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Lent’s Lessons, Easter Joys

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A few years ago, my brother convinced me to sign up to run a half-marathon with him. Now, I’m not a runner. In fact, simply running with no ball to chase seemed to me to be cruel and unusual punishment. Nevertheless, I embraced the challenge as an opportunity to get into shape, and I began training multiple times a week. 

By the time race day arrived, I experienced something that I had not dreamed possible: enjoyment in running. Although it still was challenging, it was exhilarating to be able to easily jog several miles. However, after the race, I decided I had earned a break from running and took a couple of weeks off. Unfortunately, two weeks turned into several months, and before I knew it, I was gasping for breath after even a short jog.

Gift of self is not only the path to Easter joy, it is the Easter joy.

Looking back on this, I realize that this is somewhat like my experience of Lent. I spend 40 days praying, sacrificing and giving alms, but more often than not, Easter becomes the finish line after which all of these practices are soon forgotten, and any spiritual growth of Lent is lost. 

How, then, can we continue to grow in our faith in the Easter season and beyond?

St. John Paul II used to frequently proclaim, "We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song." I think that many of us love Easter, with the joyful hymns, beautiful flowers and wonderful family traditions. And, as a bonus, we can once again enjoy whatever we sacrificed for Lent. Yet, I wonder if perhaps we reduce the joy of new life in Christ to, "I can eat chocolate again." With this attitude, Easter is merely the end of Lent, rather than a beginning of new and abundant life. Of course Christ wants so much more than that for us, but how can we better receive this?

In my work with catechumens preparing to receive the Easter sacraments, I can tell that for them, Easter marks a profound beginning in their lives, not an end. The joy of Easter is the new life Christ has won for us through his passion, and those who enter the church at Easter experience this in a special way. 

Each Easter, Christ invites all of us to receive anew this abundant life. Jesus reveals to us what this new life consists of: "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 16:25). 

The path to Easter joy is the way of the cross – total self-giving love. This is what we were made for. 

The Second Vatican Council wrote, "Man … cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself," ("Gaudium et Spes," 24). As a new parent, I have experienced this in a profound way over the past month since my daughter’s birth. Amid many sacrifices, I find new purpose and joy in caring for her. 

This gift of self is not easy and requires practice, which is one purpose of Lent: to help us expand our ability to love God and others. But this gift of self is not only the path to Easter joy, it is the Easter joy.

Just as in training for a half-marathon, I discovered the joy of running, hopefully our Lenten resolutions have helped us experience the joy of self-gift. Unfortunately for me, after the race I completely quit running, and therefore lost the ability to find happiness in a long jog. Once again, it became excruciating. Similarly, to continue to receive Christ’s gift of Easter joy, we cannot "give up" practicing our spiritual life. By making daily prayer a priority, offering up little sacrifices to God throughout the day, and giving our time, talent, and treasure, we will certainly become an Easter people all year and Alleluia will be our song.

Jacobeen is director of faith formation at St. John the Beloved Church in McLean.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021