If we seek the Christ without the cross, we get the cross without the Christ
Are you ready for Easter? I hope not.
Let me explain. If, by “ready for Easter” we mean:
- I’m just so tired of Lent and I can’t wait to go back to all the stuff I “gave up” for Lent;
- Lent is so depressing and I just can’t wait to hear some “alleluias” for a change (even though I don’t usually say “alleluia” at any other time of the year);
- I can’t wait to hear some different hymns after being subjected to weeks of badly performed “O Sacred Head Surrounded”;
- I’m just so tired of Lent’s mandatory bad feelings about myself as a sinner (I’m basically a nice person anyway), and I’m looking forward to getting permission from Easter to feel good about myself again.
If that’s what we mean by “ready for Easter,” then, dear God, I hope that none of us are ready for Easter!
Within our fallen human nature is the desire to get something for nothing (or at least on the cheap). In this case we want the joy of Easter without a Lent that shares in Christ’s passion and death. We are warned against this temptation by St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Instructing catechumens, he writes: “The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”
The safest way past the dragon is the way of the cross, which is precisely what we don’t want. In our weakness we tell ourselves that we want the mystery and reality of Lent and the glory and joy of Easter, but more often what we really want (and I look in the mirror as I write this!) is the feeling of the sorrow of Lent followed by the feeling of the joy of Easter. We pretend to feel sorrow at being sinners and then we pretend to feel joy at being saved. Such pretending is not true feeling but mere sentimentality.
Author Flannery O’Connor warns us hauntingly against such sentiments:
We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption, which was brought by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. … In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness that, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and the fumes of the gas chamber.
In other words, when we settle for Christ without the cross, we end up with the cross without Christ. It is not enough to gin up sentimental sorrow and sentimental joy in order to enter into the saving mysteries of Lent and Easter. And it is not enough to observe from a distance Christ’s passion, death, burial and resurrection. Christ calls us to a union with him in his suffering, dying and rising. Msgr. Romano Guardini summarizes this call succinctly: