Happy Easter! Are we still celebrating the joys of the Resurrection? I believe one of the greatest obstacles to evangelization and sharing our faith with others today is that many of us have forgotten how to be joyful. I know when the stresses of the world weigh me down, I struggle to maintain a joyful attitude in the presence of others. We are often so busy with our hectic schedules and materialistic lifestyles that we lose touch with our love of Christ and neglect our faith. What would consistently reflecting sincere joy do for our growth as Catholics? The people around us? For the rest of the world?
Think about it. The early Christians had the good fortune to be the first to share the Good News. Imagine the joy they felt in sharing Christ’s message of love to everyone. They stood out as happy in a suffering world, just as Christians have an opportunity to do so today. Jesus promised the Apostles (and us) this joy at the Last Supper when He said, “So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 16:22).
Do we show our joy at home, at work, with friends? We have so much to be truly thankful for in our relationship with Christ and the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith. But, being truly joyful should lead to sharing that joy and the ability to express the truths of our faith in a way that shows the depth of our sincere belief and love to others. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
Saint Paul reinforces the call to be joyful in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” The Apostle makes it sound simple, but why do we struggle? We all deal with various forms of adversity. Some of us are unemployed, some are dealing with illness, and others are struggling with relationship or financial problems. The current economic challenges, the global attacks on religious liberties, and the relentless bias against the Church by the secular media have made many of us gloomy and frightened. These are real obstacles to joy, and they must be acknowledged. But as Romans 12:12 says: “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction.”
As tough as things may be, Catholics have work to do for Christ. Like the early Christians, we too are called to share the Good News. Think of the life of Saint Paul. He was shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, starved, and stoned. But he showed incredible fortitude to share his joy and the message of Christ to the Gentiles despite his suffering. We should follow his example today.
For Catholics, joy in the midst of extreme adversity is our obligation and our duty. Remember that we are not alone. Our faith in Christ and our devotion in the sacraments that bind us to Him will see us through the tough times and help us share a joy that will not evaporate in the face of tough challenges. Be encouraged by our Lord’s words, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
It is so easy to get lost in our problems and forget to be joyful. It happens to me and just about everyone else I know. But remember that we are surrounded by people who are watching us. They may be seeking Him and looking for someone—anyone—to show them the way to Christ. They could learn from our good example, be inspired by our joy, and be encouraged by our faith journeys if we will only remember that we are called to share the Good News. If we are gloomy, frustrated, inward-focused and critical of the Church, we will never be able to help anyone and may put our own salvation at risk.
Let me share four simple actions I try to follow in my desire to be joyful. This is by no means the definitive list, but this short checklist helps me stay on track:
- Surrender to Christ every day and recommit to putting him first in all areas of my life.
- Give up my burdens to Jesus in daily prayer. I can’t do it alone and I need His help!
- Be thankful for my blessings. I can dwell on my problems or I can focus on all of the incredible blessings in my life and express my gratitude in prayer.
- Start with the end in mind. Are my actions each day serving our Lord? I hope to hear Jesus say at the end of my life on earth, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We are made for heaven and not this world. Am I living the kind of life which will lead me there?
Do you find it difficult or easy to share your joy? I personally subscribe to the thinking of Cardinal Dolan of New York, who said: “Being Catholic is not a heavy burden, snuffing the joy out of life; rather our faith in Jesus and His Church gives meaning, purpose and joy to life.”
Consider the simple manifestations of joy such as showing affection, smiling, laughter, joy after receiving the Eucharist in Mass or right after leaving Reconciliation. The world will place enormous pressure on our shoulders that may make it feel impossible to be joyful at times. But if we are truly living our faith and trusting in Christ, then no burden or suffering will hold back the love that is in our hearts.
If I ever feel like I am not having a positive effect on the world, I can always show my sincere Christ-inspired joy to those I encounter each day in hopes of at least making a difference in the life of another person. That is a good place to start. Happy Easter!
Image credit: “The Resurrection of Christ” (detail) by Bloch via Restored Traditions