BEFORE THE CROSS | Easter is the season of joy

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Joseph Kenny | jkenny@archstl.org

During the six weeks of Lent, I offered a series of reflections on the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"). In my first article, I wrote that during Lent it is especially appropriate for us to reflect prayerfully on the obstacles that get in our way as we journey toward the joy of heaven. Now, when we celebrate the great feast of Easter, we have a chance to experience some small share of the joy that will be ours abundantly and forever in the kingdom of heaven.

We experience joy here and now because the Lord we love is risen! The bitter sorrow we recall during the triduum's sacred remembrance of His passion and death has been replaced by the joy of His resurrection. Sadness has no lasting place in our hearts now. Cruel winter has given way to a hope-filled spring. Sin and evil have been destroyed, and divine love has conquered death.

Gospel joy is not a new concept. Spiritual writers from the beginning of Christianity to the present have called attention to the experience of joy that is at the heart of the Gospel. Joy was a major theme in the teaching of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and joy is everywhere present in the teaching and example of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. We are a blessed people. Christ is risen! The Lord who surrendered to the humiliation and suffering of the cross is fully alive now, the source of all our joy.

Continuing this tradition, Pope Francis quotes his immediate predecessor saying, "I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." The encounter with Jesus Christ, who is the source of all joy, should not be something foreign to Christians. In fact, Pope Francis encourages us to repeat and renew this experience on a daily basis!

Pope Francis is a model for everyone who seeks to experience the joy of the Gospel. Humility, simplicity of life, care for all creation, protection for all our sisters and brothers -- especially the poor and marginalized. These are virtues that show us the way to Gospel joy, the way of the beatitudes, the way of the cross. As Pope Francis tells us, "the Gospel joy which enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy."

As I wrote in my first Lenten reflection, this is one of the great paradoxes of Christian faith. We naturally think that the safety and security of our "comfort zone" will guarantee our happiness. But the opposite is true. Only by taking the risk of reaching out to others (especially the poor and vulnerable) can we experience the fullness of Easter joy.

The joy of the Gospel must be shared. As Pope Francis tells us, "Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good." Good news demands to be shouted from the rooftops, to be proclaimed everywhere, but especially in places where fear, misery and hopelessness appear to rule. That's why Pope Francis challenges us to be much more attentive to the needs of others, especially the poor. To be constantly focused on ourselves is to be without joy.

Easter celebrates both the joy that was experienced by the disciples who witnessed the Lord's resurrection and the joy that results when each of us encounters Jesus Christ in person and gives witness to others as "spirit-filled evangelists" who carry forward His saving work. During this season of Easter joy, let's not be shy about sharing the joy of the Gospel. Let's "go out to the whole world" and "proclaim the good news" in our prayer, in our work and in our service to those who most need our help.

Happy Easter!

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's calendar

Monday, April 14

5 p.m. Dinner followed by Lenten reflection for Mission Monday at St. Joan of Arc Church

Tuesday, April 15

3 p.m. Blessing of Birthright building in Midtown

Wednesday, April 16

10 a.m. Meeting with Mark Guyol, president of the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri, at the Cardinal Rigali Center

11:45 a.m. Mass at the Cardinal Rigali Center

Thursday, April 17

10 a.m. Chrism Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

5 p.m. Dinner with St. Louis seminarians at the archbishop's residence

7:30 p.m. Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

9 p.m. Tenebrae at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Friday, April 18

3 p.m. Good Friday prayer service at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Saturday, April 19

8:30 p.m. Easter Vigil at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Sunday, April 20

8 a.m. Easter Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis 

Bishop Edward M. Rice's calendar

Tuesday, April 15

10:45 a.m. Washington Deanery meeting at St. Vincent Church in Dutzow

7 p.m. CatholicSTL250 lecture at the Missouri History Museum

Thursday, April 17

10 a.m. Chrism Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

5:30 p.m. Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at Basilica of St. Louis, King of France

Friday, April 18

3 p.m. Passion of the Lord at Poor Clare Monastery

Saturday, April 19

8 p.m. Easter Vigil at Holy Redeemer Church 

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