In two weeks we will attend Easter Mass, celebrate with family and friends over dinner, and welcome the warmth and sunshine we have longed for after many months of winter. Light and cheer are ahead. Yet the newspaper headlines remind us that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—with its brutal and vicious attacks on innocent men, women and children—continues unabated. It may seem an inopportune time to celebrate. Can we rejoice while others are suffering?
St. Paul tells the church in Rome to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” We cannot read about, listen to or watch others suffer without extending our compassion to them, doing what we can, praying at the very least. But we must also rejoice with those who have good news. It seems we will always know people who celebrate or suffer, just as we ourselves swing between the two throughout our days.
In fact, we are capable of maintaining both states of being at the same time. In St. Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians, he writes of his role as an apostle “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” We may struggle to understand how this is possible, but it’s certainly reasonable. We cannot deny the personal suffering we face daily, from something as unfortunate as a flat tire to as terrifying as a diagnosis of cancer, or the difficulties and pain we see in the lives of our family, friends and coworkers. But we also know this life is but a fraction of eternity, that in the next life God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
We have much work to do. There are many people out there suffering and rejoicing. There are many who need our gentle touch, words of encouragement, financial support in hardship or unsolicited help. There are some who just need our company on their birthday or other special day, our presence so they can share some wonderful news or a fun activity. And all of us need the real Good News, especially at a time like this.
The Good News, the Gospel, is always timely. In the same epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” It must not be put off by work or play, sunshine or rain, war or peace. The Gospel is news that alters everything – working and playing, crying and laughing, fasting and feasting. Those who are tempted to silence it or mute it have either forgotten its message or have never truly heard it. It is not just words; it is the “power of God for salvation.” St. John Henry Newman explains how Easter teaches us how to think about the world, not the other way around: “It is the death of the Eternal Word of God made flesh, which is our great lesson in how to think and how to speak of this world. His Cross has put its due value upon every thing which we see … It has taught us how to live, how to use this world, what to expect, what to desire, what to hope. It is the tone into which all the strains of this world’s music are ultimately to be resolved.”
What is the good news of Easter? Like children, we desire to hear it again and again. God chose to become Man and suffer the cross in order to rescue us. He has rescued us from selfishness, sadness, depression, disease, war, loneliness and death itself. He has done this despite our best attempts to thwart him. If we know ourselves, we will admit that we have gone kicking and screaming against His every effort, and we still do. God is not surprised and he doesn’t give up. He won’t ever give up, thank God.
Yes, we can celebrate Easter, we must celebrate it, in times of war as in times of peace. We must remind ourselves and others that this life is not all there is, that God will make right all that is wrong, that there is no bad news that can ruin us more than the Good News can save us. It is the good news we must cling to, because it brings meaning to all other news and events. As Newman enjoins us: “They alone are able truly to enjoy this world, who begin with the world unseen. They alone enjoy it, who have first abstained from it. They alone can truly feast, who have first fasted; they alone are able to use the world, who have learned not to abuse it; they alone inherit it, who take it as a shadow of the world to come, and who for that world to come relinquish it.”
Let us turn to God in this time and ask him for the grace to be sorrowful, but always rejoicing. Then let us turn to those God has put within our reach and serve them as He calls us to do. Newman said we all have something to give because whatever good we have is from the same source: Christ Himself. “All the wisdom of the Doctors, and the courage and endurance of the Martyrs, and the purity of Virgins, and the zeal of Preachers, and the humility and mortification of religious men, is from Him, as the beginning of the new and heavenly creation of God.” Let’s get to work then.