Last night, 25th March, we had the final conference of a three part mini-retreat in preparation for holy week and the Easter Triduum. It focused on the resurrection, hope and joy. I would like to thank everyone who connected with us over the three nights and I hope that the retreat helped you to prepare to prayerfully enter the most important week of the Church's year. If you would like to donate anything, big or small, to the work and mission of 'The Hook of Faith' then any donation will be received with appreciation. Just send a cheque made out to 'The Hook of Faith' and send it to Fr Billy Swan, The Presbytery, School St., Wexford. With every peace and blessing. Fr Billy Swan.
Today’s feast of the Annunciation. Mary as woman of hope and joy. She came through the dark horror of Good Friday, lived through Easter Sunday and was present with the Apostles at prayer at Pentecost. She is our mother and friend who teaches us how to be resilient and to trust in God’s promises.
She is a woman of joy: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’
She is a woman of hope: ‘Blessed is she who believed that the promises made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled’.
The image of light and shadow of the cross. Suffering is temporary, joy is everlasting.
The example of my father as he was dying. The suffering was hard for him and for us but as time goes on, the memory of the suffering fades away in favour of the time we had with him and relationship between him and all of us that grew that time and that remains, even now.
Here is the power of the resurrection, the faith that not even death can destroy the bonds of love between us.
This is only possible because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His resurrection made ours possible. ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not death, nor life…these are the trials through which we triumph by the power of him who loved us’ (Romans 8).
Here is the light and the power of the resurrection. The symbol of the cross was for the Romans and their enemies a symbol of fear and threat – ‘you cross us and this is how you will end up’.
But for Christians, the cross eventually became a taunt and counter-sign. It was a sign of victory where the worst was overcome by the best. The worst of sin was swallowed up by the best of God’s grace and mercy.
The resurrection is about ‘Jesus is Lord’. Not Caesar is Lord, or the government is Lord or the State is Lord, or even I am Lord. In Christ risen from the dead there is the ultimate victory already won. Everything else unfolds under God’s divine providence.
Pope Francis and the Kergyma:
He wants the Church’s mission, preaching, witness and zeal to be salted by the confident proclamation of this victory of the risen Lord over sin and death.
See the zeal and confidence of the early Church. If they were afraid of how their message was going to be received, then they would never have ever started to give witness.
‘We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach’ (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 265).
They preached the Gospel on their terms without unduly worrying about the consequences.
The example of St Paul – ‘all I want to know is Christ crucified and to be given a share in his resurrection’; ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor. 15:1ff).
This is the spirit of mission and courage needed today – a courage that is founded on the victory of Christ over every form of darkness and sin.
St John Paul II talked about God imposing ‘limits on evil’.
We can witness to the resurrection each day in ordinary ways. If Christ is raised from the dead then all things are possible.
Even in the face of difficult situations that are painful, God’s Spirit is there and is at work.
‘Where sin is, God’s grace abounds all the more’ (Rom. 5:20).
Julian of Norwich: ‘All will be well’
St Therese of Avila: ‘Nada te turbe’. All is grace.
In the resurrection, the hopes of the disciples were restored. Hope rose with Jesus. With the resurrection, Jesus message and truth were vindicated. The road the Emmaus in Luke 24. Their hopes were re-shaped.
St Paul: ‘let us not grieve like those who have no hope’ (1 Thess. 4:13).
Pope Benedict XVI: ‘the one who has hope lives differently’ (Spe Salvi).
“In hope we are saved” St Paul wrote to the Romans and so it remains today (Rom 8:24). For the Christian who suffers, trials are not ends in themselves but temporary moments of transformation to be embraced as the means to make us more perfect in love and more perfectly united to the source of love who is God.
This is the source of our hope – that all suffering takes place with the future in view where God’s kingdom will be realised, where suffering will come to an end and give way to the joy of perfect union with the God of love and beauty.
St John Paul II was and continues to be a ‘Witness to Hope’. This is the title of his major biography by journalist George Weigel.
To thousands of young people gathered in Toronto Canada in 2002 for World Youth Day, he spoke these words: ‘Although I have lived through much darkness under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young…do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it!’.
These words tell us why St John Paul II was a witness to hope. On this occasion and so many others, he did precisely what St Peter asks us to do in one of the most significant verses of the New Testament, namely to ‘always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope you have’ (1 Peter 3:15).
For St John Paul II, his hope was grounded in the conviction that the ultimate victory belongs to Christ, a victory he has already won on the cross. It was a hope founded on the promise of Jesus at the Last Supper: ‘In the world you will have tribulation but take courage for I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). John Paul II lived through the loss of all his family, the horror of the Second World War, Communism, being shot and almost killed, bowel cancer, Parkinsons disease and many more trials. Yet, he never lost hope. If he had hope, what excuse do we have not to hope?
Many believers testify that had it not been for the hope that comes from their Christian faith, they may not have survived. Countless people of faith have seen in their suffering the seeds of a future of hope - that the sorrow they experience will give way eventually to joy (cf. John 16:20). This is not a form of wishful thinking that consoles us in present misery but is a real act of faith that sees suffering as a participation in Christ’s anguish that precedes a form of new life in the future. For the Christian, the Gospel gives us hope and gives life a trajectory towards that definitive future.
The prevalence of despair. The only cure for hopelessness is hope.
“Christ is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope”
Pope Francis, Christ is Alive, 2.
The resurrection was an experience of unbridled joy. 'He is alive, he is risen!'
The Easter Vigil and the Exultet – unapologetically joyful.
‘The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew’. (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 1).
Gaudete Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday in Lent.
‘O God you are to my heart a richer joy than all’ (Ps. 4:7); ‘Shout for joy, rejoice, exult with all your heart…the Lord is in your midst’ (Zephaniah 3:17); ‘Rejoice so highly favoured. The Lord is with you’ (Luke 1:28). The joy of Mary.
The source of our joy is not in what we have. It lies in ‘Emmanuel’, the name which means ‘God is with us’ (cf. Matt. 1:23). The joy of God’s presence with us and his closeness.
The joy that flows from God’s saving action and work. Hannah who ‘exults in Yahweh…for I rejoice in your deliverance’ (1 Sam. 2:1) and with Mary whose spirit ‘rejoices in God my Saviour…for the Almighty has done great things for me’ (Lk. 1: 47, 49). We see it in the three great parables of mercy in Luke 15 where the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son all end in a rejoicing that flows from restoration, healing and forgiveness.
The joy of worship and prayer:
Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy’ (Ps. 43:4); ‘Sing for joy to God our strength; Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob’ (Ps. 81:1); ‘They will come to Zion shouting for joy, everlasting joy on their faces’ (Is. 35:10).
The experience of sadness and loss is not an end in itself but a moment that will give way, sooner or later, to joy. St Oscar Romero spoke these words from the darkness of El Salvador’s violence: ‘It is wrong to be sad. Christians cannot be pessimists. Christians must always nourish in their hearts the fullness of joy’ (The Violence of Love).
‘There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved’ (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 6).
God is joyful!!
‘Do not mourn or weep for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Neh. 8:9-10). The prophet Zephaniah says that ‘God will rejoice over you with happy song. He will dance with shouts of joy for you’ (Zeph. 3:17). The German Dominican Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1327) once wrote that ‘the Father laughs at the Son and the Son at the Father and the laughing brings forth pleasure and the pleasure brings forth joy and the joy brings forth love’ (Sermon 18).
In more recent times, the Catechism confirms this states that: ‘In God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is unending life, joy and communion’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1720).
Christianity is a religion of joy. It is truly ‘glad tidings’ for humanity.
God is the source of our joy for he is the God of joy.