Jesus is Lord! He is Risen! Let us rejoice and be glad! Easter! For some the relieved sigh is, “It’s about time!” for others perhaps, “Already?” is more appropriate. My own sense is that there is always room for Lenten Regrets. At Easter we are reminded of all the good things we intended to do during Lent. It was only a few short weeks ago that those glowing resolutions were seriously considered, decided upon and chosen. The determination of how well or how poorly they were lived is ultimately between each person and God but the degree of “resurrection” experienced at Easter is tied directly to how much “death” we experienced during Lent.
Children will often stockpile the candy given up for Lent dreaming of a heaven of abundant candy on Easter Sunday morning. If those same children have been sneaking a little candy here and there during Lent then the stockpile is not nearly as large and the eagerness to resume a regimen of candy consumption is not nearly as intense. Besides, there is the guilt of knowing that they could have done better. Whatever the age of the children, they could be upwards of eighty, whatever the nature of the candy, the experience is the same.
Hopefully, during the course of this Lent we learned once again that there are many things to which we are too deeply attached. There is a wonderful kind of “resurrection” that can occur for someone who gave up cigarettes for Lent, who dreamed of that first ‘drag’ on Easter Sunday only to discover that he or she didn’t really need or even want them anymore. The resurrection is not returning to the former practices any more than the Resurrection of the Lord is a simple ‘return to life’. At Easter, after the penitential work of Lent, we discover that many things which were seen as important are now recognized in a new light as less important. Perhaps some spiritual activities which we viewed as onerous are discovered to be rather light. This gradual and ongoing process is called detachment. Year over year, the goal is to be more and more detached from the world and more and more attached to God and the things of God. Lent is not only a time of temporary detachment from attractive worldly things but rather a period of learning how to be more attached to God. Thus each of our past Lents, hopefully, contributes positively to the gradual building up of our spiritual selves.
Christ died for us to deliver us from slavery to sin and death. Many of our attachments have the semblance of a kind of enslavement. If we are enslaved then we are not free and if we are not free then we have not yet allowed the full joy of the Easter resurrection to shine upon us. If our goal, like the children above, is to stockpile our attachments so that we may indulge in them again after Easter then we have not really detached from them, we have simply suffered their absence with a hope of their return. This type of thinking belies the butterfly as a symbol of the resurrection. The caterpillar goes into the cocoon stage. After several weeks of apparent death when nothing observable to the eye is occurring the day of its resurrection approaches. We have all watched this process in grade school science class. Imagine the dismay if that cocoon finally finishes its time of incubation and out from it emerges the same plain caterpillar which resumes its prior habit of voracious eating.
Unfortunately, this is us if our Easter goal is to return to the same place we were before Lent began. I have no desire to spoil your Easter but I also do not want you to negate your Lent. Jesus did not simply ‘return to life’, He rose to a new life. Our Easter is also to be different from a simple ‘return to life’ as we knew it before Lent. If that is all we look for, if that is all we expect then we risk missing the glory of Easter, the true joy of genuinely rising with Christ.
So I pray this Easter that you truly rejoice in the resurrection of the Lord. Rejoice in your own movement to greater freedom in the Lord. Rejoice to the degree that you have achieved detachment from the world. Rejoice in that victory and do not retreat. If you began to go to daily Mass during Lent, keep it up! If you quit smoking during Lent, don’t give up the ground you have gained! If the utilization of confession has become more a part of your spiritual regimen during Lent then do not let that resolve lapse. Continue to live in the joy and hope of new life and do not return to a former, less resolute, pattern.
On behalf of myself, the priests and staff members of the Diocese of Santa Rosa I do extend to each of you my fervent prayer that the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter Season, especially Divine Mercy Sunday, be a time of abundant spiritual grace and joy for you and for your families. Jesus is Lord! He is Risen! Let us rejoice and be glad!
Bishop Robert Vasa