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The Taste of Victory: Second Meditation
The Joy of Victory
- Easter’s Name Is Joy
- The Nature of Christian Joy
- The Power of Christian Joy
- Conclusion & Further Reflection
Easter’s Name Is Joy
What is the primary sentiment of Easter? Without a doubt, it’s joy. Joy is the melody of the Easter liturgy, of the entire Easter season.
Just think of the Prefaces we pray during the Mass on Easter (the Preface is the prayer of thanksgiving that introduces the Eucharistic Prayer).
The priest is free to choose from five different Prefaces when he celebrates Mass during the Easter season. Each one of them highlights a different aspect of the Easter mystery. But then, every single one of the Prefaces finishes with this phrase: “Therefore, overcome with Paschal [Easter] joy…”
That is the heart of Easter — being overcome with Paschal joy, the joy of Christ’s definitive victory over sin, evil, and despair.
Here is how the Fourth Preface for the Easter Season puts it:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously, when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. He never ceases to offer himself for us, but defends us and ever pleads our cause before you: he is the sacrificial victim who dies no more, the Lamb, once slain, who lives for ever. Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory…
Joy is the mark of Easter, the joy of everlasting victory over the enemies of God and man. Easter’s name, indeed, is joy.
The Nature of Christian Joy
But what is joy? It’s one of those words that we think we understand, until we ask ourselves what we really mean by it. Joy is a kind of pleasure, an experience of delight, satisfaction, and jubilation.
But what causes it? Catholic philosophy and theology have a long and rich tradition exploring this topic. St. Thomas Aquinas makes a distinction between pleasure and joy. He calls joy a spiritual pleasure.
Pleasure, according to St. Thomas, is the experience of satisfaction and contentment that we have when we come to possess something good that we desired. When dessert finally rolls around and I get to eat that brownie, I experience pleasure, a material pleasure.
Joy is a pleasure of a different kind. Joy is that deep spiritual pleasure that comes from possessing not material goods, but spiritual goods. When I know that I am loved, for example, I experience joy, even if the person who loves me is nowhere around me. That knowledge of being loved is a spiritual good, something without material limitations, and so it produces a spiritual pleasure; that’s joy.
Easter gives us joy, because it gives us the most valuable spiritual possession we can have: the sure hope of eternal life. Easter shows us that, if only we stick close to Jesus Christ, nothing that happens to us in this life can keep us down; as bad as things may get, we have eternal life with Christ to look forward to — all of our Good Fridays will be swallowed up in the definitive victory of Easter Sunday.
That knowledge, which comes to us through our faith in Jesus Christ, fills our hearts with an unquenchable hope, and gives undying purpose to our lives, the purpose of deepening our friendship with Christ and helping others do the same. Easter, the victory of Jesus over sin, suffering, death, and evil, is the greatest spiritual reality the world has ever known — and it’s all ours; that’s why the taste of Easter Victory is the taste of Easter Joy.
The Power of Christian Joy
It’s interesting to note that one of the major differences between material pleasures and spiritual pleasures — joys — is that spiritual pleasures don’t wear out. This is simply because spiritual goods don’t wear out.
When I eat a brownie, there comes a time when the brownie no longer exists, and so the pleasure fades. But when I know that I am loved by God, that I am promised a dwelling place in his heavenly mansions, those things don’t wear out. This is why the saints — and all Christians who are mature in the faith — can continue to experience true joy even in the midst of temporal and material sufferings.
One of my favorite examples of this comes from the remarkable testimony of the Servant of God, Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who passed away in 2002.
Just six days after he was named coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon, South Vietnam fell to Communist controlled North Vietnam. Soon thereafter, the future Cardinal was arrested by the Communist authorities. For the next thirteen years, the Communists tried to break his faith, moving him between re-education camps, prisons, and solitary confinement.
When he was finally released, he was permitted to go and visit Rome, but after leaving the country, he was never allowed to return — he died in exile, at the age of 74.
While the future Cardinal was in solitary confinement, he began to form relationships with the team of guards assigned to watch over him. In spite of the deep personal sufferings he experienced in those years, he couldn’t stop his Christian joy from affecting those guards.
Here’s how he described it in a memoir written years later.
When I was put into solitary confinement, I was initially entrusted to a group of five guards, two of whom always accompany me. The wardens change them every two weeks, so that they do not become “contaminated” by me. Later they decided not to change them anymore, otherwise they would all be contaminated!
At first, the guards do not speak to me, they respond only with “yes” and “no.” It is truly sad; I want to be kind, courteous with them, but it is impossible; they avoid speaking with me. I have no presents to give them: I am a prisoner, even all my clothes are stamped with big letters “cai-tao,” that is, “re-education camp.” What am I supposed to do?
One night, a thought comes to me: “Francis, you are still very rich. You have the love of Christ in your heart. Love them as Jesus has loved you.”
The next day I began to love them, to love Jesus in them, smiling, exchanging kind words. I begin to
tell stories of my travels overseas, how people live in America, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, France, Germany… the economy, the freedom, the technology. This stimulated their curiosity and pushed them to ask me about many, many things. Little by little we became friends. They want to learn foreign languages, French, English… My guards become my students!
The atmosphere of the prison is greatly changed; the quality of our relationships is greatly improved. Even up to the police chiefs. When they saw the sincerity of my relationship with the guards, they not only asked me to continue helping them study foreign languages, but they also sent new students to study with me.
– quoted from “Five Loaves and Two Fish” by Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan
That’s the power of Christian joy: It can turn a prison into a home, a concentration camp into a school, and enemies into friends.
It is a sign of the Easter victory, a victory that keeps rolling back the powers of darkness and conquering new territory for Christ, generation after generation.
Conclusion & Further Reflection
Easter’s name is joy, the joy of knowing that no matter what happens, as long as we are united to Christ, we will share in his everlasting victory.
During the Last Supper Jesus himself explained to
the Apostles that through his passion, death, and resurrection — and the transforming grace that would flow through them — he wanted to give them the gift of joy, a joy that no one could ever take away from them. He said,
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete
– John 15:11
Take some time now to admire this gift that comes to us through Easter, to simply gaze at the wonderful reality of Christ’s victory and to taste its goodness.
Reflect on how fully you have received this gift up to now, and what may be inhibiting you from experiencing it more deeply. And don’t be afraid to ask for the grace of renewed joy, for the grace to taste Christ’s victory once again, if that’s what you need.
￼￼￼￼￼1. When was the last time I felt “overcome withPaschal joy”? What triggered it? If I have never felt that, what is holding me back?
2. How clearly do I understand the difference between pleasure and joy? Can I come up with some of my own examples to illustrate that difference? Which one do I pursue more actively, pleasure, or joy?
3. Think about the people you know who, like Cardinal Van Thuan, exude Christian joy. Thank God for them, and ask God for the grace of a deeper faith, hope, and love, the true fountains of our joy.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:4-7, NABR
For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God. GOD, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights.
– Habakkuk 3:17-19, NABR
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is God from of old, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weak. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.
– Isaiah 40:28-31, NABR
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in her joy, all you who mourn over her — so that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink with delight at her abundant breasts! For thus says the LORD: I will spread prosperity over her like a river, like an overflowing torrent, the wealth of nations. You shall nurse, carried in her arms, cradled upon her knees; as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.
– Isaiah 66:10-13, NABR