The context of this famous quote gives us some great take-aways for our current times.
“We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song!” It’s one of Pope John Paul II’s most famous quotes. But when did he say these words and why?
While we can never know fully what was in his mind, there are a few things we can piece together in regard to this lovely exhortation made by the world leader who shepherded the Catholic Church for over three decades from 1978 – 2005 (the second longest pontificate in history; third if you count St. Peter); who is credited with helping to eliminate communism in Europe and open doors to interfaith dialogue; and whose death anniversary we recently marked on April 2.
First, let’s take a look at the quote and where it sits in the center of a midday Angelus reflection. The pope delivered this message on a visit to Australia on Sunday, November 30, 1986. It was during the middle of the Cold War, five years after an assassin’s bullet almost took his life and a few weeks after his participation in the famous prayer summit of Assisi:
We do not pretend that life is all beauty. [I love that line] 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 neighbour, 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.”
What a fitting message for our present times! The short reflection speaks for itself, is profoundly compelling, and — so many of us have some extra reading time on our hands lately. The second part of the above passage has been my own personal “take away” – the part about loving one’s neighbor as a necessary means to finding joy.
The thing is – loving one’s neighbor is quite complicated right now. But from the way things look, it’s a duty and a privilege more important than ever as so many are suffering from the devastating effects of the pandemic – from isolation, loss of health, and economic insecurity.
On one hand, loving my neighbor means staying apart in order to not spread the coronavirus. But on the other hand, I don’t want to fall into a trap of viewing those around me as potential virus carriers, rather than human beings made in the image of God. No, I want to stop and wave and chat at a safe distance. I want to see the face of Jesus in everyone I meet (even if that face if covered with a surgical mask).
The Holy Father insists that “joy [is] demanding.” He says “[joy] demands unselfishness; [emphasis added] it demands a readiness to say with Mary: ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word.’”
So how can I demand unselfish love toward my neighbor in these times when I’m not supposed to leave my house? How about making Alleluia my song via speaker phone to Grandma, or bellowing it from my open windows like the Italians. Sure, we need to get creative.
But I’m pretty certain the answer to this hard question of how to show neighborly love even during a pandemic will be found in our outlooks and attitudes – outlooks and attitudes that need to be formed, above all, by our Catholic Faith (rather than fear). It’s a Faith that echoes the profound trust found in the Angelus, ”Be it done unto me according to thy word,” a cherished prayer but also a timeless reflection where we’re reminded of our identity as Easter People.