HE SHOWED THEM HIS HANDS AND HIS SIDE AND SO THE DISCIPLES REJOICED. Joy is the characteristic emotion of the disciples of Jesus following his resurrection. The gospel accounts repeatedly speak of the rejoicing that marked our Lord's appearances after he rose from the tomb. This joy is so strong that it overcomes the gnawing fear they had been experiencing due to the hostility of the authorities. But it is at first mingled with another fear, no less distressing. At first it overwhelms the women when they encounter the angel at the empty tomb so that they do not carry out the mission assigned them of announcing the event to the apostles. The apostles themselves are frightened upon meeting their master in his risen form. Even when they saw him in front of their eyes they could not believe because of the fear that gripped their heart. This was their state of mind when, as St. John states it, Jesus "SHOWED THEM HIS HANDS AND HIS SIDE" and goes on to add "AND SO THE DISCIPLES REJOICED."
And so, from the very first moments of their faith in the glorified Lord, the apostles associated the new life of the resurrection with the passion and death of Jesus. Jesus himself had, in a prophetic manner, already joined these two seeming opposites of suffering and death, on the one hand, with fulness of life, on the other, but his prediction fell on deaf ears; it was too much for his followers to gasp until the event demonstrated the truth of this paradox. And, as we are told, even the event proved at first resistant to belief, so contrary was it to human experience and hope until the Lord himself spoke reassuringly to them and gave further evidence by eating in their presence. The association of suffering and death with the fullness of life entailed the mingling of a certain sorrow and the anxieties and fear associated with trials with the very real joy experienced in the depths of the spirit. "And you have sadness now, but I shall see you again and your heart will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you.(John 16: 22)". Similarly, the peace that Jesus gives is of a different order than that which the world provides: "Peace I send to you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give you (John 14: 27)."
Since a quiet, deeply rooted joy is the fundamental disposition giving rise to peace, as the quality of our joy so also will be the character of the peace we experience. Accordingly, our joy as followers of Christ will always have a certain impress of the cross, for it is a share in the joy of our Lord who will always bear the marks of his crucifixion and death. These wounds are not dead scars but living signs of the basic inner dispositions of his heart. They remain as indications of his total emptying out of self in the service of our redemption and sanctification. This kenosis, as St. Paul terms the self-abasement that was expressed in his incarnation and still more strikingly in his passion and death on the cross, is the form assumed by divine love in the facer of human misery and alienation. The love of God in this world has nothing in common with that aspect of human eros which impels us toward relationships marked by a possessiveness that, of itself, tends to be exclusive, jealous and over controlling.
Hans Urs von Balthasar has addressed one of the seeming contradictions concerning the mystery of God's being unchangeable, on the one hand, and yet so loving as to give his only Son to be born as a man, suffer and die, on the other. He points out that there is no contradiction here due to the fact that God the Father already from eternity is so constituted that he empties himself out totally in the Son who thus in his very nature as son, in totally the equal of the Father. Thus it is God's very nature to give himself so totally as to hold nothing back and so in this self-giving that constitutes the being and nature of the Son empties himself without reserve. This emptying of self, this giving forth of all that he is in his very being also characterizes the Son who receives all from the Father . The Incarnation and the Passion and Death are then consistent with the nature of God and as such do not represent any change within that nature. Von Balthasar's own words state his view on this, one of the most profound and difficult maters that confront the reflection of the believer.
We shall never know how to express the abyss-like depths of the Father's self-giving, that Father who, in an eternal super-Knosis', makes himself destitute' of all that he is can be so as to bring forth a consubstantial divinity, the Son. Everything that can be thought and imagined where God is concerned is, in advance, included and transcended in the self- destitution which constitutes the person of the Father, and, at the same time, those of the Son and the Spirit. God as the gulf' (Eckart: Un-Grund) of absolute Love contains in advance, eternally, all the modalities of love, of compassion, and even of a separation" motivated by love and founded in the distinction between the hypostasies- modalities which may manifest themselves in the course of a history of salvation involving sinful humankind (Mysterium Paschale, viii, ix)
In view of this feature of the Blessed Trinity's being, it would seem that all who share in his life come to know that new kind of joy of which Jesus spoke that includes the sorrow through which he passed in carrying out the plan of the Father with the obedience of loving trust. As has been noted by the Fathers, we hear of Jesus when he weeps, when angry, when sorrowful even unto death, when indignant, when he exults in joy, but there is no incident in the New Testament where he is said to laugh or, for that matter, to smile, even when he is pictured as displaying a great gentleness, mercy and kindness towards various persons. He was remembered and thought of, like the prophets of Israel, as possessed of an earnestness of manner that somehow raised him above the common expressions of human sociability. It is significant that the word "laugh" 'laugh' occurs only twice in the whole of the New Testament, both in St. Luke's version of the beatitudes. Once it refers to the world to come; the second occurrence expresses a woe: "Blessed are those who mourn now, for you will laugh.... Woe to you who laugh now, for you will be sorrowful and weep" (6: 21, 25). Even in the Old Testament laughter is considered the sign of a superficial if not foolish person: As the noise of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools 7:6)" and "I said of laughter, it is madness (Ecclesiastes 2:2)".
Yet, far from repelling by this seriousness and dedication, Jesus obviously exercised an ascendency over many by virtue of his personal charm as well as by his teaching and the powers displayed in his wonders. His personality radiated a strength and assurance that surprised and attracted by being so humble and self-effacing in the service of the mission given by his Father. Perhaps it was St. Basil who best describes the kind of attraction Jesus made on those persons of good will whom he met with when he advises the members of his religious communities concerning these matters. The Bishop of Neo-Caesaria advises the Christian to strive to be kind and benevolent to others in all truth, but to avoid any effort to make an impression by cleverness, jocularity or wittiness. According to those who knew him best Basil in this matter exemplified this kind of benevolence even while conveying a sense of grave seriousness. He states his view at length in his Long Rules (#17), for he views laughter in the context of the important virtue of self-control, which is essential to the mature Christian and in fact is the mark of every wise persons. Though the word smile' does not occur at all in any of the books of the New Testament, Basil distinguishes it from laughter; he considers it to be an approved expression of the heart's joy. I cite him in brief.
For to be overcome by incontinent and immoderate laughter is a mark of incontinence and shows that a man has not his emotions under control, and does not suppress the frivolity of his soul by a strict rule. It is not unseemly to reveal merriment to the extend of a cheerful smile, though only so far as Scripture allows when it says: "When the heart is merry the face rejoices (Prov. xv: 13)...." (The Ascetic Works of St. Basil, tr. W. Clark,180)
St. Augustine made it an important concern to study the nature and role of joy and often returns to consider it in connection with the topic of true happiness.
Where, then, and when have I experience my life as happy so that I might recall it and love and desire it? And not only I, or a few others, but all of us absolutely desire to be happy. We would not, however, have such a desire unless we had sure knowledge of it.... And so all agree that they wish to be happy, just as all are in harmony if you ask whether they wish to rejoice; in fact, they call joy itself the happy life. For, though one attains it in one way, another by a different path, yet all strive to arrive at one end, namely, that they may rejoice (Confessiones X.22.31 BAC ed. p. 505).
The more he reflected and sought this true joy, the more sure Augustine became that there was just one source where it could be found. He expresses his conviction in a prayer addressed to God: "This is the truly happy life: to rejoice over You, because of You and by You (op. cit., X.22.32)." It is the resurrection of Jesus that procures for us access to this true kind of joy. We are given the opportunity during this Easter season to grow in our capacity for true joy as we continue to recall to mind in the presence of the risen Savior the events of his suffering and death which culminated in his resurrection and which are the one source of our hope of entering into the joy of the elect. May we make the best use of the graces offered us by our manner of living out the remainder of this season of grace and assist one another and all those who come to us to follow our Lord through his passion to the glory of the children of the Kingdom of God our Father.Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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