Recently, a wise woman pointed out to me that while Catholics tend to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the season of Lent, we often celebrate Easter Sunday and then forget that we are in the midst of the longest special liturgical season of the church year. The Easter season extends from Easter through Pentecost, which comes fifty days after Easter. On a liturgical calendar, the Easter season is marked in gold, a color of joy and victory, as the Easter season is the time when we celebrate the fulfillment of our faith—the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of new life this brings.
Prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving are three traditional pillars of practice for Catholics during Lent that help us prepare for Holy Week and the coming of Easter. These practices encourage us to see the world in a different way and to change our way of being in the world by focusing on ideas like penance, sacrifice, and living our baptismal calling. But now that Easter is here—now that Jesus Christ is indeed risen, Alleluia!—what can we do to help us see and engage with the world with an Easter mindset? In other words, how can we live the joy of Easter during this season?
A baseline form of obligation for all Catholics is to receive Eucharist at least once during the Easter season. This is sort of like a minimal membership requirement for being Catholic. And while it is important to receive Eucharist, it seems like there is more we can do to celebrate the miracle of Easter that is at the center of our faith. Yet there do not seem to be too many widespread practices associated with the Easter season, something that would be similar to lighting Advent wreaths or abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. Given that Easter is the greatest feast of the church year, it seems as if there should be more practices in which we could engage so that the celebratory mindset of Easter has more of a chance to take root in our lives.
I read on-line recently that a group of monks answers the phone with the greeting, “Christus resurrexit!” (Christ is risen) during the eight days after Easter. I have to admit that I would be hesitant to answer my own phone this way (or to post this as my status update on Facebook). Yet as I think about my life during this Easter season, it turns out there are already practices I do or could return to that contribute to living with Easter hope and joy.
- Focusing on joy: When I was finished with my student teaching many years ago, the class of fourth graders gave me a little journal embossed with the title “Claire’s Book of Joy.” The first page had the heading “Things that Bring Me Joy,” and under it was one entry: “Teaching religion to a group of fourth graders who think you are awesome.” Over the years, I have added to this list, entries such as “Hearing the perfect song for your mood on the radio” and “Cuddling with my children on the couch.” To heighten my focus on joy, I could revisit this list, reading through it daily, offering prayers of thanksgiving for the joy that is in my life, and adding to it as I am so moved.
- Celebrating new life: It might sound cheesy, but I love watching the plants in our yard come back to life each spring, an activity that is made all the more pleasant now that I have two inquisitive little boys with whom to share it. This year we plan to enhance our celebration by planting and tending to our first vegetable garden. We also love to walk to a nearby pond, where we observe the ducks and geese sitting on their nests and try to predict on which day we will first see the ducklings and goslings go for a swim. Together we wonder at the process of learning that takes place as these young animals make their way in the world. We could also celebrate life by making a special effort this Easter season to offer our support (perhaps in the form of homemade meals or baby-sitting time) to friends and family who have recently had children.
- Giving from Abundance: In our society, it is all too easy to focus on scarcity. We are socialized to hang on to everything we have for ourselves, to “look out for number one,” and to do whatever it takes to get ahead. And yet one lesson of Easter is that God loves and provides for us with gratuitous love that is overflowing and that knows no bounds. When my family lives from a mindset of scarcity, we focus on buying things for ourselves and saving our money to protect against a disaster that may never happen. In contrast, when we remember to live from a sense of abundance, we find many ways that we can give of ourselves, not just in charitable giving but also in giving of our time and talent.
- Living with hope:There are situations in life that seem hopeless and that cause much despair. For example, I have a relationship with someone important in my life about which I despair; I fear I will never be able to move past how I have been hurt by this person and do not trust that this person will ever be in a position to be his authentic self with me. Living with hope would mean finding a way to change my attitude about and participation in this relationship, which might start with the seemingly small and simple act of praying that one day our relationship is restored to one of mutuality, respect, and love.