Let all the Earth cry out to God with joy

The Easter mystery is the most fundamental mystery of the Christian faith. Its proclamation is at the heart of the Church’s mission. This is why the First Reading at all the Masses of the Easter season is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. We not only hear the first proclamation of Easter faith, but trace the growth of the Church as its foundation is being laid by the first believers.

In today’s First Reading we hear that the gospel is beginning to be proclaimed and to be accepted outside of Jerusalem. The Church is becoming missionary. The fact that the gospel is being preached and accepted in Samaria means that the Church is beginning to grow outside Judaism. Recall the comment in the gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well which we heard on the Third Sunday of Lent: “Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” (John 4:9) We also hear of the conferral of the Holy Spirit upon people who have already been baptized, which the Church maintains today as the reason for the distinction between the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.

As optimistic and joyful as we should be in light of our Easter faith, Saint Peter, in our Second Reading, reminds us of the harsh reality that it is sometimes necessary to suffer for our faith. When we look at the first three centuries of Christianity, it is a wonder that the Church survived at all. Saint Peter exhorts us not to return insult for injury, “so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good…than for doing evil.” The rationale is to model our lives on Christ: “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous.”

While we enjoy the free practice of our faith in this country and the opposition to the Church may be relatively subtle, Christians are suffering in many parts of the world. Churches have been bombed and Christians killed in Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and India. The Church in China exists underground or with many government restrictions. We should not be unconcerned or unaffected by the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Saint Paul, in his analogy of the Church as the body of Christ, says: “If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26-27) This is why at Mass we pray for the Church throughout the world, especially in the General Intercessions and in the Eucharistic Prayer. As there was joy in Samaria when Philip proclaimed Christ there, so “let all the earth cry out to God with joy” at Christ’s resurrection from the dead and its promise of life eternal in heaven.

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