By Patrick Conley
During this past Lent, I was engaged in a host of disciplines, including abstinences (some old, some new), fasting, prayer, almsgiving, etc., and indeed these disciplines continue to reap spiritual benefit in my life…it was a good Lent, as it were.
That said, one of the most profound lessons I have learned from this year’s Lenten journey did not actually come from within the Holy Season of Lent itself, but rather from Easter. Clearly there is — and should be — a sharp contrast between the disciplined, penitential, fasting season of Lent and the celebratory, exuberant, feasting season of Easter. And therein lies the rub: while I’m becoming more practiced at fasting, I have discovered that I don’t know how to feast.
Sound peculiar? Feasting…you know, living it up, having fun, celebrating. You’d think it’d be easy. Who can’t do these things? Well, apparently, I can’t. Not, anyway, as it’s meant to be done under the auspices of faith.
Here’s what I mean: somehow I have made the great Feast of the Resurrection of Christ into a casting off of Lenten discipline to the extent that it has become a willful turn to the manifold vices of sensual overindulgence. Overeating. Overdrinking. Reengaging bad habits. Letting my thoughts and my gazes wander astray. In sum, Easter “feasting,” sadly, is little more than a holy excuse for unholy behavior. As an aside, I am now keenly aware of the depth of influence common, secular perceptions about the meaning of “having fun” have had on me!
Clearly, this is not what is intended in marking the stark contrast between Lent and Easter, between the Cross and the Empty Tomb. The death of Jesus occurred that I might be set free from my sinful overindulgence. He was raised that I make partake in new, divine, eternal life. What bitter irony that I then return him to the Cross by my actions—and how utterly shameful that I do it in the name of his Resurrection. Kyrie, eleison!
Upon reflection, what my feasting has been sorely lacking is virtue. The good things from which I abstained during Lent can, and indeed should, be embraced again when Easter arrives…but I need to embrace these things in the new freedom found in the Risen Christ: one wherein my lower appetites and passions submit to the higher faculty of virtuous reason.
More specifically, the appropriate Easter feast is one governed by the virtue of temperance: using those good things created for us, but using them appropriately—to indulge, but not to overindulge. The teeth of temperance is in knowing that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing—and living accordingly.
In the divine economy, the more we live a temperate Easter feast, the more we are liberated from our old ways of sin, and the more we are freed to revel in the joy and fulfillment of Easter.