"Put joy into our hearts,
that we may be consoled amidst the trials of this world,
give witness to your name before all people,
and that they may know you (Christ Jesus), the Father and the Spirit..."
I was stunned yet again by this emphasis on joy that I find in the Maronite tradition. We are called to witness to Christ by sharing our joy in Him. Christianity, particularly Apostolic Christianity in its Catholic and Orthodox traditions, is not a doom-and-gloom religion, but a religion of joy and hope. Joy in the fact that the Kingdom of God is here; and hope in the Kingdom of God yet to come - a dynamic tension of the "already" and the "not yet." Christianity is a religion of joy because we have so great a redeemer; because while we were yet sinners Christ Jesus offered His life for us that we might have life in its fullest. Christianity is a religion of joy because of the great love that God our Father has for us in sending us His only Son as the light of the world shining in the darkness. Christianity is a religion of joy because with Christ we die to the old man and are raised to new life in the bosom of the Trinity, the Trinitarian life.
In the hymns for Pascha the Byzantine tradition calls us to rejoice in the Resurrection, to dance, to embrace one another, to shine, to radiate the light of the Resurrection that has shone on us. The angels shout, and all creation is turned upside down, reeling with joy in the fact of the Resurrection and reveling in its renewal. This Paschal joy must permeate our lives.
So often we think that if we provide better arguments, if we study apologetics more thoroughly, if we engage in informed intellectual debate, then we can convince people of the truth of Christianity. But, as St. Paul says, we preach Christ crucified and risen, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. Intellectual arguments are good, but they only go so far. One does not change hearts by offering "proofs" of this or that truth of Christianity. We change hearts by reveling in the folly of the Cross and rejoicing in the impossibility of the Resurrection. We change hearts by becoming fools steeped in God's foolishness, which is wiser than the greatest wisdom of men.
I often ask myself why certain writings from the saints and from a handful of modern authors and theologians really have a lasting impact on the Church. One thing that I find common to all of them is the amount of joy contained in those writings (yes, even within the writings of the great scholastic thinkers like Aquinas and Bonaventure). One need only read a few pages from the writings of folks like Catherine Doherty or Archbishop Joseph Raya or Fr. George Maloney before one is really infected with their joy in the risen Lord. Likewise one need only read a few lines from someone like St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Theophan the Recluse, St. Therese of Lisieux, or St. Francis of Assisi before one can almost see the light of their joy radiating off the very pages.
If we are to effectively evangelize the world around us, we must be Christ's light shining in that world. We must radiate the joy of the Resurrection. We must cry out the joy of the Resurrection as the angels in the empty tomb did to the myrrh bearing women. We must triumphantly sing the song of victory with joy and gratitude in our hearts and permeating our words. Only then will we truly begin to change the hearts (and gradually the minds) of those around us.
Christ is risen!
El Maseeh qam