Normally I get way more into the "Easter stuff" than I did this year. Usually, singing in a choir, I naturally get to go to every single Triduum service there is. I love them all, but especially the Vigil. This year, I couldn't get to Holy Thursday or Good Friday, and there was no hope of going to the vigil ... they all start at 8:30, and that's the baby's bedtime. We've been working SO HARD on getting him to go to bed on time, there was no way I was going to mess that up ... especially because I knew he'd be a big bundle of crankiness if we went somewhere right at bedtime.
Only, at the last minute, he fell asleep at six p.m. on the way back from Wal-Mart -- which is five minutes away. He was TIRED. I tried and tried to wake him, knowing a late nap throws a huge monkey wrench in his body clock, but to no avail. I left him on a blanket on the floor (we'd packed up the crib) and pottered around making noise, but he slept on. I thought, "Maybe he's down for the night!" But at seven, he woke up as grumpy as can be, but slowly coming out of it and getting energetic. John said, "Hey, he's going to be up till after ten whatever we do. Let's go to vigil." So we did!
It was beautiful and lovely and the baby was (relatively) good. There were very few children there, and only one other baby. Maybe everyone thought we were terrible parents for "keeping our baby up so late" but we had to chuckle ... it's never US keeping HIM up late. It's always the other way around.
For the first time in pretty much forever, I actually had some time to think and pray. And what I thought was this.
It's no wonder there are atheists. The world is so messed up. People are twisted and fallen and do such awful things. We always pray to God for him to stop it all, to prevent natural disasters, to cure diseases, to stop psychopaths. And more often than not, we don't get what we ask for. For thousands of years, there have been evil dictators and poverty and most people aren't living what we would consider a good life. It's pretty depressing. Every single animal knows how to live its life in a way that is best for itself and its species. We alone choose to destroy ourselves. Our instinct and reason battle it out until we have no idea what we should do. There's no instruction manual for being human, and none of us know how to do it right. The Israelites had a good thing going in their covenant, but they all admitted that they weren't capable of following it well enough. Even Moses, the righteous man, sinned.
But on the other hand, Easter gives us hope. Someone came to show us the "instruction manual," show us what a good life would look like. And then, because he was God, he actually gave us the grace so that we would be capable of living a life like that too. Most of us still fail, but the amazing thing is that some of us succeed! There are thousands of great saints, people whose lives are so inspiring that it's hard sometimes to believe that they did all that. Not pious people who say nice words and do nothing, but people who embraced lepers, died to save others, gave all they had to the poor. Somehow, they were given the strength to do what no one else had ever done before -- live the way people were intended to live. Their actions, instead of harming others to save themselves, saved others at the cost of themselves. They overcame both instinct and reason to do what was best overall, not just what was best for themselves. This notion became so inspirational that even those who did not believe adopted it as an ideal.
No longer did they have to agonize over this or that mistake made in the past. Sins were forgiven; they could put behind them the guilt that no psychoanalyst would ever be able to cure. They found in themselves the strength to do, not only naturally good things, like care for a child or smile at a stranger (things our instincts tell us to do), but supernaturally good things, like die for a stranger or be tortured without denying their faith.
Finally, our lives made sense. Rather than struggle with our contradictory inclinations, here giving in to our desire to eat (and eating too much) and here rising up to our desire to be kind (and then being angry when our kindness was met with scorn), we understood that we are not made for earth, that we are made for heaven, but that we are fallen. We can reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God's kingdom. When we sacrifice ourselves for others, we need not fear that our sacrifice will be in vain. And we need no longer fear death.
It's kind of an amazing thing, Christianity. I like it a lot, and though I don't explain it the best that anyone could, I believe it with my whole heart. I've been feeling a little depressed lately, feeling that my prayers are not answered as I would like, but at the vigil I felt hope. The amazing thing is not that prayers are sometimes not granted, but that they ever are. God rarely intervenes in the physical world to cause a miracle, to keep this child from dying or that war from breaking out. But he does give us the strength to cope when we ask him. People despair and marriages are torn apart when sorrow visits a family ... but often, when we turn to God and ask for help, these sorrows are turned to grace. I know so many families that have lost children, and they could despair, but instead they seem to be given an amazing kind of strength. I think I've lost sight of the fact that this, too, is a miracle.
Happy Easter, dear readers. And you should read Dr. Thursday's post, too. He's feeling quite unnaturally joyful, hee hee.