I made up my mind that this Easter I am going to live and act like it really is Easter and not just a season called “Not Lent.” The question is how to do this. “Not fasting” can’t be the entirety of the answer and “not praying” and “not giving alms” don’t seem like good Easter fare either. The answer must be “joy.” But the next question is how to live this joy. After all, the advice “Be joyful” doesn’t seem specific enough—sort of like if someone were to give you the moral advice “Do good, avoid evil.” Excellent advice, but breaking it down a little more might help.
Joy is the passion that we feel when that which we love is present. The best joy is caused by the best love, and the best love is God himself. God is the supreme Good; he is loved for his own sake—there is nothing higher than the supreme Good to which the supreme Good might be a stepping stone. But if no one has ever seen God, how do you learn how to rejoice in God and enjoy him?
We can find the beginning of an answer by looking at our Easter rejoicing in parallel with our penitential practices in Lent. As long as earthly life endures, both longing for God and rejoicing in his presence are part of the Christian life, and the Church wisely devotes seasons to sustained observance of each one. Lent is characterized by longing for God. Since we have never seen God, how do we know how to long for him? By experiencing longing for other things that we can see and feel rather directly and by reasoning analogously from the lower to the higher. What is more primal than longing for food? When we fast, our experience of longing is real in a way that engages the whole person including all the affections and passions. If I know what longing is, I can learn to understand and really feel longing for God.
Likewise, if I can learn how to rejoice, then I can learn how to rejoice in God. If you think about it, “enjoy” is really only properly and most fully said of God, since even the created things we say we love “for their own sake” are really still loved with reference to God who must be our last end—else they would be idols, rivals with Him. But the good things of creation are good precisely because God made them, and it is His own goodness of which they are faint reflections. Because He made them good, it is right to love them, and so there is a meaningful sense in which we can say we find joy in them. And because all things are made ultimately for the glory of God, loving them in a rightly ordered way brings us closer to God. There is a time for denying ourselves good things so as to give God our totally undivided attention, but there is also a time to receive good things from Him with thanksgiving. The answer of how to live like it’s Easter, then, seems like it ought to involve doing things you really love, not for the sake of some other created good or worldly advantage, but simply to delight in them as signs that God loves us and wants us to be happy. This is different from doing whatever I want and insisting on getting my way, for such pseudo-rejoicing closes us in on ourselves, while rejoicing out of love draws us out of ourselves.
What this looks like in practice will look a little bit different for each of us, because we can love created things rightly and yet have different favorites. Maybe one form this might take would be visiting a friend or relative and having a conversation with him, not for a favor, but simply because you really enjoy his company. Maybe it means reading a book that you really like, not because it is useful, but because you really enjoy it. Maybe it means eating a food you specially like, not because of stress or convenience, but because you really enjoy it. Perhaps it means playing sports, not because you need the exercise but because you enjoy the sport; and the same goes for praying, singing, or other delightful activities. I plan to do a little of each of these, offering them to God and thanking Him for them afterward.
Taking the time to do things you really love might take a little bit of initiative, but compared to “Not Lent” it seems to me like a much better way to imbue daily life with the ethos of Easter.
Image: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Peasant Wedding