In light of the many tragic events in our world – floods, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, civil wars and global unrest and suffering – is it possible to be truly joyful this Easter, asks Good Samaritan Sister Sonia Wagner.
BY Sonia Wagner SGS
Each year the Church calls us to journey through Lent with our gaze firmly fixed on the pivotal feast of Easter and the resurrection. There are 40 days of preparation followed by 50 days of rejoicing. We pray in solidarity with the Church community… “lead us into the everlasting joys of Easter”.
Yet, we wonder, how is it possible to be truly joyful this year? In light of the many tragic events – floods, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, civil wars and global unrest and suffering – surely sensitivity, compassion and authenticity demand that we observe a penitential Lenten mode.
Teilhard de Chardin, in considering the vast ocean of human suffering spread over our earthly globe, saw in that collective pain a vast reservoir of potential energy for life.
“If all the pain were put on the scales opposite all the joy of the world, who could say which would outweigh the other? There appears to be no human progress without some mysterious tribute in tears, in blood, in sin. Is it not necessary that along with the painful wear and tear of much human work, we also discover a positive value that makes it definitively acceptable, even transfigures it?”
The question is how to liberate that energy and how to convert it into power for new life and Easter joy, in this time and this place? St Benedict has wisdom and insight to offer in regard to the joyful theme of Easter.
Easter joy is a prominent motif in the Rule of St Benedict. In Chapter 49 The Observance of Lent, Benedict urges the monk to “Add to the usual service… something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit and… look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (RB 49:5-7). Here Benedict is very clearly extending joy beyond the Easter season to the entire time of Lent and indeed to the whole of life since he believes that “the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent” (RB 49:1).
According to the Dialogues of St Gregory the Great, when Benedict was in his cave in the solitude of Subiaco, he had a powerful and life-changing experience of Easter.
“The Lord appeared in a vision to a priest who lived some distance away. As he was preparing to eat his Easter dinner, the Lord said to him: ‘You cook delicacies for yourself while my servant suffers pangs of hunger in such and such a place’. Immediately he got up and on the very feast day he went there with the food he had prepared for himself. He searched for the man of God among the cliffs, the valleys and the ditches. Finally he found him in his cave. When they had said a prayer and blessed almighty God, they had a friendly conversation about life. Then the priest from afar said: ‘Come, let us eat, for today is Easter!’ To which the man of God answered: ‘I know that it is Easter, for you have graced me with your presence’. He was cut off from society so long that he had no idea that that very day was the Solemnity of Easter. But the venerable priest again insisted: ‘Seriously this really is the day of the Lord’s resurrection! It is not right for you to fast, for I have been sent that we might eat the gifts of the all-powerful Lord’. So, blessing God they ate dinner. When they finished eating and conversing, the priest went back to his church”.
Here we read an account of Easter not from a liturgical perspective but rather as a delightfully personal and transforming process of eastering. The spirit of the resurrection was present in their speaking and their eating, in mutual surprise and enjoyment, in the sacrifice and the searching.
We learn that the basic meaning of the paschal event is love, love that is shared. According to Benedict, where there is love, self-giving and authenticity, there is the spirit of the resurrection. That is eastering that transfigures and transforms.
This Easter joy, this eastering that Benedict describes, depends on the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of Lent, and indeed of the whole of the life of the disciple of Christ – “the one who yearns for life and desires to see good days” (RB Prologue 15) – is about facing the truth of our life, of admitting our shortcomings, recognising our strengths and above all preparing a space so that the Holy Spirit can work in us. It is about eastering.
Through Baptism we know that we are already “temples of the Holy Spirit” and that the Spirit is dwelling within us. We are joyful because in mystery we already experience what we long for. The victory of Easter is both yet to come and already with us now.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, to the happy memory of five Franciscan nuns, exiled from their homeland Germany by the Falck laws. They drowned when the vessel in which they were sailing ran aground on a sandbank in the Thames. In the concluding stanza, Hopkins describes Easter with brilliant imagery as an event, a happening, an action – a verb rather than a noun as he prays, “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east”.
Let that prayer be ours for each other and for our world this Easter.