Sunday, April 11, 2010

Allelluia, Allelluia

April 11
, 2010
by Fr. George W. Rutler

The joy of Easter is more than happiness, since happiness is a feeling while joy is a fact. Happiness comes from impressions, while joy comes from comprehension. Happiness with what is bad quickly turns to sadness.  Joy is being happy with what is good.  As only God is good (Luke 18:19), endless joy comes from encounter with Him who is eternal:  "So also you now indeed have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you” (John 16:22).

     The nineteenth-century Oxford philosopher, Richard Whately, said, "Happiness in no laughing matter."  We might laugh at that, until we realize that he spoke of that blessed happiness toward which all human activity tends, but which needs knowledge of truth to become the "fullness of joy" that Jesus promised (John 15:11).  When the Risen Christ appeared, no one laughed. The witnesses were "afraid yet filled with joy” (Matt. 28:8). It was too joyful to be a laughing matter. This is why the Church's most joyful liturgies are "solemn" and to reduce worship of the Risen Christ to a merely human party would be like turning the Heavenly City into a suburb.

     Because Easter is direct contact with things eternal, we have to work at understanding its joy, and at first it may not seem "joyful" at all. It is easier to relate to the happiness of Christmas and the sorrow of Good Friday, since all of us were born and will die. But only when they are perceived as marking the birth and death of the Son of God, do these occasions become joyful.  The Resurrection permits no sentimentalizing, unless it is turned into a festival of spring and vague immortality, but that evaporates quickly, and even the flowers and birds do not pay tribute south of the equator.

     Jesus told Peter: “What I am doing you do not understand now; but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). Just before his own crucifixion, around the year 64 when Rome was in flames, Peter described the Risen Christ “in whom also now, though you see Him not, you believe; and believing shall rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified” (1 Peter 1:8).

     This Holy Week our parish attracted the largest throngs I can remember, people often standing outside on Park Avenue unable to get in.  In part, I think it was a response to the unprofessional and even hysterical calumnies of some journalists against St. Peter's successor, Benedict XVI. Mostly it was a response to Christ among us. The Pope said on Easter: "Joy cannot be commanded. It can only be given. The risen Lord gives us joy: true life. We are already held forever in the love of the One to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given.”

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