Resurrection Rejoicing: ‘Feast With Joy in the Lord’
Christ is alive, Alleluia!
As Easter approached this year, the usual joyful expectation of the feast was overshadowed by anxiety and fear surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
How can we cultivate Easter joy amid such anxieties of life?
Msgr. Edward Filardi, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bethesda, Maryland, emphasized, “Joy is essential to our demeanor as Christians, especially in times of trial.”
“Joy comes from the conscious awareness of the goodness of God,” he explained. “When we’re aware of that goodness of God, despite the world or its events, God’s goodness prevails, and it has to prevail in ourselves.”
Because it’s easy to confuse joy with happiness, Msgr. Filardi noted the difference. Happiness is based on our own emotional state or perception of things. That can be a good thing, but that “fluctuates.” On the other hand, joy — “that conscious awareness of the goodness of God” despite the state of events and tough times — “is based on hope, of what will be.”
In Louisiana, Catholic speaker and author Katie Prejean McGrady (KatiePrejean.com) also emphasized, “Joy is rooted in hope. It’s a deeply held belief and knowledge that good prevails, and in knowing that — and in knowing the Lord is good, true, honest and faithful — we cannot help but revel and delight in his goodness. Even on the hardest days, with hope comes joy.”
Given current events, Pope St. Paul VI sounds prophetic in Gaudete In Domino (Christian Joy), which he penned exactly 45 years ago. Asking, as people are today, if the future seems “too uncertain” and “human life too threatened,” he answered, “These miseries are perhaps not deeper than those of the past; but they have taken on a worldwide dimension.”
He insisted, “It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song.”
McGrady, who is expecting a baby, is encouraged that in our individual circumstances we all can find something to be joyful about even in the midst of this current anxiety or in whatever will come. “Since I deeply believe joy and hope are intertwined, and you can’t have one without the other, I’m finding that fostering joy really comes when I think on the things for which I should be grateful,” she said. “It’s very easy, especially right now in the midst of a pandemic, to become bogged down by the big and small worries of the day. Just this morning I was anxious about the amount of yeast left in my fridge — will I be able to get more, since there are shortages and our stores are all sold out? And that tiny anxiety led me to a much greater anxiety.”
Even as her mind “was swirling, and the anxiety tempted any semblances of hope and joy in my heart,” she explained, “my 2-year-old came running into the kitchen, grabbed my knees, and said, ‘Thank you for breakfast, Momma.’ And I was reminded that I could be grateful for having food to feed her for breakfast and for having the time to prepare it and then sit down and eat it with her.”
She continued, “So the way to combat stress and anxiety that can lead into despair and fear and dislodge joy from our hearts is to think on all the things that we do have and express gratitude for them.”
McGrady shared another critically important way to foster joy: focus on helping others, even in the smallest way, to show them the face of Jesus Christ. “In showing them Jesus by becoming like Christ — a ‘little Christ,’ as C.S. Lewis would say — I’m able to foster joy within my heart because I’ve done as Jesus has done — loved another.”
Paul VI rooted joy in the heart of Easter.
He said, “In essence, Christian joy is the spiritual sharing in the unfathomable joy, both divine and human, which is in the heart of Jesus Christ glorified.”
The Easter Exultet at the Easter vigil makes “the joyful announcement of the Resurrection,” and “man’s suffering finds itself transformed, while the fullness of joy springs from the victory of the Crucified, from his pierced heart and his glorified body.”
Curtis Martin, the founder of Fellowship of Catholic University Students, wrote in an article on spiritual joy found in the EWTN online library that if we have true joy, it does not “evaporate in the face of opposition and obstacles.” Therefore, it “must be anchored in the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ.” It’s not easy to learn, but even saints had to learn how to live joyfully amid the trials and tribulations of life.
As St. Paul told the Romans, “Rejoice in your hope; be patient in tribulation” (12:12). He reminded the Galatians of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience …” And he told the Corinthians, “With all our affliction, I am overjoyed.”
“Joy is not a suggestion,” stressed McGrady. “In some ways, it’s both an invitation and a mandate. Jesus invites us into the joy of his resurrection. We’re Easter people, as John Paul II has said. Our entire lives are centered around the cross and the empty tomb. We can’t have one without the other. We do not suffer needlessly. We do not feel pain without worth. We do not exist without the truth of the victory of Jesus Christ. And so joy is something Christ invites us to revel in and relish. It is literally the truth we declare and celebrate as Christians who proclaim and are redeemed by the cross and the Resurrection.”
She added that joy is also “a mandate — to be hopeful in that truth of the Resurrection and to proclaim the joy of the Gospel wherever we go. What better time to do that than in the midst of a crisis? Who better to face that crisis than Christians, who know the story does not end with a pandemic, that the story is not over when Jesus hangs on the cross, but that in the suffering — in the crisis — comes forth a victory, a resolution and a resurrection.”
McGrady added: “Why shouldn’t we have joy? It’s a far better alternative to permanent despair, right? Joy isn’t just perpetual happiness and constant smiles. That would be impossible. A joyful heart certainly knows pain and suffering. The joyful heart just knows that pain and suffering alongside hope and victory — and knows they’re never far apart.” After all, the sorrow of Good Friday leads to the hope of Easter morning.
Simple directives can help us keep Easter joy growing and developing all year long, whether it’s through a pandemic or amid tiny setbacks.
Martin references the advice St. Paul gave the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all things, give thanks” (5:16).
St. John Paul II strongly advised to go confidently with hope to the love of Christ in the Eucharist. On his United States trip in 1987, meeting with young people in New Orleans, he told them, “If you are constant in daily prayer and in the Sunday celebration of Mass, your love for Jesus will increase. And your heart will know deep joy and peace, such as the world could never give.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds, “Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire” (1820).
Look for joy around you, advised McGrady. Every few days, the McGradys drop off cookies or fresh baked bread to their neighbors, residents of a home for six mentally disabled older men.
“In the midst of this pandemic,” she said, “we’ve had to be more cautious — socially distancing, to keep us all safe. But we still wave over the fence, still say ‘Hi’ to John and Sam and Mr. Arnold. These men are the picture of joyful hope. Even in the face of health challenges and discrimination and struggle upon struggle, they are filled with a joy that can only come from the Lord. We don’t just see them in the backyard playing games — we can often hear them praying the Rosary together or see them in Mass on Sunday. Their joy is rooted in a love of Jesus, and it is such a privilege to be their neighbors.”
These simple Christian joys are found in families, too, as McGrady pointed out. “I’m also reminded of the joy of the Lord when I watch my mom and dad play with my daughter. Rose is their only grandchild so far — one more coming in September,” she said. “Watching them jump in our little toddler bounce house, or bake cookies, or even just cuddle on the couch reading books. It’s a circle of love, really, watching them love on her, the same way they loved on me when I was her age.
“It’s a snapshot of the joy that shines forth in family life.”
As St. John Paul II once said, “God made us for joy.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.