We all look for shortcuts. But there are no shortcuts when it comes to this aspect of the spiritual life.
Lent is meant to show us just how bad we are at being good. No one should exit Lent feeling smug self-satisfaction. It is quite difficult to immerse oneself wholeheartedly and perfectly in the requisite fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. In fact, if we have picked the right penances, Lent is impossible to live flawlessly.
Easter celebrations, on the other hand, show us just how bad we are at rejoicing. Sure, the first week or so is full of joy, especially if we’ve given up beer or chocolate or something enjoyable in which we can now indulge. However, after the second or third week of Easter the enthusiasm fades, flowers begin to wilt, homilies stray from the Easter message, the eggs that were missed in the yard start to rot, and things go back to normal. Just as we are bad at maintaining Lenten sobriety, we are also very bad at maintaining Easter joy.
Easter joy—the kind of joy that astounds, shocks, and lasts—is rare in today’s world. Instead, sadness masquerading as self-satisfaction, anger, sarcasm, and bitterness often dominates. We all feel these shades of sadness overcoming us from time to time and it is born of an inability to really rejoice. Sure, we know how to grasp for transitory delights like infants. We are very practiced at entertaining ourselves and engaging in pleasurable activities for the moment. But these things melt away almost as soon as we experience them. Very few people know how to live a lasting Easter joy beyond fleeting pleasures.
Few people choose lives that lead to Easter joy in this world, so we have a hard time imagining what it looks like. Plenty of people try to fake it but their plasticized happiness enrages those they come across because they live a cheerfulness that does not acknowledge the pain of living. Easter joy does not involve spouting spiritual platitudes that mask the problem of suffering. Easter joy acknowledges life’s pain, the violence, the injustice, the overwhelming anxiety. Life can be brutal, life can be dark. Sin and the horrific consequences of sin cannot be ignored or glossed over.
The saints find a balance between acknowledging the pain of this life while living in peace and hope. Each in their own unique way, they live their love for the Lord with Easter joy. Their joy flows from a source that is accessible to all of us—the indwelling of the Trinity within our souls through Baptism. The saints lived lives that fostered a close union with God and in this union they found lasting joy. What fostered their union with Christ? The answer is one that few of us want to hear.
In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? . . . For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (6:5). The saints lived Easter joy not because they repressed negative emotions or denied painful events but because—precisely in these painful events—they allowed themselves to die with Jesus. In order to enter into Christ’s life we must enter into his death. We must die to ourselves first. Death is the way to new life—the way to Easter joy.
In order to follow the example of the Saints and in Jesus’ footsteps, we must follow Jesus to his throne—the Cross. The reason very few people experience lasting Easter joy is that we all want to bypass Good Friday and go straight to the Resurrection. But Jesus showed us that there is only one way to follow him and it leads to the Place of the Skull: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
People of Easter joy serve a King who conquered this world by accepting its suffering and brutality, knowing that in the end nothing is greater than his Love. If we want to grasp Easter joy and live it beyond the first few days of the Easter season, we must be willing to live Lent in our hearts first. Denying ourselves, allowing God to transform the suffering of our lives into good is the path to joy. No one wants to hear this. We all look for shortcuts. But there are no shortcuts when it comes to this aspect of the spiritual life. If we evade suffering, we will evade joy.
Jesus, help me to live united to the indwelling of the Trinity within me through my Baptism. Imbue me with your grace so that I might unite my suffering with yours and live the joy of the Trinity each day.