After forty long days of Lent—a period of intense introspection and conversion focused on prayer, fasting and almsgiving—we kept vigil Saturday evening and celebrated the resurrection of our Lord all day Sunday. Alleluia! He is Risen! For many, Easter is a wonderful day of rejoicing, both liturgically and socially; it’s a day of celebration, fellowship, feasting, and relaxation after such a long an arduous journey of Lent. Alleluia!
So… what do we do now?
For many, Easter is a celebration that lasts but a day, an experience of rejoicing that ends in an instant. Monday comes and it’s back to school, back to work, back to the normal grind. Whereas Lent was ever on our minds for forty days, reminding us of the things we were giving up or taking on to prepare for Easter, Easter itself—the very thing we spent an entire season preparing for—gets our attention for one day.
Liturgically, this is certainly not what we celebrate as Catholics. For 50 days we are an Easter people, recounting the events of scripture that took place after Jesus had risen and interjecting “Alleluia” anywhere that it will fit, we intently focus on our renewed lives as baptized Christians who are sent out with the gift of the Spirit. Our celebrations are positive, lively, and aimed at lighting a fire in our Church and world. The emphasis on Easter is so strong, in fact, that the entire first week of Easter is called the “Octave” of Easter, a time in which the Church treats every day as if it were Sunday.
And yet, it’s been my experience that this is hardly lived out in the regular lives of people, religious and priests included. Sure, the liturgies are about Easter and we say “Alleluia” a lot, but compared to the intense focus of Lent, the Easter season seems like any other period of the year, and makes some of us wonder:
“Why do we spend so much time doing penance in Lent but only one day of celebrating during Easter?”
This was a question a classmate of mine raised in one of our weekly meetings during novitiate (the second year of our formation). “Why do make such an effort to come together as a community more in Lent and not Easter?” It was a poignant question, a question that did not really have a great answer. Why didn’t we?
It was as a result to that question that we decided to institute a new practice: every Friday for the entire Easter season the community would come together for some form of celebration. It didn’t have to be quite as extraordinary as Easter Sunday, but it was expected that our liturgy, meal, and recreation would have something special about it. We each took turns, and the nights varied, ranging from a movie with the whole community to an elaborate talent show with a stage and colorful lights to make us feel like we were at a theatre. Some nights were “party” nights with alcohol and nice appetizers before dinner, others were more community oriented with sharing and reflection. The whole point was that our days and weeks, just as in Lent, would be oriented towards the season: how is my daily life reflective of the joy of Easter?
For us as Easter people, living in the joy of the risen Lord, it is a question that we all need to answer. Is Easter just a day, a holiday on the calendar that we breeze through as we march through the year, or is it an entire season, a mindset even, that dictates the way we live our lives? Just as our sense of penance and conversion was evident to people around us in Lent, our joy and thanksgiving should flow from our lives during Easter.
So… what do we do now? I say, because the things we do during Lent are often defined by negative statements—don’t do this, stop bad habits, no more complaining—Easter should be defined by positive statements: I want to be more thankful, show affection more, look on the bright side of things, count my blessings, and share good news with everyone I meet. With Easter joy as our inspiration, the possibilities are endless!
Great message!! I hope your day went well yesterday. Masses here were packed in both places but all was good. I was in bed early last night!!!! Peace, Kevin
Hi Friar Casey,
As a Protestant, I’m a little confused about the first line, where you described Lent as “a period of intense introspection and CONVERSION” (I’m not shouting, I can’t find any other way to highlight it!). Typo, maybe? Please enlighten me, as I really enjoy your writings, and I’ve gotten a lot of exposure to much older traditions than my own in the last decade.
I’m only guessing, but the issue may have something to do with the way Catholics understand justification and sanctification compared to many Protestants. Whereas many Protestants (and forgive me if this does not describe you) believe that each Christian has one conversion in one’s life from sinfulness to discipleship, and that this moment (usually in the form of a confession of faith) marks one’s justification into the elect and can never be earned, lost, or made better, Catholics understand conversion to be a process. Sure, there may be a MOMENT when we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior and this is obviously significant to our lives, but as continued sinners, people on a journey toward perfection, we also know that we will need to take up this cross many more times throughout our lives. That first “conversion” may be the most significant of our life, but we do never cease trying to live this life more perfectly.
This, I should point out, does not mean that Catholics believe that we can earn our salvation or that we hold perfection as the means for entering heaven. We believe, like Protestants, the salvation is a free gift from God for which we can do nothing to cause. But we also believe that we need to do something to accept it, that is, to have a faith that issues forth in works. We are constantly called to “conversion” in order that we may BETTER express our desire to receive that gift, that our life may more perfectly reflect the grace that God has given us.
Does that help? If not, please let me know what is particularly confusing to you.
Those of us in the Anglican tradition (I’m an Episcopalian) view conversion as a process in much the same way the Roman Catholic tradition views it as Br. Casey clearly and eloquently states in his response to Don. In other words, we as Christians are constantly pursuing holiness or becoming more like Christ in thought, word, and action. In Lent, we intentionally cultivate such conversion and is related to another Lenten word/theme “repentance. ” If we unpack what many find as a scary word, we discover that it simply (and powerfully) means the act of turning away from something in order to turn toward God. We go from one way of doing/thinking/being to one that puts God more at the center of our reality and that can be described as conversion.