This is the last of four columns written for the Standard and Times taking up the principal graces of the four weeks of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
I wrote this column about two weeks ago, quoting John Updike's poem Seven Stanzas on Easter. Since then, it's popped up hither and yon. Meanwhile, two other contributors submitted articles on things Ignatian for this week's paper. The imps and cherubs are on the loose!
[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times 16 April 2009]
Having risen in the morning on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary of Magdala. She then went to those who had been his companions, and who were mourning and in tears, and told them. But they did not believe her when they heard her say that he was alive. — Mk. 16:9a, 10-11a
The pastel “Happy Easter!” signs are in peak bloom during Holy Week, adorned with the usual reminders of the holiday to come: bunnies, green grass, eggs — and chocolate. By Tuesday morning the signs vanished, and the marshmallow chicks and jelly beans were piled on half-off tables. Even without the cross and tomb, Easter quickly falls off the secular world’s radar, though the season has barely begun liturgically.
Many years ago, a Russian Orthodox colleague of mine taught me the traditional Orthodox Easter greeting, “Christ is risen!” and its proper response, “Indeed He is risen!” Each year when I see him after Easter, we greet each other in these words. As an unbelieving world bustles by, I affirm what Mary Magdalene saw that first Easter morning: He is alive.
The fourth grace sought in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is to enter into Christ’s joy in the resurrection, to reach beyond our own relief and joy at God’s wondrous gift of salvation, to welcome Christ’s selfless, overflowing joy into our lives. This is not a joy that looks inward, but outward, and manifests itself to all, believing and unbelieving, as Mary Magdalene did. This is a joy that believes that Christ is alive — now as then. We rejoice not in what has happened once but what continues to happen: Christ lives — in us.
As the formal contemplations of the Exercises draw to a close, Ignatius suggests we consider this very reality, how God dwells in us, gives us being, animates our lives. Then he asks the question, “If I were to make only a reasonable response, what could I do?” What indeed? Ignatius suggests we look into our hearts to see if we are able to answer in love: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty … Everything is yours; do with it what you will.”
In his poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter, John Updike lays out the challenge this reality and such a response embodies: “Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping transcendence; making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages; let us walk through the door.”
Easter is not merely a moment in our salvation history to be celebrated but an invitation to take the next steps, to walk through a door into a life that, as St. Paul says, is no longer our own but Christ living in us.
Early in February, as I packed my bag to return to family and responsibilities, I was conscious that from across the centuries St. Ignatius was sending me back from his school of contemplative prayer with homework. To return everything I had been given to the Lord, to do His will, was the work not of 30 days but of a lifetime.
This Eastertide, taking my cue from Ignatius, I’m giving over the pallid “Happy Easter!” greetings that sidestep and diminish the deeper reality for the joyous “Christ is risen!” that leads through the door to life. Indeed He is risen!
Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, I give it back to you and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more. Amen. — St. Ignatius of Loyola’s ‘Suscipe’