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The Venerable Fulton Sheen seems to have a knack for not only speaking plainly about profound matters, but also for seeing into the heart of the human condition. Of Easter, he writes, “What is most peculiar about Easter is that although the followers of Jesus had heard him say he would break the bonds of death, when he act did, no one believed it. … The followers were not expecting a Resurrection and, therefore, did not imagine they saw something of which they were ardently hoping” (Way to Inner Peace).
Sheen reflects on the Gospel account wherein Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to anoint Christ's body, not believing that the Resurrection would occur as promised. While I have prepared throughout Lent for the coming of Easter and celebrated with joy when it arrived, I wonder – do I truly live as one who believes that Christ is risen and here with me today?
During Lent, life was stripped down once again to reveal that if I have any strength, it comes from Christ. When workdays were long, my baby was fussing or the future seemed uncertain, I didn't have those normal comforts to rely upon since I had given them up for forty days. Yet slowly, slowly, I recalled that I didn't really need those things anyway – not because they were bad in themselves, but because through silence and fasting, I recognized that Christ was my strength.
On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis reminded us that “[o]urs is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable.” When I received the ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, when I received absolution after a particularly difficult confession, when my little boy sang joyfully “Hosanna” as we welcomed Christ into Jerusalem, I reaffirmed my faith in His presence. And, in these last few days, as we meditated on Christ's suffering and death, I recalled all of the many things He has carried for me.
On Easter Sunday, I rejoiced that the days of fasting and penitence were over: Christ is truly risen! Over the years, I have spent Easter in many places: at my hometown parish in Maryland surrounded by family and friends; in the splendor of Rome with the Holy Father; in Dallas with a community of wise and joyful Cistercians; in Prague with good friends and hot spiced wine. In each of these places, I experienced a joy that the day I had waited for throughout Lent was finally here. I could
eat that chocolate and drink that wine again; I could reap the benefits of living a spiritually rich life during Lent.
And yet, as we find ourselves in this Easter Octave, it is clear to me that it is easy to forget what Lent was truly for. In Lent, we remember that Christ died as expiation for our sins. We do penance, we frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we resolve to do better. Yet as soon as the Easter Sunday celebration is over, I find myself quickly forgetting about those penances, neglecting to truly rejoice in the Resurrection. With ashes and sacrifices, Lent is a very visible season; as a result, the Easter season can all too easily be passed over.
In fact, when I so rapidly forget that it is still Easter for eight days, I have to question if I, like Mary Magdalene, didn't quite believe what Christ promised us – that He is here with us – with me – each day. Through the observance of the Easter Octave, the Church is telling us that this time of spiritual richness is not over. No – it has just begun! The Easter Octave is rich because in these days, we reaffirm our faith that the risen Christ is truly accompanying us in our earthly journey.
The Holy Father speaks with a clarity about the Person of Jesus that has really struck my heart. Pope Francis does not discuss God as if He were some theory or theological concept, but reminds us of why we are rejoicing in the Resurrection. During the same Palm Sunday homily, the Pope exclaimed. “Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.”
My prayer for Easter is that I can more fully encounter Jesus Christ each day. When I feel discouraged about the lack of understanding of the true meaning of marriage in our country, I will try to acknowledge that God is watching over our country and will reveal His truth to those who honestly seek it. When I feel like I can never get everything done that I need to do, I will pray that God will give me the strength to focus on the things that are important. When I feel discontent, I will try to turn to Jesus, remembering that only He can satisfy my restless heart.
One of my favorite passages in the Gospel is when, after the Resurrection, a few of the apostles go fishing. Despite having been at sea for many hours, they were not able to catch anything by themselves. Shortly thereafter, Jesus appeared to them, and He told them where to cast their nets to bring in an abundance of fish. They listened to Christ and caught more fish then they could even drag in.
During this Easter Octave, this is what I celebrate: that the Lord is right here, with me – helping me in my daily labor and in my daily quest for virtue. If I listen to Him, like the apostles, I too will be able to find abundance in my life. Regardless of the struggles that each one of us have, when we truly place our faith in the resurrected Christ, we can be the disciples Pope Francis calls us to be: a people of hope and a people of joy!