Exchanging Easter Gifts

by Fr. Peter Folan, S.J.

 

Father Peter Folan is a native of Massapequa Park on Long Island. Fr. Folan attended the University of Notre Dame and earned a bachelor’s degree in the Program of Liberal Studies and German in 2000. In 2003, he entered the Society of Jesus. In 2010, he was missioned to the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, where he earned a Master of Divinity as well as a Licentiate in Sacred Theology. Fr. Folan is serving as an associate pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

Receiving gifts is a feature more frequently associated with Christmas than it is with Easter, but this did not stop St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, from encouraging his spiritual heirs to have a small Easter wish list in mind this time of year.  In fact, he even did them the favor of writing up exactly what that list should include: “Ask for the grace to be glad and to rejoice intensely because of the great glory and joy of Christ our Lord.”

 

Now, please do not look at that line, give an, “Aww shucks,” and then prepare to read a saccharine column about gladness, joy, glory, and other pillowy words that contrast with the penance, almsgiving, and fasting of Lent.  The gifts that Ignatius recommends become ours not by wishing really hard that they float down to us from heaven, but by working really hard to realize them in our lives and the lives of those we encounter.

 

Take joy, for instance.  St. Thomas Aquinas calls it an effect of the theological virtue of charity, something that comes about for at least one of two reasons: “either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved exists and endures in it.”[1]  One can think of a mother and child here.  A mother has joy either when she is in the presence of her child, or because things that should be happening to her child – being healthy, growing in knowledge, making friends – are actually happening.

 

Easter joy, as opposed to garden-variety joy, wells up in us when we are in the presence of Christ, the Risen One.  On the one hand, this is a task that is easy enough to accomplish, for we are always, in a manner of speaking, in God’s presence.  To the Psalmist, who asks, “Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee,” we respond, “Nowhere” (Psalm 13 9:7).  God is all around us.

 

But on the other hand, how often is it that we actively place ourselves in the presence of the Risen One?  Doing that through the celebration of the Eucharist, through being of service to those whom the world ignores, or through prayer, if only the briefest of prayers, are some of the ways Easter joy gets produced in our lives.  But these things are hard to do.  They require effort, consistency, and dedication.  And consequently, the gift they yield, Easter joy, is a hard-earned one, not the sort of thing one finds stuffed into a stocking hung with care over a fireplace.

 

If Aquinas is right, the other way to find joy is to labor to ensure that the proper good to the people we love is present to them.  Obviously, the beloved here cannot be the Risen One, for we can be sure that, resurrected in glory, Christ lacks no good whatsoever.  But for all the other people we are called to love – family, friends, those with whom we have wounded or broken relationships, even strangers – things are different.

 

So many of them, indeed, so many of us, lack those proper goods.  Our joy becomes Easter joy when the goods that are the typical calling cards of the Risen One – peace, new life, consolation, victory over death, and so on – find their way to those who hunger for them.  Quite frequently, we can play a role in helping to make that happen.  Yes, through our prayer; but also through our decisions, through our actions, through our refusal to let people be deprived of the goods that they should enjoy.

 

Hardly anyone would ever mix up the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.  The former take us to Bethlehem, introduce us to the newborn Jesus, and place us with him in a cozy manger.  The latter bring us to Jerusalem, have us suffer, die, and rise again with an adult Jesus, and urge us forth from the empty tomb.  It is not Christmas alone, however, that is all about the gifts.  May the Easter gifts that St. Ignatius suggests, especially the great gift of joy, be ones that we accept with gratitude and help others achieve through our generosity.

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