When It Doesn't Feel Like Easter
At the beginning of February, a dear friend of mine shared Graham Greene’s short story “The Hint of an Explanation” with me. It was the very beginning of awareness of the existence of COVID-19 by the general population in the United States, and the Bishop of our Diocese had just pronounced his strong recommendation that Catholics not receive communion on the tongue and refrain from contact during the passing of the peace. The CDC had not yet declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic, and we barely had any cases in the U.S. Fast forward to the first week of March, and we were suddenly in a world I could not have imagined in late February.
Our state has now been under a shelter in place order for four weeks and will remain so through at least April 30. Schools in our state have been closed since mid-March and will likely not be returning at all this semester. The CDC has recommended no gatherings of 10 or more for the next 8 weeks and encouraged all Americans to wear masks in public. Shelves at grocery stores of essential items continue to remain empty. Our Bishop initially granted a dispensation from Mass attendance and Holy Days of Obligation extending through Easter, which quickly progressed to the cancellation of public Masses altogether until further notice.
For the most part, we, the faithful, have rallied during this time. “This is the Lentiest Lent that ever Lented,” proclaimed multiple social media accounts, good-naturedly. While not ideal, there was also something profoundly appropriate about a Eucharistic fast during the season of Lent, and it was hard to ignore the spiritual aspects of the entire world being forced to slow down, spend more time with family, and sacrifice more for the good of others during the roughly forty day period prior to Easter.
Now, however, Lent is over, and for the first time in history, the Pope did not celebrate Mass during Holy Week or Easter Sunday in the presence of the faithful. Many of the faithful were not even able to attend any Mass at all in person. And while Easter Sunday was wonderful in my home as we got dressed up, live-streamed Mass, and enjoyed all sorts of domestic festivities, by the time Monday morning rolled around it had all begun to feel a bit…dare I say it? Anticlimactic. Easter morning has come, but it still looks a lot like Lent around my home and community. Churches remain closed. Our Eucharistic fast continues. We’re still slogging through the monotony and sundry inconveniences and myriad of anxieties of quarantine with no hard and fast end in sight.
Of course, I knew that once the rigors of Lent were over, the outside world (both as affected by COVID-19 and as it normally functions) would not look so very different on the surface. Nonetheless, here I sit on Wednesday of the Octave of Easter, wondering if it’s ever going to feel like Easter again. During such times, it’s difficult not to give into the spirit of anxiety, boredom, or even spiritual apathy. No doubt about it, it smacks of spiritual warfare.
I am reminded again and again, however, that this is just a skirmish. As Pope Saint John Paul II said, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” We should not – must not – give into fear, panic, or any of the other traitorous negative emotions we may be feeling, because we know not only how this episode ends, but how the ultimate battle will be won. So if you’re feeling a bit like I have been this week, have peace and take courage. What Satan intends to use against the Kingdom of God, God always redeems. As Graham Greene’s character David observes, “. . . this Thing, whatever it is, that seizes every possible weapon against God, is always, everywhere, disappointed at the moment of success.” The truth of this is never clearer than in the glory of the resurrection itself!
What then is our responsibility, as Catholics, during this time? Our job is to cooperate in God’s redemptive work and to live in the spirit of the resurrection, even when (especially when) it doesn’t feel like Easter. We have the opportunity, just as David does in the story, to turn the weapon against the enemy’s own breast.
How do we do that? We keep showing up, so to speak. We lean into our spiritual disciplines. We pray. We read the scripture and the Catechism. We schedule that Zoom Bible study and prayer session with our best friends that we’ve been meaning to do. We call and text our elderly neighbors to see if there’s anything we can do for them. We live moment by moment and keep actively choosing to do the next right thing.
Easter morning is still our reality, whether we feel it or not. Although we may both literally and figuratively still be walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we can choose to live in the spirit of the resurrection, rather than to embrace the spirit of fear. By doing so, when we come out of this, be it in a few weeks or months or even a year, we, too, will be able to say, “When I think of it now, it’s almost as if I had seen that Thing weeping for its inevitable defeat. It had tried to use me as a weapon, and now I had broken in its hands and it wept its hopeless tears .”