THE PLACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE PASCHAL MYSTERY AS THE BASIS FOR CHRISTIAN HOPE AND JOY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 18:9-18; JN 16:20-23]
When we meet trials and difficulties especially in the apostolate and in trying to be faithful to our Christian life, what is the basis of our Christian hope and joy? What is the secret to the joy of the apostles when they met with opposition and persecution in preaching the gospel? If by reading today’s scripture lessons, we immediately apply to the existential situation of overcoming some difficulties or achieving some success, we have not yet come to the depth of the joy that the Lord wants to give us. The sufferings that we endure cannot be compared to the sufferings that the disciples of Jesus underwent in witnessing to Him; nor the joy of success be compared to that of the disciples in being witnesses to the Risen Lord Jesus.
The truth is that unlike what Gallio, proconsul of Achaia thought, the dispute between the Jews and the Christians was not simply “quibbles about words and names.” This is because the bone of contention between the Jews and the Christians is precisely the issue of hope. The question of hope and joy is therefore a fundamental question. For the Jews, their hope is based on observation of the Law but for the Christians, their hope is founded on faith in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Christian hope is therefore a Christocentric hope with a pneumatological focus. Christian joy is founded on our faith in the resurrection of the Lord, which is made possible by the Father who raised Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. The joy of the disciples was their encounter with Jesus at the resurrection. Indeed, this was what Jesus assured them, “you are sad now, but I shall see you again.” Jesus anticipated this when He told them, “I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn to joy.”
But more than just an encounter with Jesus in the resurrection, the disciples continued to experience the presence of the Risen Lord in a new but real way in the Holy Spirit after Ascension at Pentecost. It is the conscious presence of the Holy Spirit that Paul heard the words of Jesus saying to him, “Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you. I have so many people on my side in this city that no one will even attempt to hurt you.” Only with the Holy Spirit present in our hearts and operating in our lives, can we know for certain that the Lord Jesus is Risen and alive in our midst. Without a conscious experience of the Holy Spirit and His work in us, we can never know that the Lord is Risen as we cannot see Him physically but only by faith.
Hence, it is because of the resurrection, His glorification at the Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that the promise of Jesus was fulfilled. He said, “your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.” If this joy cannot be taken away, it is because what will fill our hearts would be the presence of Jesus, His love and joy. The origin of our faith, which gives us hope and therefore joy, does not spring from us but from the Risen Lord who dwells in us in the Holy Spirit. Such joy cannot be taken away from us since it is not dependent on external factors. Such joy therefore is not the absence of pain and troubles, but the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, Christian joy is a paradoxical joy as it includes suffering. Like Jesus, who suffered for His mission, so too the disciples would have to suffer with Him for the mission! However this is a suffering that brings joy because of the resultant consequence of new life. Such is the case a woman in childbirth, as illustrated in the analogy given by Jesus. Once the labor pain is over, the mother forgets all her sufferings as she is too overwhelmed by the birth of her child. So Jesus said, “A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a man has been born into the world.”
The joy of bringing new life into the world makes all suffering meaningful. The great joy of new life one experiences makes all other questions redundant. Hence, for us priests, to seek joy without suffering and pain would not be priestly joy. The fact that we celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass daily means that a priest’s life would entail sufferings encountered in the course of his ministry. But knowing that we have brought life to others brings us great joy, just as Jesus who is the joy of the Father, in giving us life.
However, a Christian does not suffer without hope. For this reason, he finds true joy even in suffering. Jesus said, “when that day comes, you will not ask me any questions.” No questions will be asked not because we do not suffer any more but because we will learn to live in faith and trust in His divine providence. Knowing that Jesus is present in our sufferings will be enough to see us through. Joy is experienced as a personal encounter. When we encounter Jesus, we encounter life. When life is encountered as an event, not as puzzlement, then living and experiencing the event is already the answer in itself. With such an encounter, all other questions are resolved, or the questions are redundant. Truly, when we go through the struggles and sufferings of life, we tend to ask questions. But when we complete the journey, everything becomes clear even though we might not be able to understand everything.
In the final analysis, we know that life, suffering and death are part of the mystery of life. They cannot be resolved by answers that satisfy our intellect but only the heart can understand them. Our ability to find joy in the mystery of life is founded on the paschal mystery, going through the death of Jesus, sharing in His resurrection, and being filled with love of the Holy Spirit. This new life through the love of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and our personal encounter with the Risen Lord overcomes all the sufferings we endure in life. In our difficulties knowing that Jesus is victorious over death should give us sufficient consolation. Knowing that His Spirit lives in us, is our assurance of His love for us and that joy of being loved will strengthen us in our trials. Today being the first day of the novena to the Holy Spirit, let us pray for the gift of joy, especially when we have to suffer for the gospel.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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