As I settle into my second year at a parish in South Jersey, and find myself responsible for the entirety of programs like First Eucharist preparation and family ministry, I’ve noticed that I must also find my own solution to a continual tension involved in running such programs. I’m calling it “the tension between the urgent and the important.”
There’s a sense of being bogged down by stuff that isn’t important in itself, but is necessary for the important stuff to happen. I don’t want to focus all my sacramental preparation time on ensuring the kids all have baptismal records; I want to make sure we have a coherent plan for how we’re forming them after baptism. I have to be able to find time to look beyond these minor concerns (even if I can’t move on without them) to notice and evaluate where the parish is headed in our ministry, and if that ministry really is allowing Christ to change hearts.
Different personalities will use different strategies for managing this tension, so I can’t offer much of an explicit road map. However, we can all agree - it must be managed. If we don’t make time for the visionary in our ministries, we never move forward towards the vision. I understand that this year’s ministry won’t quite comprise the full realization of our eschatological hope, but I’m also in my last year at this parish, and I don’t want to accept continually the deferment, “Next year, we can actually catechize well.”
As I contemplated this professional frustration, I realized there was an analogous tension in my life: contemplative prayer. I’ve often heard cited that “finding the time to pray” is difficult, but each of us needs to take a good hard look at what exactly are the things which supercede our prayer lives. As a parish minister, mine are especially ironic - “I can’t pray now, I have to get to work... so that I can balance envisioning the direction of the Church with executing the logistics involved.” I may be well-intentioned, but that prioritization isn’t ultimately fruitful. I cannot say that I am doing the work of the Church, whether important or less important, if I am not also praying through the work of the Church.
“Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer each day," remarked St. Francis de Sales, "except when we are busy—then we need an hour." This pithy quote is a roadmap to balancing the tension between my active ministerial work and the vision, which in this case actually is the Kingdom of God. The Catechism also calls me out: “The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter” (2710). Isn’t it ironic that the trial can be a temptation to plan out the best work of the Church?
I have to be able to make (not “find”) time to look beyond my work (even if the Church couldn’t move on without it) to notice and evaluate where I’m headed in my prayer life, and if that prayer life really is allowing Christ to change hearts... especially my own. I don’t want to promise continually, “Tomorrow, I will actually pray well.”
Laura Berlage serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ
“…we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” ~Romans 5:3-5
A few weeks ago, during our celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, this portion of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans was read to faithful Catholics throughout the world. I had the privilege of attending a bilingual Mass that weekend with my girlfriend, Kara, in a high school gymnasium. The different setting, unfamiliar language, and unusually large number of altar servers hardly crossed my mind as we participated in Mass at Most Holy Trinity Parish, on this, their solemnity. It was a beautiful liturgy to say the least! What struck Kara and me most about our experience, however, were these lines from the second reading: How many of us know someone who is afflicted? We all have family members, friends or colleagues that are struggling with cancer, unemployment, depression, etc. In the daily news - local, national and international - we hear about gun violence, war, natural disaster, and famine. Even more simplistically, we each have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days.’
St. Paul reminds us that affliction is not something to run from because ultimately, we “boast in hope of the Glory of God” (Romans 5:2). His ‘flow chart of hope’ is a reassuring message of what true faithfulness yields and how God makes His love present to each of us in our struggles.
The alternatives to hope (sin, despair, discouragement, impatience, fear, anxiety, guilt…)_ when left unchecked, are a rejection of God’s invitation to deeper communion with Him. Very basically, this reading offers us a roadmap to understand how affliction does not have the final word; hope does!
Pope Benedict XVI’s homily at Nationals Stadium during his 2008 Apostolic Visit to the United States speaks to this point: “It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross.”
We are able to endure our own afflictions because of the hope promised to us by God. Pain, suffering, and struggle are not pleasant, especially when they are affecting someone we know and love. As people of faith, though, we believe God is with us, united in our affliction and made present to us in the love we experience. This faith, this hope, and this love, offer us momentary comfort and strength as we journey to the ultimate glory of complete communion with God.
We have a common call to share this hope with those around us, especially with those who find it difficult to endure in times of struggle. This simple reminder of the universality of the Church also reminds us that through prayer, “we become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others” (Spe Salvi
And so, as we are confronted with affliction, our prayer should be one of hope. As others struggle with affliction, our response should be one of hope. And as we begin to question why affliction affects our lives, we must remember that affliction yields hope; hope in the love of God.
“Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.”
St. Teresa of Avila, The Exclamations of the Soul to God, 15:3.
Jonathan Jerome is the Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.
“I don’t want to grow anymore.” This cantankerous proclamation has lately become my state of being. It sums up my exhausted emotions as I finish a two year service program, study for my comprehensive exams, move back into my Mom’s house and struggle to land a job. In grumbling to my program director that Growing up is hard and I don’t want to do it
, she shared with me a piece of wisdom: “You are never done growing and you are never done with being challenged. In the growing and in the challenge you come to a deeper knowing of God.” While still dealing with the overwhelming idea of constantly growing, I have come to find truth in these words. I realized that not only is growing up hard, but being Catholic calls me to this constant growth- this constant conversion of heart!
Being Catholic calls me to encounter the messiness of challenges, the hardship of changes, and the realization that I will always be growing until I am with God. St. Augustine in his Confessions
writes of this conflicted desire to want the virtues of God, yet not ready to struggle with the realities of attaining them. St. Augustine shares, “Give me Chastity, just not yet.” This is how I feel. I want holiness…just not yet do I want to have to confront the realities to attain it. I want to know God… but not deal with the messiness. I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit… but I don’t want to face the growth that the Spirit leads me to.
Margaret Silf, in her book The Other Side of Chaos
, writes, “But we will also take the journey in faith—not the kind of faith that knows all the answers and has mapped out the right and proper path, but the faith that says simply, “I don’t know, but I trust.”
She goes on to say, “It matters that you are willing to open your heart to a wider, fuller reality, one in which over time, or perhaps beyond time, you will know that ultimately every painful harrowing of your life’s field, and every anxious tending of new and tender growth, are leading to a harvest that you can’t begin to imagine.”
I try to know all the answers and map out all the “right” paths. I don’t know if I want to open my heart wider to a fuller reality. I want a plan, a job, certainty, etc. I want anything that will keep me from feeling these anxious and unsettling emotions of transition and change. Yet, as my spiritual director would say, that is not of God.
God is in the messiness; he is in the hardship of leaving a place I have called home for two years. He is in the humbling action of moving back into my Mom’s home. He is found in the rejection letters coming in from jobs. There is no room for God and the work of the Spirit when I decide I know best and try to plan my path.
So here I am, left with no other choice than to sit in the messiness of transition and chaos. My wanting to be with God and to know God has brought me here and it is here that I continue to learn to trust that He is with me. It may take many years, or my entire life, to see how this time led me closer to His will and to understand the need for restlessness and messiness. But, there is no doubt that by encountering the messiness and seeking God in it, I am growing in a way that will enable me to become the apostle He is calling me to be!
So encounter your messiness, lean into your hardships, and know wherever you are God can be found. Pam Tremblay is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
I try to make it to weekday mass before work. One day recently, father spoke of self-possession. “We must fully possess ourselves to fully give ourselves.” For me, these words could not ring more true.
My service year thus far has been one of immense growth, complete with intense growing pains (I went from 5’4” to nearly 5’9” in middle school and I remember complaining to my father how much my knees and legs were hurting). Until mass that day, I didn’t connect that I’ve been learning, trial-by-fire, the important relationship between self-possession and self-gift.
With my job as case manager at a residential high school for emotionally disturbed teenage boys, I can’t afford to live a life of extremes. I know what it’s like to go to work with little sleep (awful), I know what it’s like to go to work unprepared (stressful) and I know what it’s like to go to work in a bad mood (disastrous). This year is a crash-course in how to be an adult – I cannot get away with the disorganization that characterized my life for three-and-a-half of my four years of college. Then, I lived only for myself. Now, I have a duty to my community and to my students. I live for nineteen wild teenage boys, and whether or not they see or appreciate it, I need to be at my best every minute that I am at work. Self-possession, or self-discipline, is an important skill I am trying to acquire for the sake of myself and those I serve.
Social service is a field that demands one to continually give of oneself. You give your time and attention to students with issues like, “I have a toothache and my mom’s insurance card isn’t working, can you make me an appointment?” to “I feel abandoned by my family and don’t want to be in this place” to irate calls from parents, to surprise visits from state agencies.. One is constantly giving time and attention to all types of people and situations.
Self-discipline may have too much of an ascetic, medieval tone to it, but it is so very important for good work. I need to sleep. I need to smile and listen to others even when I don’t feel like smiling or listening. I need to do my paperwork in a timely manner. I need to read my work email instead of browsing the internet. I need to make sure I have time with friends so that I can be in a place of peace and happiness for my work. I need to model how to live a good life, so that when I give my students a hard time for playing 18 hours of video games over the weekend or for not communicating respectfully with their parents, I am not picking out their splinter in their eyes while the plank is in my own.
We learn more from what people do than what they say. Our world is inundated with words, most of them pretty useless. Actions are more powerful, and someone who does what he or she preaches is the kind of person I might stop and listen to.
Our faith has the most beautiful image of love: Jesus on the cross. That example of pure love, of most unselfish self-gift, moves me to action more profoundly than any words of a thoughtful hallmark card, any viewing of the Notebook, any poem of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (and I enjoy EBB!). Love in our faith is a dying to oneself for the sake of others and God. If I fully possess myself, I have grown in my ability to die constantly to myself. And if I have created that habit within, then I can more freely love and give to those around me.
By Jen Coe, Lasallian Volunteer 12-13 Place of Service: Martin De Porres, Queens, NY
This post was originally written and posted on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog.
For more Catholic Volunteer Blog Posts please visit the CVN Blog Page.
The Catholic Apostolate Center is proud to partner with the Catholic Volunteer Network by developing faith formation resources for volunteers and alumni, assisting in its efforts to provide and advocate for faith-based volunteerism and collaborate in many additional ways.
It has been about a year since I told my students that I would not be returning as their Religion teacher. I decided that I was moving back to Los Angeles at the end of the school year. I wanted to be back with my family especially my mom and two young nieces. I was burned out from teaching. And perhaps most importantly-I wanted to travel and explore the world. I wanted to do and achieve great and glorious things. At 25 years old, I was incredibly restless with my life.
At the beginning of his Confessions,
St. Augustine writes his most famous and oft-quoted line: “For You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Throughout the first ever spiritual autobiography, Augustine bares his soul for God and for generations of people to read and understand. As a young man and even probably as an old Bishop, Augustine was a restless man searching and struggling for salvation. He was lonely and frustrated. He sought material goods and earthly pleasures. Yet it was not until he accepted God-rested in God-that he found peace.
As I began to plan my travels, I remained open to any opportunity that would come before me. All I knew was that I wanted to see as many diverse places as possible and I wanted to do as many exciting things as possible. Thus, I hiked the 42 km Inca trail over four days to see Machu Picchu. I prayed at the Western Wall and knelt at the site of the Crucifixion
. I saw my beloved Notre Dame get demolished in the National Championship game. I toured the White House and became breathless at the site of the Oval Office. I went on a medical mission in India and volunteered in various villages. I fulfilled “bucket list” places to see such as the Taj Mahal, Petra, and the Pyramids. It was an incredible blessing to be able to see and experience all these places, meet interesting people, and create such lasting stories and memories.
However, I did not find the peace that I was searching for in my journeys. I sought it, prayed for it, and longed for it. And yet, it was not there. Despite all the miles I flew and the cool photos I took with Instagram, my heart was not at rest. Or at least not the rest I was hoping for.
Nevertheless, when I look back on this year off, I notice the times that I felt at most peace were the days I spent with my nieces, Stella and Lauren. Stella is 3 and is incredibly precocious; she speaks both Korean and English, lectures us on how to listen better, and sings beautifully. Lauren is 1 and there is nothing in the world like her smile and her laugh. It has given me such immense joy to be with them, hold them, play with them-a joy that surprised me and builds upon itself. Seeing these two girls grow up and being present to them in very ordinary ways has given me peace that all the extraordinary sights in the world could not.
When she read Confessions, my mom commented that St. Augustine and I shared some traits in common. We both love public speaking. We both have strong mothers who worry about them. And we both have a “healthy” amount of “confidence”-to put it lightly. All I can hope is that I find the rest in God that he pursued and ultimately found.
Tae Kang has his MA in Theology from The University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Program and has worked both as a Lay Ecclesial Minister in a Parish and as a High School Religion Teacher.
For the past few months, we have ended the month with the staff of the Catholic Apostolate Center sharing with you words of joy and where it is that we find joy in our faith. This month we invite you to read Pope Francis’ thoughts on joy and faith which he shared in his Palm Sunday Homily, March 24th 2013.
“Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd of disciples accompanies him in festive mood, their garments are stretched out before him, there is talk of the miracles he has accomplished, and loud praises are heard: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38).
Crowds, celebrating, praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air. Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, and he has bent down to heal body and soul.
This is Jesus. This is his heart which looks to all of us, to our sicknesses, to our sins. The love of Jesus is great. And thus he enters Jerusalem, with this love, and looks at us. It is a beautiful scene, full of light - the light of the love of Jesus, the love of his heart - of joy, of celebration.
At the beginning of Mass, we too repeated it. We waved our palms, our olive branches. We too welcomed Jesus; we too expressed our joy at accompanying him, at knowing him to be close, present in us and among us as a friend, a brother, and also as a King: that is, a shining beacon for our lives. Jesus is God, but he lowered himself to walk with us. He is our friend, our brother. He illumines our path here. And in this way we have welcomed him today. And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And in this moment the enemy, the devil, comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.”
There’s a line from Coldplay’s “The Scientist” that pops in my head from time to time. Nothing seems to prompt it. The line just comes: “Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart.”
As I sit with the words now, I notice why they speak to me. A lover of math and physics, questions of science have engaged me from the very beginning. At first it was dinosaurs, fossils, rocks, mountains, stars, planets – big, physical, earthy things. As I grew and learned through the complicated processes of science, the whole world became an infinitely complicated, continuously unfolding window into God’s creative mind. From the quantum entanglement of paired photon particles to the unimaginably long process of creation through evolution that could selectively form the creatures of this mysterious and complicated world, I stand in complete, utter fascination.
Yet, as captivated as I am by science, its questions are not enough. For me, asking the probing questions of science isn’t about head knowledge, it’s about heart knowledge. The created world and all its mysteries, when uncovered and understood, stir in me deeper mysteries, mysteries of a different category and question. At some point I moved beyond asking what and how to asking why and what does it mean.
As we celebrated Pentecost, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded that the gifts we have been given are of both head knowledge and heart knowledge. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, strength, piety, and fear of the Lord – these challenge and equip us to probe deeper, scientifically and metaphysically, into the mystery of being.
Of all the gifts, fear of the Lord might sound the most antiquated, but it may also be the most relevant for today’s ongoing conversation with secularism. Understood as “wonder and awe”, rather than fear, this gift certainly explains my shift in focus from science to faith. And, I’m certain, explains the drive of so much scientific research today.
Wonder is the starting point for two difficult conversations – one between science and fundamentalism and the second between faith and active secularism. Both the agnostic physicist and the pious mystic share the gift of a profound wonder and awe at the created world, whether or not they both believe the world had a creator.
As we celebrate the gift of Pentecost, and as we give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s continued work, let us take time to wonder with someone about the intricacies of creation – whether it be through the eyes of science or the eyes of faith – and let us hope that this gift of wonder can begin a creative conversation of a different sort.
Mark Bartholet is the Pastoral Associate for Faith Formation at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC.
Ever consider yourself an apostle? Last year, the 42 year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, returned to Broadway for another run. The Apostles reflectively sing during the Last Supper, “Always hoped that I'd be an apostle, knew that I would make it if I tried,” as if they really knew what they were getting into when they agreed to Jesus saying “Follow me!” Of course, they didn’t. It would be like you saying, “Always hoped I’d be a volunteer, knew that I would make it if I tried.”
At some point someone, even if that Someone was speaking within, invited you to consider doing volunteer service and now you are doing it. Did you know exactly what you were getting into when you applied? Like the Apostles, probably not. You hoped to serve and give of yourself. Now after some time of service, you have much more of an idea of what you are doing and what it means to give of yourself in service. Even if your time of service is not coming to an end right now, you might be asking a couple of questions:
“What am I going to do next?”
“What am I going to do with my life?”
No need to panic over them. Spending time reflecting on these questions is important, but sometimes that reflection can move in the direction of narcissism.Obviously, service is focused on others rather than ourselves. An outward-focus, while inwardly deciding, can offer a possible way forward. A bit of wisdom from Pope Francis from this past Easter Sunday
speaks to this needed balance:“Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
Notice that we are in the middle, not as passive participants, but actively living the mercy and love of Jesus Christ toward a world in need of care, to people in need of service. We are sent by him. We are apostles.
Ever think of yourself as an apostle? We are. Each one of the baptized is an apostle of faith and charity to a world in need of the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. We share in his mission. This is our primary vocation (from Latin vocare – “to call
”) in life. We have a vocation to be an apostle. Don’t believe me? I’m not the one who said it, Blessed John Paul II did. He was talking to my religious family, the Union of Catholic Apostolate
, but his point was meant for all:“Continue to multiply your efforts so that what was prophetically announced by Vincent Pallotti, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, that all Christians are authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world”
(Homily of June 22, 1986
Blessed John Paul II was simply expanding on what was said during the Second Vatican Council in a document that he helped to write, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity
. But, what does it mean to be an “authentic apostle of Christ in the Church and in the world?” It means living as one who is sent, and not simply living for ourselves or being only a follower. We are sharers in the mission of Christ in his priestly, prophetic, and royal offices (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 783-786). We are “consecrated” through baptism (priestly) to “witness in the midst of the world” (prophetic), in service, especially to “the poor and the suffering” (royal). Nothing passive here! Our vocation as apostles of Jesus Christ is an active one that moves us outward beyond ourselves to a world in need of his presence through us.
Our vocation as baptized is our primary vocation
. All of the other vocations as married
, or priest
are all secondary to this primary vocation as follower of (disciple) and sent by (apostle) Jesus Christ. Each is a way one can live out the primary vocation. How does one decide? Through a process of discernment
, one is called to be informed, pray, make a choice, and take action
. I make it seem easy. The process is not an easy one, but necessary in order to make a truly informed choice about how to live our vocation as an apostle. You might not be ready to make a choice about what way to live this vocation for life, but living it out as an apostle is what you are already doing in your volunteer service and probably did long before now.
Maybe the Apostles in Jesus Christ Superstar
were not so far off then, we do want to be apostles; we only need to try.Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center. This piece was written for the Catholic Apostolate Center partner Catholic Volunteer Network, "Shared Visions" Newsletter.
Being a “cradle catholic” I never questioned why we had 4 different statues of Mary in our kitchen or why every May we put a crown of flowers on our “Garden Mary” outside. It was common to hear the advice of praying to the rosary if you couldn’t sleep and thus one would be able to find countless glow-in-the-dark rosary beads tucked into my bed. Almost every woman in my family had Marie as their middle name and like myself, if it wasn’t a middle name it was taken as a confirmation name. It wasn’t until college, living under the shadow of “Mary’s House”, the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, that I began to understand that it was through Mary that I would come to know her Son.
St. Vincent Pallotti understood this and had a deep connection with Our Lady and entrusted himself to her. He wrote “I resolve, my God, from all eternity and for all eternity . . . to love, honor and glorify my beloved Mother Mary; and to behold her loved, honored and glorified to the same degree that You, O Eternal Father, have showered her as Your Daughter, that You, O Divine Lord, have esteemed her as Your Mother, and that You, O Holy Spirit, have accorded her as Your most pure spouse
.” (Soul of a Saint, p. 82)
His devotion went beyond the pious practice of the time and enlightened a burning love within him. He spoke of Our Lady as, “Mother of Divine Love” and “Queen of Apostles.”
It is said that he spoke, “I shall not rest until I, if this is possible, have achieved an infinitely tender love for my much beloved and much loving mother, Mary
St. Vincent, in his deep love for Mary and a desire to be humble, work a silver reliquary box around his wrist with the image of the Mother of Divine Love painted on ivory mounted on it. He did this so that when people came to kiss his hand, a practice of that time, instead of kissing how own hand they would instead kiss the image of Our Lady.
During this Month dedicated to Mary, let us look to St. Vincent as an example of how a love for our blessed mother can help us in reviving faith, enkindling charity and become an apostle of Christ. Pam Tremblay is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Prayer to Mary Queen of Apostles
Immaculate Mother of God, Queen of the Apostles, we know that God's commandment of love and our vocation to follow Jesus Christ impels us to cooperate in the mission of the Church. Realizing our own weakness, we entrust the renewal of our personal lives and our apostolate to your intercession. We are confident that through God's mercy and the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, you, who are our Mother, will obtain the strength of the Holy Spirit as you obtained it for the community of the apostles gathered in the upper room. Therefore, relying on your maternal intercession, we resolve from this moment to devote our talents, learning, material resources, our health, sickness and trials, and every gift of nature and grace, for the greater glory of God and the salvation of all. We wish to carry on those activities which especially promote the catholic apostolate for the revival of faith and love of the people of God and so bring all men and women into the faith of Jesus Christ. And if a time should come when we have nothing more to offer serviceable to this end, we will never cease to pray that there will be one fold and one shepherd Jesus Christ. In this way, we hope to enjoy the results of the apostolate of Jesus Christ for all eternity.
~St. Vincent Pallotti
I am really blessed to participate at liturgy each Sunday with an awesome community of believers. As we were engaged in Lent and Easter planning, we discussed decorations and flowers for our worship space. We decided that for Easter, rather than dozens of pots of lilies and other plants, fresh cut flowers that we could arrange ourselves would be much more beautiful for our Easter Vigil and Easter Week liturgies. As we were on the phone with the florist ordering stems of lilies and tulips and roses, I also asked her to send pots of hydrangea and azalea. A cry went up from among the committee. "They're ugly! We don't want pots of plants!" After hanging up, I explained that fresh flowers will wilt and die in week, but we were going to need Easter plants that could last for fifty days.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to quip, "First we fast, then we feast." Indeed, it is very Catholic to fast and then feast. Remember our forty day Lenten observance a few months ago. Recall all the chocolate and Facebook and television we gave up. Recall all of those Fridays when all we wanted was a hamburger and walked away with a grilled cheese. Recall all the corporal works of mercy and prayer we added to our lives. Recall the trash pickups and nursing homes visits and clothing or food drives we participated in. Recall the violet draped churches and chapels (many, nowadays, with veiled statues) in which we prayed. Recall all of the cacti, thorn and stick floral arrangements with swaths of purple fabric all over them. We Catholics are great at fasting. But, the Church suggests that we should feast more than we fast at Easter time. After all, Easter lasts a ten full days longer than Lent!
But sometimes, it's harder to feast. Why?
We tried our best to feast. Yes, we gorged on our favorite candy by Easter Sunday night. Gold banners and flowers replaced the empty pots and violet cloths. The statues in our churches are now unveiled. But, the potted hydrangeas and the azaleas are now dead and we are singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" with a little less vigor than at Easter Vigil.
We forget that violet cloth and the absence of potato chips is not what got us ready for Easter. If our feasting consists only in the superficial things we gave up during Lent, then our Easter Alleluias will never ring more vibrant than the silent vacuum their Lenten absence created.
Continuing the party is difficult when we forget what our preparation was. Easter gives us fifty days to continue visiting the sick, mending broken relationships, naming and fixing the parts of ourselves that need healing, volunteering our time and help, and giving aid to those in need. That's how we show that we are people of Resurrection - by sharing the new life Christ won for us with others, and it's the only way we can continue to celebrate for fifty days.
For Catholics, the reality is that we are an Easter people all year long. That's a lot of party, but the only way we can continue this Easter joy is by sharing the new life that Christ won for us. Bringing new life where there is sadness and death is the constant call of Easter. And it's a call that goes well beyond these fifty days.
David Pennington is the Associate Campus Minister for Liturgy and Worship at The Catholic University of America.