Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Easter!

No need to double-check the date. I know Easter Sunday has come and gone—but it’s still Easter! The Church’s celebration of the Resurrection of Christ will be in full swing for over a week. We are presently in the Easter Octave, which means we commemorate the Solemnity of Our Lord’s resurrection for eight days. A Solemnity is like a majestic bell that signals the beginning of a liturgical season; it reverberates for days on end. Once, after giving some teens an instruction on the Church’s celebrations (solemnities, feasts, octaves, and seasons) one boy enthusiastically said, “The church really knows how to party!”

Over the centuries, devout Christians not only celebrated their feasts in Church, but also at home. Faith stirred the imagination of many to employ common everyday things to convey the message and meaning of great feasts like Easter. The little chicks coming out of their egg, for example, were used to represent Christ emerging from the tomb. The rabbit was known by all to signify fecundity and vitality, while the fragrant lily has not only a beautiful and pervasive scent, but also a trumpet-like appearance for proclaiming the good news of Christ’s resurrection. In many places, since Easter is celebrated at the end of winter, dreary coats are put aside for brighter and lighter clothing, thus beginning the tradition of “spring fashions” and the sometimes ostentatious Easter bonnet!
Speaking about spring fashions, I remember as a young boy praying on Holy Saturday for good weather the next day. It should be sunny and warm enough so I wouldn’t have to wear my winter coat over my brand-new suit jacket, shirt and tie! My “less-than-spiritual” spirituality was also evidenced at Easter Mass when I was thinking about going home to open my Easter basket, filled with chocolate eggs tightly wrapped in colored foil, bright yellow marshmallow chicks, and a milk chocolate Easter bunny with really long ears.

Like Christmas, Easter not only meant a long Mass, but an even longer meal at my grandparents’ house. Actually, the better word is marathon meal. This simply meant spending the entire day at the table talking and eating everything from homemade pasta to roasted lamb to my grandmother’s Easter grain pie. I can still hear my grandfather greeting us at the door with his broken English, “Hap-East!” At the end of the day, my grandmother would send everyone home with odd-shaped packages wrapped in foil so that the next day we could enjoy a “nice sang-wich.”

As you see, my recollections of Easter are not terribly “spiritual.” Some might call them worldly. Yet, strange as it may seem, the religious reality was always there, inches away, although admittedly we rarely talked about it. For me, being Catholic was as natural as being American—and I only waved a flag on the Fourth of July! Holy days were sort of braided with holidays, and somehow the spiritual coexisted with the secular. The problem, however, about being a cultural Catholic is that you don’t really appreciate and fully understand the treasure you have.

I suspect there are many of you who have had a reawakening of your faith in recent years. Perhaps, like me, you were born and bred in a culture exported from Catholic Europe. At some time, perhaps during adolescence, a question came to mind, “Why do I believe at all?” This one question led to others, and in time, the tight knot which kept us close to shore loosened; we became untethered, and then we quietly drifted away. How and why we came back is a book in itself, but thanks to God’s grace, the story of our adventure will have a very happy ending.

Statistics attest that thousands joyfully entered the Church this Easter, but only God knows the number of those who quietly came back. This is why the Church parties for eight days—She’s real happy! To these we say, “Welcome home!” and “Hap-East!”

+ Fr. Glenn Sudano, CFR
 Most Blessed Sacrament Friary, Newark, NJ
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