The Asceticism of Joy

by Fr. Bob Pelton

This article has been in our newspaper before, but it so speaks to our current crises that I couldn’t resist putting it in again.

Editor

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If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).

“Above” is not a place. It is a life, God’s life. Our homeland is in heaven, St. Paul says in Philippians (3:20). Our homeland is God, and we have come home when at last we have no life but God’s life.

We live “above” when the Spirit given us by the risen Christ brings us home to the Father’s ceaseless joy.

No adverb, then, can do justice to this “above” that St. Paul uses to describe the life we now share with Jesus. “Above” is not “up.” The sky is up, and the sun, and the stars, and God is certainly higher, more exalted, than all these; but God’s highness is not spatial.

God lives and reigns, not just past the limits of the stars, but at the center of each human being. If we accept what God has done for us in Jesus, we discover that “above” has made its home within us. We are a new creation. The Kingdom lives within.

But how are we to realize this, to lay hold of it not only with our minds, but with our lives? St. Paul, echoing the Lord himself, tells us that we will become fully what the risen Lord has made us if we practice compassion, kindness, patience, meekness, lowliness, forgiveness, and, above all, love.

Yet it seems to me that the first step is faith, the acceptance of the asceticism of joy.

When the Lord greeted his disciples and friends after his Resurrection, he said, “Shalom,” or, in English, “Peace.” He simply used the Jewish greeting, which meant “Good morning,” or “Good day,” or “Good evening.” But what did this greeting mean on the lips of the risen Jesus?

It was the proclamation of the world’s healing. It meant that the whole plan of the Father had been fulfilled, that the mystery of the Kingdom lived now in the universe, that the glory of God was being poured into every atom of creation through the transformed mind, body, heart, and soul of Jesus the Messiah, the risen Son of God.

It meant that all the broken relationships in the universe had been healed at their root: that our separation from God was no more, that our alienation from one another, our enmities and misunderstandings and all our estrangements were over, that our individual fragmentation had been healed, that our separation from the animals and from all of material creation had ended in reconciliation.

Jesus’ greeting meant that the harmony of God’s perfect order, the fullness of his life, was filling all things as it was meant to at the beginning. Easter is light, radiance, and splendor, clarity, luminosity, and brightness because it is the dawn of the new creation. It is a new day, the eternal day, and Jesus says, “Good morning.”

Why do we find it so hard to say “Good morning” back to him? The answer is obvious: because we don’t see this new day, we don’t believe in it very deeply.

We accept it intellectually, but like the rabbi who was asked why he did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, we say, “Well, when I look out the window, I don’t see the blind seeing and the deaf hearing.”

Jesus scandalizes us, too. Even if we don’t look out the window, we have only to look at ourselves to see anger and sadness, loneliness and fear, darkness and stupidity and the inability to love.

Is it any wonder that we rejoice for a few hours on Easter night, but can hardly sustain it through the next day, let alone a week or seven weeks?

We lack the asceticism of joy. We laugh sometimes at our ancestors who danced for three days at a wedding and celebrated Easter for fifty days. We marvel at the saints, who even in great pain were radiant with joy.

But what we attribute to culture or charism is in truth due to the power of the Holy Spirit working in a heart that has truly accepted baptism. Joy is not a question of good feelings or positive thinking or even the healthy optimism of a sane self-image.

It is, rather, a matter of faith, of allowing our death and resurrection in Christ and his presence within us to govern our lives—even when our actions, thoughts, and feelings stubbornly hug the earth instead of sailing gloriously “above.”

If I look at the face of a man or a woman who takes the Gospel seriously, what do I see?

I see someone who experiences keenly his or her own weaknesses, who carries more than an average share of the world’s pain, who hears clearly the cries of anguish rising on all sides.

But I also see someone radically committed to the asceticism of joy, to letting go, in faith, of his or her own darkness so that the risen Christ can shed the light of his new creation into and through the heart that God has made his home.

This decision is the great vehicle of love, which is the work and the play of the new creation, because it hands over to the Lord of glory all that is still inglorious that he may make it as radiant as he is.

Some days we may be doing well if at the very end of the day we can say to Jesus, “Good morning.” Sometimes we may go for weeks or months before we can truthfully say “Good day” to him.

What matters is not our success so much as our striving to live in the light and our conviction that the new light is shining not because we are good, but because God has exalted his Son.

The fact is that Christ is risen, that the world is redeemed, that the Easter sun is shining, that the morning of the new creation has dawned.

If we allow our lives to be shaped by that fact, then we are leading the risen life, and the glory of Christ’s joy within us is making the world what it already truly is.

Sin is everywhere, but its root is cut. Death is inevitable, but it no longer has dominion. All the evil that we experience has been lifted by the Lord’s cross into the glory of God, and all of it is already radiant in his love.

And in all those broken people who see only the ugliness of their pain, the risen face of Jesus is clearly shining.

It is for them, finally, that we are called to live in the joy of glory—that we may see their beauty and show it to them by our love. Our joy in the risen Lord, who has raised us up with him, will bring hope and healing even when we have not a single word to say to them.

Reality is no longer finally harsh, and after Easter we can never go back to the normality of death. The new creation is normal now because the deepest truth is that Christ is truly risen and we have been raised up with him.

Psalm 34 says, Look to him that you may be radiant. That is our risen life: to look to our glorious Lord, to see his death for us, united with ours for him, to receive the joy pouring forth from his throne within us, to let it flow outward in compassion and love.

Christ is truly risen, and if we keep looking to him, no matter how dark the night of faith, his light will wash over us, kinder than the spring sunshine, and even our bodies will learn how to rejoice.

In that joy we lose our fear of the world’s pain and brokenness, and as we embrace it, it too will be lifted “above,” into the glory of God.

Our heart’s eyes already see his light, shining on the face of Jesus, and if we live in the joy of that light, we will hasten the day when it sets blazing with praise every created thing and draws from each the single cry of victory: “Jesus Christ is risen!”

From Circling the Sun, The Pastoral Press, (1986), pp. 95-98, out of print.