If you're a regular television-watcher or radio-listener, you may have seen interviews recently with a former television journalist who was so fed up with all the bad news being directed at American media consumers that she launched a website devoted solely to good news.
Called the "Good News Network", it has become ever more popular amid the current global economic crisis and daily reports of layoffs, rising unemployment and hardship. The founder's goal is to help offset the regular tidal wave of bad news with inspiring and compelling stories of generosity, reconciliation, cooperation, responsibility and integrity.
Today, we Christians celebrate belonging to the "Good News network" — and one that is significantly more life-changing — centered on the belief that God rose from the dead after dying for our sins, breaking the stranglehold of sin and death in the world.
The late Pope John Paul II, who virtually made "Be not afraid!" a motto of his papacy, and who lived through the horrors of Nazi and later communist oppression in his native Poland, once explained, in a remarkably succinct way, how a Christian can be joyful even amid great suffering and the darkness of evil.
"We do not pretend that life is all beauty," he told Catholics during a visit to Adelaide, Australia, in 1986. "We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his paschal mystery — the mystery of his death and resurrection. 'We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!' We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith, that grows through unselfish love, that respects the 'fundamental duty of love of neighbor, without which it would be unbecoming to speak of joy.' We realize that joy is demanding; it demands unselfishness; it demands a readiness to say with Mary: 'Be it done unto me according to thy word.'"
Especially in times as overwhelming as these, we need to be reminded of, and recommit ourselves to, what really matters. Faithfulness to the Gospel brings authentic freedom — from the slavery of sin, anxiety, discouragement and despair. And we can rest firm in the knowledge that in Christ, all will one day be healed and made whole.
No one is denying that keeping this focus is difficult. In his homily during last year's Easter vigil at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that living as "Easter people" requires continuous effort.
In the early Church, he noted, the priest would cry out after the homily, "Turn now toward the Lord!" The whole congregation either would turn to face east, and the rising sun, or toward an image of Jesus or the cross; interiorly toward the living God and the true light, the pope said.
In the same vein, to this day during Mass the priest says before the Eucharistic Prayer, "Lift up your hearts!"; "high above," Pope Benedict said, "all our misguided concerns, desires, anxieties and thoughtlessness."
"We must always turn away from false paths, onto which we stray so often in our thoughts and actions," the pope said. "Ever anew we must withdraw our hearts from the force of gravity, which pulls them down, and inwardly we must raise them high: in truth and love."
The pope closed with this prayer, which we make our own this Easter for ourselves and our readers: "Yes, Lord, make us Easter people, men and women of light, filled with the fire of your love. Amen."