Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Every year I come to Easter and feel like I should be filled with an exuberant joy, like that of the roaring crowd after a walk off game winning home run, but each year I can’t seem to shake the solemnity of the first two Triduum liturgies and all of Lent beforehand. And then I began to realize that the joy of Easter is meant to be mingled with the events just before it. There is a solemnity to the joy of Easter, which follows our remembrance of our crucified Lord that does not allow one to have a thoughtless, ecstatic happiness. While the Resurrection has removed the sting of death, the fact of the matter is that we still have to pass through the sorrows of this life and death itself to attain the happiness of Heaven.
But the joy of Easter is a greater, deeper joy than the transitory happy moments of this life. It is more than a World Series victory, a physical healing, or the satisfaction of a good glass of wine. I am discovering that it is a joy that does not leave me when the hardships of life seem more than I can bear, be it the mundane tasks of everyday or the overwhelming losses that strip us bare.
Just like the Apostles, we cannot have our Easter joy without the remembrance of Christ’s words after he washed their feet, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). While this was the institution of the priesthood, it also was a call to all of us who are baptized to participate in the sacrifice of Christ. Our sacrifices, which we have practiced for all of Lent, are to help us offer ourselves alongside Christ. Being Christian means being like Christ and giving of our whole selves to the will of God and to the sufferings he calls us to. The mortifications of Lent strengthen us to weather the challenges of our daily lives during Lent, Eastertide, after Pentecost, Advent, Christmastide—the whole year through, year after year.
We cannot expect to enter into Eastertide with a blissful forgetfulness of suffering. We cannot have Easter without bearing our own crosses, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). The fact of the matter is that Lent did not rid me of all of my faults. God continues to teach me humility and my complete need of his aid. Easter has come. I still lose my temper with my kids. I still misuse my time. I still have to stifle uncharitable thoughts all the daylong. And I am still hopeless without his grace. Yet, he promises me that these afflictions are preparing me for a glory that I cannot even grasp. The joyful consolations he offers me in prayer are a mere drop compared to the glory, the joy that awaits.
In the First Exercise on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, St. Ignatius examines three reasons why Jesus appeared to the Apostles after the Resurrection, and compares them to the interior visits we have from Christ in prayer. The situation of the Apostles at that time is similar to ours in that they still had to live out the life God had called them.
First of all, Jesus appeared to them to strengthen their faith. Faith is a theological and infused virtue—we cannot have it without God’s help, yet, we all need it to live our lives according to his will. He wants us to live our lives well, so if we ask it of him, he will give it to us. He makes us aware of his presence in prayer and when we are mindful of him to strengthen our faith.
Jesus was also preparing his apostles for the long separation from him. They had the joy of seeing him, walking with him, knowing him in person. They were preparing to have him present to them differently. And their memory of his consolation would sustain them the rest of their lives. In the same way, our consolations are given to us in our prayer and through his presence in the Blessed Sacrament to help us in the darker times when we cannot feel Christ’s presence.
Finally, Jesus wanted them to be aware of the sacrifices that he was going to ask of them. The pursuit of holiness requires many sacrifices, and the coming of Easter does not remove that fact. We are all called to offer our lives as completely as Christ did. The offering, though, is unique to each of us. No offering is the same, but he asks that each be complete. Even after the Resurrection, the Apostles knew that they, too, had to make an offering of themselves to God’s will. We too, have to combine the joy and the hope of the Resurrection with the knowledge that our Christian lives are to be an offering.
Easter has come. Christ is risen. But we are still in this valley of tears. When we prayed our family rosary on Easter day, even with the joy of the Resurrection in my mind, the phrases in the Hail, Holy Queen stuck out to me: to thee do we cry poor banish children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears. His is risen, but we are still on earth. He is risen, but we are not. We are still muddling through our earthly lives, striving for true devotion, to live virtuously, and enduring the sufferings that are a part of this life.
Christ tells us, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11). One day the deep joy of Easter will be full, fuller than we every imagined. Alleluia!