It’s spring at last, and my thoughts are turning, naturally, if a bit late, to spring cleaning. Not just the grab-the-mop, go-through-the-closets kind of cleaning, but the spiritual kind as well: The kind of cleaning that we undertook in Lent to prepare for Easter, to clear out the cobwebs in the soul and let in the sunshine of grace.
Actually, I don’t think my musings are late, because cleaning, as we know all too well, is never really finished. The mess we straightened up a few days ago begins to return; the dust and dirt that we swept away accumulate again. Cleaning isn’t a one-and-done activity; it’s perennial, like gardening or paying bills. We need to keep on top of it. So even though Lent is over and Easter in all its glory has only just begun, we still have to be watchful.
At the same time we’re deeply joyful. I’ve always loved to recall that Lent lasts 40 days while Easter lasts for 50. The season of penance is long, but the time of rejoicing is longer. It has to be; we have so much to celebrate. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross has opened the doors to salvation. The Resurrection is the culmination of that sacrifice and the promise of what we, too, can do because of Christ: rise to new life with him forever.
That’s what Christ promised when he said at the Last Supper, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
There is a depth and breadth in the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection that we can never fully fathom. No wonder Easter lasts so long, from the Mass of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night to the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the birthday of the Church.
The celebration of Easter seems to me to be entwined especially with the virtue of hope. Together with faith and charity, it is one of the three theological virtues, which connect us most closely to God. All three are essential to Christian life, yet hope is sometimes neglected, and I’ve seen it described as “the forgotten virtue.” Maybe the reason is that it is often sandwiched between faith and charity. But if hope seems overshadowed by its neighbors, we need to reclaim it and reflect on it, and never more than in this season.
Before the coming of Christ, the people of God could hold on to the hope of his promise: he would send a redeemer. That promise, that hope, is fulfilled in Christ: By his dying and rising, he has opened heaven to us. By his teaching, he has shown us how to get there. We live and breathe in the hope of heaven, of eternal union with God. Hope is not always easy to practice; we still live in a fallen world. We face the temptation to give up, to give in, to stop struggling, to take the easy way out, to sweep the accumulated dust and dirt of life under the rug.
But we can’t surrender like that. We are called to be people of hope, always trusting in God and moving toward heaven. That means staying strong, staying the course and making whatever corrections we need to along the way. It means keeping on top of what needs to be done, never settling for mediocrity.
It’s a kind of spring cleaning that needs to be part of our lives in all seasons. We have been redeemed, but we are still human. We slip and fall. Sin affects our individual lives and the life of the universal Church. When it does, we need to rekindle the holy light of Easter, shining like the paschal candle—through prayer and penance, and by listening, alone and together, as the Church, to the voice of the Redeemer.
“Behold, I make all things new,” says the Lord. He did, and he will, until we no longer need to hope because we see him face to face.
A blessed Easter season.