As is the case for most children, Christmas and Easter occupy the top two spots on my list of favorite days. The difference between the children and me is that my anticipation of these holy days brings me as much joy as the feasts themselves. In spite of the hustle and bustle of the days before Christmas, my Advent observances keep me focused on the reason for the season. I enjoy the wait! At my church, our anticipation for Christmas peaks on “Gift Weekend” when gifts for thousands of our needy neighbors fill the church. The joy of Christmas becomes quite tangible very early in Advent as a result of our parishioners’ generosity. When Christmas Day finally arrives, we celebrate once again. This time, it is God’s generosity which takes center stage. Heaven and earth met in the person of Jesus and his birth marked a new beginning for us all. The life of loving service, generosity, forgiveness and mercy which followed illustrates without a doubt that our joy over Jesus’ birth is most appropriate.
The days before Easter are usually another story. In my case, Lenten anticipation has taken a lifetime to evolve. As a child, I focused on little sacrifices to make up for my failings and to keep me focused upon all that Jesus did for me. I gave up candy and attended daily Mass. Young as I was, I developed a deep appreciation for the physical suffering Jesus endured. The Lents of my childhood lacked joy because I focused solely upon the end of Jesus’ life. I overlooked the teaching, loving, healing and forgiving which Jesus had accomplished beforehand. Fortunately, high school religion classes, college theology courses, further encounters with the scriptures and a variety of gifted writers and homilists nurtured my appreciation of Jesus’ entire life among us. Lent 2016 here at my parish highlighted this realization quite dramatically as we made it our goal to live out The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy together.
Every week, my parish family did something to reveal God’s mercy and Jesus’ loving ways. We fed the hungry by donating items for our local food pantries. We gave drink to the thirsty by collecting bottled water which a Flint, Michigan church distributed. This proved to be a greater gift we than expected because store shelves in Flint have no water left to sell. We clothed the naked by responding to our Fourth Grade religious education students’ baby shower. We provided diapers and other basic necessities to needy mothers. We also cleaned out our closets and shared unneeded items. We sheltered the homeless by supporting our St. Vincent DePaul Chapter which sees to the needs of those who make requests of our parish. We visited the sick by caring for those who might otherwise suffer alone and we buried our dead with our prayerful and supportive presence. Throughout Lent, our parish families also filled Rice Bowls with spare cash to support even more of the needy both near and far. Every week, these efforts reminded me that we best show our gratitude for Jesus’ suffering and death when we live as Jesus lived before he carried his cross to Calvary. Though our efforts didn’t change the entire world, they certainly changed the worlds of those we helped. We brought a taste of Easter Joy to others and to ourselves.
On this Easter Morning, joy surfaces in full bloom. Alleluias fill our churches as we sing of the miracles which inspired our good deeds during Lent and throughout the year. Alleluias fill our church because Jesus’ Resurrection promises the same for each one of us. You know, when Jesus called his followers, he knew that they responded with all of their imperfections intact. Still, Jesus embraced them and remained with them through everything. Today, Jesus embraces you and me with equal enthusiasm. Alleluias fill our churches this Easter Sunday because we know without question that God cherishes us more than we ever would have expected and more than we dared to hope for.
Though my reasons for treasuring Christmas and Easter differ a bit from those of most children, I can’t help envying their absolute delight with these special feasts. It seems to me that the best way to recapture this fervor is to mimic children’s efforts to prolong their celebrating for as long as possible. Though they may be satisfied with a later bedtime, we need to prolong the revelry through the weeks and months ahead. What better way is there for us to celebrate Easter then to live and rise as Jesus did whenever and wherever we are needed?
May God bless each of us with just enough Easter Joy to share!
©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved