EASTER MESSAGE from Provincial Superior
The Joy of the Risen Lord
Once, a group of young people came to meet a priest. Unfortunately this priest was one of those who for some reason are sad, disgruntled, moody and unwelcoming. After they finished their business with him, one of them dared to tell him: “Father, excuse my saying this, but looking at you I am convinced that Jesus Christ died. But I am not at all sure that He rose from the dead!” Joy is an essential aspect of our Christian life and ministry. It is a sign that the Christian community is an Easter community. Yes we come across so many Christians, priests and religious who seem to have lost their joy, their capacity to smile. They seem to be perpetually mourning the death of Christ!
Joy is the gift of the Risen Lord. He tells his apostles: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you…ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:22-24, RSV). The disciples on the way to Emmaus have not yet experienced the Risen Lord. They are sad, men without hope, men without courage (Lk 24:17, 21, 29). But the moment they experience the Risen Lord their sorrow is turned into joy, their hope is revived, they leave their shelter and boldly return to Jerusalem, braving the darkness of the night, to share their joy with the other disciples (Lk 24:32-35). How does Jesus bring us joy? Why is it that only after his resurrection can he give us that joy which the world cannot take away? To understand the mystery of Jesus’ joy, we need to understand the mystery of his resurrection, and then we will see how by his resurrection Jesus becomes our joy.
Joy: The Fruit of Prayer:
In the Lukan account of the transfiguration of Jesus the writer shows that the , transfiguration of Jesus is linked with his resurrection. In his Gospel, Luke makes a statement which is very important to understand the transfiguration: Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, and it is during his prayer that he is transfigured (Lk 9:28). So we can say that the resurrection of Jesus is his transfiguration effected by his prayer. How does this happen?
Imagine a child brought to an orphanage by a police-officer. The officer has picked up the child on the streets, and after an inquiry he comes to the conclusion that this child has no parents. This child is lean, under-nourished. He looks sad, sullen, unprepared to talk. After a year that same officer comes to meet that child. What a surprise! Not only is the child looking healthy, but now he is smiling, most eager to talk, most willing to share. How did this change come about? The love given to him by the sisters who run that orphanage works a miracle, a transfiguration. We all know this from our own experience. When we receive love we feel our worth, we experience fulfilment, we undergo a healing, and we open out to others.
We learn to love. When our hearts are joyful we even have good health. The reverse is also true: when we are sad, our faces droop, our health goes down.Prayer is the experience of God who is love, and the source of all love (1 John 4:7-8). This experience is bound to affect us, to heal us, to make us joyful, and this joy and healing will reveal itself on our face, provided it is deep and lasting. This depends on the depth of our prayer. Jesus is the new Moses (Lk 3:22). Like Moses, he too goes up the mountain to meet God. The mount of transfiguration anticipates the mount of his crucifixion. Death is our final prayer, our final and therefore our definitive encounter with God. By his death, Jesus enters the Holy of holies, the presence of his Father (Heb 9:12). His death is not the passive experience of a helpless criminal, but the deliberate self-offering of a willing victim: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). In this experience Jesus stands before his Abba. He experiences that unique love which the Abba has for him, and for him alone. The experience of love is a healing experience. The healing of Jesus is total. He is so healed that he is taken beyond death. Death has no power over him any more (Rm 6:9). This love of the Father, a love that is faithful forever, fills Jesus with joy, a joy that the world can neither give nor take way. Jesus is now fully in the Father. This is the reason why he can say to his disciples when he meets them after his resurrection: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19). Only a person who has joy deep within him can give that joy to others. A person who does not have joy within him can for a while put up a show, but people can see through it. Even that mask cannot last. Jesus is now our joy, because he is fully in the love of his Father.
Our Openness to Joy:
A music-lover is invited to attend a concert given by a famous singer. He requests one of his friends to accompany him. His friend obliges him, not because he likes music, but because he loves that music-lover. During the performance, the latter is fully engrossed in the music, feeling one with the singer. His friend looks bored. He even begins to yawn. Deep in his heart he is cursing himself for having accepted to accompany his friend. After the concert, the music-lover is refreshed, ready for a stretch of hard work while his companion is totally exhausted. Both had attended the same concert, yet the effect it had on them is so different. This is because one was disposed to receive the beauty, the joy that the singer was trying to share through his song, while the other was not prepared to enter this experience, not because he did not want it, but because he was not able to understand that music. This is true of our prayer.
The fact that we pray, by itself does not guarantee us the joy and peace of the Risen Lord. We must be disposed to receive this peace and joy. There are two conditions that are essential for this: total openness to God our Father, and total openness to humans, our brothers and sisters. On the cross Jesus expresses his total openness to humans by those beautiful words: “Further, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). We may have forgiven nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine people; but if we consciously refuse forgiveness even to one person we just cannot pray, and therefore the question of our experiencing the joy of Jesus, the love of our Father, just does not arise.
The second condition to experience the love of our Father, and consequently share in the joy of Jesus is to be totally for our Father. On the cross Jesus expresses this in two ways. He is totally stripped of all creatures, surrendering not only his clothes, but also his beloved mother. He is totally naked before God, totally open to Him (Jn 19:23-27).
On the other hand we have those beautiful words of total self-giving: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46). His whole life had been one big search: the will of His Father. He could truly say: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me” (John 4:34). It is not easy to be totally for God. We all have certain needs. We need not just food, clothing and housing. In some way these are not our major needs. We need love, appreciation success, publicity. We need to feel the power that comes from having money, position, degrees, etc. We need to be remembered by others. The danger is that we can use our ministry /apostolate to meet these needs. The people may not see our real motives. They may even praise us for the wonderful work we are doing, not realizing that we are only using them for our needs. Only in the silence of prayer, when we are standing before the Lord and before ourselves, will we realize that we are not working exclusively for Him. This experience of prayer will mean the experience of a greater love, and only the experience of a greater love can enable us to strip ourselves of everything that comes between that love and ourselves.
As Christians we are called to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. We are called to shout: “Rejoice and be glad, for the Lord has risen indeed!” We can do this truly and effectively if deep down we have the joy of Jesus. To have this joy we need to recognize Jesus who walks with us, as he did with those two disciples on the way to Emmaus. For this we need to be with him in the silence of the inner room, saying to him, “Lord, be with us, there is in our hearts the darkness of the night!” Once we recognize him, our night will become the morning of his resurrection, and then we will run with joy, eager to tell others that “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
The spirit of Easter is all about Hope, Love and Joyful living. Happy Easter!
Yours affectionately in the Risen Lord