagious. You will receive a hundredfold: the joy of salvation for yourselves and the joy of seeing God’s mercy at work in the hearts of others.”
Early Christians, knowing that new life awaited them after death, attracted and converted many by their recognizable joy in the Good News of Christ.
“It was illegal to be a Christian for almost three centuries in the Roman Empire so they couldn’t have recruiting campaigns,” said Father Frederick Miller, systematic theology professor at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, who is visiting St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. “It all had to be done by attraction. The way Christians lived was so different from other people that it made others wonder ‘What’s their motivating drive?’ to live this way.”
Pope Benedict wrote in his encyclical “Spe Salvi,” (“Saved in Hope”) that the first Christians provide an example of the fact that the Gospel is not only informative but “performative,” meaning it’s not merely a communication of the things of God but something that should be life-changing. It may be difficult in the modern world to live a life of Christian joy, Father Miller said, but the faithful should realize that this life is only temporary. Christians should enjoy the gifts of the world but look forward to life everlasting.
“We live in that hope and we’re not then so addicted to this life in that we think this is all there is,” he said. “We’re going to have life with God even in our bodies at the end of the world.”
It wasn’t until later in life that Rose Mary McLeod, part of the team that oversees the Neocatechumenal Way in Colorado, became familiar with Christ’s love and mercy.
A Vatican approved parish-based catechumenate, the Neocatechumenal Way seeks to bring people to mature Catholic faith. For McLeod, it brought a new joy to her life.
“Joy is contagious you know,” she said. “I’m constantly seeing the miracles Christ is doing in people’s lives.”
An intimacy with Christ through prayer helps her work through the trials of her life and have joy, she said.
“Prayer takes care of everything as far as I’m concerned,” McLeod said. “I see it as having a telephone hook-up to God. So long as I keep that telephone line open he can reach me and he can help me with all things.”
Others share similar advice in learning how to overcome trials and living the joy of Christ’s resurrection as they experience the new life he gives—here and now.
Sister Mary Thomas of the Little Sisters of the Poor, mother superior of Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver, said it can be a challenge to be joyful and see Christ in others when caring for the ill and elderly.
“It’s not always easy but sometimes it’s helpful having a practice like saying a small ejaculate prayer during the day,” Mother Thomas said. “We cannot sit in the chapel all day long, so say ‘Lord have mercy on me’ or ‘Lord, whatever comes through my mouth let it be not my words but your words.’ Then I can bring that peace and joy to people.”
Ideally, Catholics will also have the support of the Christian community when facing trials, Father Miller said.
Catholics can find that community in their parishes and in groups such as the Neocatechumenal Way and Communion and Liberation, a lay movement originating in 1950s Italy through the teachings of Msgr. Luigi Guissani, which is based locally at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Broomfield.
It was through the friendships developed in the movement that Jonathan Ghaly and Matt McGuiness said they learned to adopt a radical openness to Christ and gain a new perspective on life’s challenges.
They said they seek to experience that newness in life the early Christians experienced by pursuing Christ in reality then by living out that encounter.
“I can’t say that I have not experienced that newness of life that Christ’s resurrection offers because I have,” Ghaly said. “There’s an energy and generation in me that I can’t explain.
It isn’t because I had too much coffee. There is this joy that (Christ) rose and he is rising even now … and he wants me to continually have this life.”
Ghaly held an inaugural Crossroads Cultural Center event in Denver last month, which he founded to further the mission of the movement and help others experience Christ while pursuing the relationship between faith and culture.
The communion of fellowship and these encounters with Christ, Pope Benedict said, bear the fruit of the discovery and preservation of spiritual joy.
“Seek joy in the Lord: for joy is the fruit of faith,” the Holy Father said in his 2012 World Youth Day letter to youth. “It is being aware of his presence and friendship every day.”
Although life may bring difficulties, there are many examples which show authentic Christians are never sad, Pope Benedict wrote.
“They show that Christian joy is not a flight from reality, but a supernatural power that helps us to deal with the challenges of daily life,” he said. “We know that the crucified and risen Christ is here with us and that he is a faithful friend always. When we share in his sufferings, we also share in his glory. With him and in him, suffering is transformed into love. And there we find joy.”