A Parent’s Perspective
At the Easter Vigil Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh some years ago Archbishop Eamon Martin recalled how St John Paul II loved to quote St Augustine: “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”
As a child, a lot of my focus on Easter Sunday was on Easter eggs, chocolate and all the Easter treats my mother spent hours preparing. My childish joy was in the feast after the famine although my parents made sure that there was a firm focus on the spiritual too and there wasn’t an Easter where we didn’t sit down as a family and watch a film on the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
One year we watched the entire mini-series Jesus of Nazareth, a beautiful portrayal of the life of Christ which begins before the Nativity and extends to the Resurrection bringing to life the various episodes as recounted in the Gospels.
Holy Week, the last week of Lent, used to have quite an aura of sombreness about it with a huge emphasis on the Easter Triduum which extends from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Easter egg hunts or Good Friday parties weren’t in vogue when I was a child. Most Catholics attended the Holy Week ceremonies and there’d be standing room only in the local churches and long queues for Confession.
On Easter Sunday we celebrate the joy of knowing that Jesus conquered sin and death. “He is not here, for he has risen” have to be the most exciting words in the Gospel of St Matthew.
It’s tempting to think of Easter joy as something solely for Easter Sunday; we’ll feast on fine food, eat our Easter eggs and attend our Easter parades but by Easter Monday, we’ll have moved onto something new. How can we continue to maintain that sense of joy, not only at Easter, but throughout the whole year?
When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI addressed an enthusiastic crowd at Castel Gandolfo in Italy in 2007, he jokingly addressed the noisy, happy pilgrims, who had gathered after Easter, smilingly telling them “that one day” for Easter “was not enough for so much joy”, instructing them that the liturgy doesn’t just set aside one day for such a great mystery and celebration, but dedicates 50 days, the whole Easter period up to Pentecost.
There are lots of things we can do within our own families, our ‘domestic churches’, to keep the joy of Easter going all year round. One day recently I felt like I’d “got out of the wrong side of the bed”. Discussing my low mood with my sister, she suggested popping over to the next town where there’s a beautiful adoration chapel attached to the parish church.
Mother Teresa once said that “the fruit of silence is prayer” and taking time out from the constant noise and activity of life to spend time with God is, in the words of St Irenaeus, “the medicine of immortality”. Don’t just go alone; bring your children with you and they’ll benefit from this “expression of love” as it’s described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
There’s a very fleeting joy that’s attached to material things. New cars and clothes, fancy phones and foreign travel provide some passing pleasure but a really lasting Easter joy can only come from a closer relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. In 2017, Pope Francis asked Catholics gathered for Mass in the Vatican: “Is Jesus at the centre of my life?” To answer this, he suggested three things: to get to know Jesus, to worship him and to follow him.
We can encourage our children to learn about Jesus through reading the Gospels, daily family prayer and being open to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Buy a good Bible and read a little every day; make sure each child has a prayer book suitable for their age and encourage them to use it.
The Mass is the centre of Catholic life where we are united to the risen Jesus. Bringing your children to Mass more often – or even daily if possible – will bear great fruits in their lives.
In Tools for Building a Domestic Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops suggests praying the family Rosary, having a crucifix in a prominent place in our homes and developing family traditions based on the liturgical seasons of the year. They also talk about getting actively involved in parish life and leading children by example, talking often about the presence of God in the joys and sorrows of life.
Being Easter people means that we actively follow Christ. All our days, our actions and decisions must be centred on God’s will and God’s plan for us.
In his Easter message delivered on April 20, 2003, Pope St John Paul II talked about Jesus calming the storm that had terrified his apostles reassuring us that “if he is with us, why should we fear?”
“However dark the horizon of humanity may seem, today we celebrate the radiant triumph of Easter joy. If a contrary wind slows the march of peoples, if the sea of history is tossed by storms, let no one yield to dismay and lack of trust! Christ is risen; Christ is alive in our midst…”
How can we be anything but joyful if we listen to this message of love?