Have you ever checked out Catholic Pinterest sites? I help edit the Catholic Pinterest Board, Awestruck, while the South African owner, “Äna” sleeps. I was shocked at first when I noticed most Catholic pinners are so focused on Christ’s suffering, they post images of the Crucifixion all through the Easter season, right past Pentecost without pausing even for a moment to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection. I can barely restrain deleting all of them but both Ana and I try to at least present a balanced view of the Catholic faith.
Even though the Church continually invites Catholics to live in the Resurrection, many of us cling to our suffering; we don’t know how to live out the Easter Gospel. As a result, our daily spirituality is focused mainly on the Crucifixion even though we celebrate our release from prison liturgically every year. The candles we light at the Easter Vigil symbolically illuminate our path forward, showing us how to move through the darkness of our sin and suffering to victory with Christ. During the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet), priests around the world sing:
This is the night when Jesus Christ
broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
The power of this holy night
dispels all evil, washes guilt away,
restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.
Yet, as we listen to this prayer, the obvious question we must ask ourselves is, “Do I allow Christ to redeem me, to set me free in truth, in the nitty-gritty of my daily life?” It is not easy to actualize our faith, to move beyond mere ritual and lip- service. I know I spent years thinking I was a committed Catholic but I was not living in the resurrection. When we walk through the Triduum with the Church this year, let’s not stop at Good Friday.
The Journey to New Life
On Holy Thursday, Catholics wait in a sombre silence with lights dimmed and images covered. The Church remembers the end of Jesus’ public life as a teacher and healer and started walking with Him as He began His most important work, the work of salvation in His passion, death and resurrection.
Thursday’s Gospel takes us back to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He had just emerged from the desert, filled by the power of the Holy Spirit, astonishing crowds with His words. As He stood on the podium in the synagogue to read from the book of Isaiah, repeating the Old Testament reading which we had just heard minutes before, Jesus summarized His entire ministry in a few short verses.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
In case His listeners missed the point, Jesus spelt it out, “Today this scripture is fulfilled among you.” It is quite telling that the professional religious of His day, the scribes and Pharisees, became enraged at His proclamation. They were enraged at the beginning of His ministry and even more so at the end of His public life. Indeed enraged enough to become the catalyst which propels the events which culminate in the crucifixion of Christ.
Why Are The Pharisees So Angry?
The Pharisees saw themselves as experts on God; they are so full of pride, they cannot humble themselves enough to recognize the presence of God in their midst. They secretly are intent on playing the role of God themselves by saving themselves with their knowledge and religious exercises. In fact, they do not think they need a saviour at all because they are pure in their own eyes.
As Jesus reminds us in the Gospels, only the sick need a physician, only a sinner needs a saviour. Only the humble person can even acknowledge his weakness, his sin, his need for salvation. Only the humble can open their eyes long enough to see reality and to ask for help, accept help, accept Divine intervention in their lives.
So the question which naturally arises is, Where do I stand? Do I stand among the righteous, pure, self-sufficient ones? Or do I stand with the poor in spirit, those captive to their woundedness, those blind to much of spiritual reality and those oppressed in the face of their innate sinfulness? Do I need saved and am I humble enough to ask for help? If I can’t, then Jesus died in vain, the power of his crucifixion is wasted on me and I will be unable to rejoice on Easter Sunday nor receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. I will not rise with Him daily into the fullness of new life, a life hidden in Christ.
In fact, everything that exists and moves in the Church — the sacraments, doctrine, institutions — draws its strength from Christ’s Resurrection. (Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Life in Christ, 67)
Thank God for my kids because they shook me out of phoney piety by stripping away distractions, stripping my life down to the basics and forcing me to turn to Christ the Saviour in desperation. I was a perfectionist, who strove to raise polite, Godly children and keep an immaculate house. It took living on a limited income with nine kids, a husband struggling with depression, and overwhelming chores on a small hobby farm to bring me to my knees. Only when I experienced Christ’s redemption could I experience the resurrection and say with joy, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Strip Away the Superfluous
As I mothered a large family, something I considered essential was eliminated from my life with the birth of each successive child. Painting portraits went with my first-born. Other births gave the boot to crafts, dusting, making bread, interesting meals and folding laundry. As every mother knows, a newborn takes at least eight hours a day to nurse, burp, rock, comfort, bath, change, and to wash diapers, clothes, receiving blankets, sheets, and baby blankets. Then you have to deal with your own clothes which tend to get covered in vomit and other nasty surprises. The lack of sleep leads to a rather narrow existence where the best days are when you can sneak in a 10-minute nap or shower and dress before noon. Those were the days when life was reduced to the basics.
Those basics were actually miraculous when I relaxed and allowed myself to live in the moment, enjoying my newborn and loving my other children rather than bemoaning all the important activities I couldn’t seem to even start.
In the same way, we all strip off the superficial during Lent to discover what is really important in life. Then, we can rejoice during the Easter season; we can be filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost once again. In fact, the word “lent” comes from an Anglo-word meaning “spring.” It is a special time of renewal and preparation for Easter. I love this season because it is a time to renew my prayer life and as a result refocus on the most important aspect of my life which is my relationship with God and with the people I am called to love
Often people think of Lent as a time to share in the suffering of Christ yet when they do so they become morose and end up centring more on their own sacrificial devotions than on God. Lent is a time to get rid of the fat in our lives but only so we are able to connect more to the heart of our Beloved. I am thankful for all the suffering in my life because it has brought me closer to God.
In fact, I say bring on suffering because I want — no I need — to live in reality. I can think of no greater tragedy than to die and discover I had deluded myself, simply living happily on the surface, eating, drinking, doing chores, sleeping, and yet missing out on the core reality of what it means to be fully alive, fully human, in relationship to other people and to God. God always manages to use those moments when I am shattered to crack my heart and soul open to more of His presence and healing. It is like childbirth; the pain is forgotten when I hold my newborn. If there is no pain, no suffering, there is no baby or new growth in the Spirit.
Living Out Easter
On this Easter, I am grateful for the ever-renewing Life within me which is constantly growing and changing. As long as I relax and say yes to God, His Spirit sinks deeper into my heart, soul, mind, and spirit
Pope Francis hit the nail on the head on Holy Saturday a few years ago when he proclaimed the truth that God calls us out of our comfort zone to grow and change. Indeed, Baptism makes us children of God, and the Eucharist unites us to Christ. This must become our very life on a daily basis, not just on Sunday.
The Gospel of Easter is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his Resurrection. This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.” (Pope Francis, Easter Vigil Homily, 2014)
Initially, I resist change out of fear of the unknown but when I let go of anxiety, relax and surrender, I can feel the Flames of Love becoming stronger within me. I crave to join my voice with St. Paul’s and say, “No longer I that lives but Christ that lives in me.”
This transformation is simply a normal Christian’s life. Pope St. John Paul II said it best when he described Christians as Easter People. “We are the Easter People and Alleluia is our song.” Catholics don’t stop at the cross but continually allow the power of the resurrection to set us free. Saint Teresa of Avila explains how to experience the resurrection: “Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love.” This process of spiritual transformation ushers in the tangible, infectious joy of the Lord.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!