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Deepening the joy of Easter

Lent is reaching its final weeks and Holy Week is almost upon us. Soon we will celebrate Easter, the victory of the Risen Lord over sin and death. With the solemnities of Holy Week and Easter, Lent ends.

The end of Lent can be the beginning of a temptation. It’s the temptation to let down our guard, to return to our old way of life. If we gave up smoking for Lent, Easter Sunday might seem like the right time to light up. If we came to Mass every morning during Lent, Easter Monday might seem like a good day to sleep in. If we fasted or gave up drinking, the season of Easter might seem like a good time to eat whatever we wish and to indulge in alcoholic beverages.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not proposing a perpetual Lent. But I am suggesting that Easter – the feast of the Lord’s victory over sin and death – is not a time to backslide, to undo whatever progress the Lord enabled us to make in our struggle for holiness and virtue. That would be like returning to a steady diet of fatty foods after getting a good report from our cardiologist or like putting excessive strain on a broken leg that is just beginning to mend. Rather, the Easter season is a time to open our hearts more widely and more gratefully to God our Father who has come to our rescue by sending us his Son who died and rose for
our salvation.

What, then, am I proposing? I am suggesting that we embrace an ancient discipline in the Church that the newly baptized are to undergo called “mysta-gogy.” Just about now, you might be thinking, “What in the world is mysta-gogy? It’s even hard to pronounce!”

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, mystagogy is a Greek word that means “to lead through the mysteries.” During the 40 days of the Easter season, the Church earnestly desires to lead the newly baptized, and indeed all of us, more deeply into the mystery of Christ – into the mystery of his death and resurrection. This is less a program and more an invitation to participate deeply in the Church’s liturgy, which, through sign and symbol, leads us to grasp more fully the inner meaning and reality of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection (cf. CCC, 1075).

As we listen to the Gospels, we are caught up in the drama of the Risen Lord’s appearances to his disciples. With them, we confront the reality that the Christ, who died on the cross, is standing before us alive, still bearing the wounds of his Passion, the marks of his love. As we read from the Acts of the Apostles, we share the amazement of the Apostles, as through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord speaks and acts through them.

As the Eucharistic prayer is offered, we enter into the Paschal Mystery, the Death and Resurrection of the Christ and in Holy Communion, we receive the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord. By and by, it dawns on us that the Risen Lord is present and active in our lives no less than in the earliest days of
the Church.

This should bring about in our lives an ongoing conversion. Not a slackening of prayer but a deepening of our prayer life. Not a return to self-centered living, but rather a life of charity, unity and fraternity.

Above all, it should lead us to what St. John Paul II called “eucharistic amazement” – a heightened and deepened sense that the Lord is truly among us, that he loves me and gave his life for me, that through the Spirit, the Lord lives, acts and speaks in me. Let us pray that this Easter season, we might allow the Spirit of God to lead us through the mysteries of Christ to continual Easter joy.

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