Pope Francis has been writing about hope and joy from the beginning of his pontificate. In fact, his first apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel,”) which was issued on Nov. 24, 2013, is wholly dedicated to the good news that the resurrection of the Lord has freed us from the darkness of sin and death.
“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” the pope writes. “I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” (#1). We need this good news more than ever now after a year of pandemic, social unrest and economic hardship!
Evangelii Gaudium is a heartfelt appeal to bring Christ’s love to others, to be permanently in a state of mission, conquering the great danger in today’s world of individualist desolation and anguish. Repeatedly the Holy Father has warned that selfish indifference is an evil far more destructive than any pandemic.
For Pope Francis, the hope and joy of Easter are the only solution to the “desolation and anguish” that come from a world-weary sense of fatalism and despair. The church itself is tempted to settle into a comfortable acceptance of the status quo. This is unacceptable! The Easter miracle should compel all baptized Christians to speak out with joyful hearts, to proclaim the transformation of the world and all it contains, and to act with heroism and hope to comfort us with the consolation of the risen Christ, and to unsettle us with the discomfort of the one who came not to bring peace but the sword.
In the light of Easter joy, Pope Francis warns all of us (himself included) against three temptations: individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervor. The pope believes the greatest threat of all is “the grey pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality the faith is wearing down.” He warns against defeatism, urging Christians to be signs of hope, bringing about a “revolution of tenderness,” vanquishing the “spiritual worldliness” that consists of “seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and well-being.”
The church teaches that only one sin is unforgivable: the sin against hope (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2091). This is because sins against hope contradict the very meaning of Christian life. They deny the Easter mystery and its power to save us all, regardless of who we are or what we have done.
Evangelii Gaudium calls baptized Christians to become “spirit-filled evangelizers” who are “fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit,” and who have “the courage to proclaim with boldness the newness of the Gospel in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition.”
In response to the good news of Easter, Pope Francis urges us to be evangelizers who pray and work in the knowledge that our “mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people.” How passionate are we, really, about sharing the risen Christ with others? Are we enthusiastic or just lukewarm?
“Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others,” the pope teaches. “In our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns. Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can be a missionary.”
The pope urges us not to be discouraged because of failure or scarce results, since “fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable.” The boldness that Peter and the disciples displayed after they had received the Holy Spirit is what is demanded of us today. The church has experienced many failures in its 2,000-year history (much of it self-imposed), but the presence of the Holy Spirit helps to overcome our human weaknesses and to make genuine growth in holiness and charity a real possibility in every circumstance no matter how challenging.
Easter is the season of hope and joy. Let’s not be afraid to proclaim with boldness our profound belief that the suffering and despair of the Lord’s passion have been overcome by the saving grace of love. Alleluia!