Hunt for June: Rejoice and be glad
Waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ is becoming more and more difficult. As the Alleluia buzz of the Easter season fades, I am very aware that we are surrounded by danger. If we are not careful, the world and its pleasures can get the best of us.
It is so easy to be discouraged as we listen to the morning news and realize that danger surrounds us and that there is a fragile balance between well being and harm. Troubles abound in family life, in politics, in the economy and even in our church. Christians throughout the world are being terrorized by hostile governments. There have been more martyrs in the last century then the entire past history of the church. Family life is disintegrating as the divorce rate soars. Lying and cheating plague both world politics and finances. It is enough for us hide our eyes in despair. Persecution plagues us. The church and all who live the Gospel are being persecuted as it has been from the beginning.
While we have been warned that persecution will be a part of our lives, we yearn for joy. Where can we find a little consolation in the midst of the world’s attacks? Is it really possible to maintain the joy of Easter? Pope Francis offers us a response to this question in his latest apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et exsultate” (Rejoice and be glad). It is a letter for all of us that brings a message of hope in these dark times.
“We need to acknowledge jubilantly that our life is essentially a gift, and recognize that our freedom is a grace. That is not easy today, in a world that thinks it can keep something for itself, the fruits of its own creativity or freedom.” (5) When we come from a perspective that all is gift we begin to see things differently. God endows us with eyes to see beauty, minds to comprehend the movement of the Divine, hearts to love the others as our own etc. That realization fills us with a freedom and joy the world cannot supply. Pope Francis calls us to reject the values of the secular world and live unselfish lives that know a gift when they see one.
“There is a hierarchy of virtues that bids us seek what is essential. The primacy belongs to the theological virtues (faith, hope, charity), which have God as their object and motive. At the centre is charity.”(60) If want to keep a spirit of joy, the secret is to live lives of charity. The more we give of ourselves, the more joy we receive. The charity equation is so simple. When we give away what we have by doing the next loving thing, the pay back is a sweet happiness that comes from living in the heart of God.
However, this letter is not all sweet and light. It offers warnings about what it will take to walk with Christ. “We must never forget that when the New Testament tells us that we will have to endure suffering for the Gospel’s sake, it speaks precisely of persecution.” (92) Persecution for you and me is very subtle: We are ridiculed for believing in a myth from the Middle Ages; laughed at for defending the rights of the unborn, dying, and marginalized; ostracized for not buying into the greed and power of the corporate world.
We must be willing to endure the consequences of such judgments. Pope Francis reminds us of the beatitude, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Pope Francis takes his warning up a notch when he tells us, “The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.” (158) So, is he saying that joy comes to us in the end? Yes! When we fight the good fight and endure the tough times, the ridicule, the suffering, we will rejoice with Christ as we celebrate overcoming the worst that Satan can throw at us.
The joy that we yearn for doesn’t come easy. Christianity is not for the faint hearted. Yet, I believe that you and I are up to the task. Easter isn’t just a spring holiday we have already forgotten. It is a lifestyle.