During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I began to suffer a deep depression, unlike anything I had known previously. I’m a professor, and during the first months of the pandemic I was undergoing a difficult tenure and promotion process at my institution. Moreover, like many others during the pandemic — my workload increased simultaneously. I was working full-time remotely while taking care of my two young children at home. I remember thinking, Of course this hardship begins during Lent. I prayed, I fasted, and I gave. Yet when Easter came, I didn’t feel the joy I thought I should have. Don’t get me wrong: My family celebrated Easter and went to Mass, but this season didn’t feel fitting to my heart. We celebrated for a day, took pictures, and then I would argue that my soul receded back into a Lenten modality. I felt I needed to do more, to work harder, to be worthy of the joy that Eastertide as a season brings with it.
As we moved farther afield from the earliest stages of COVID-19, my depression slowly abated. I ultimately received tenure, yet I still struggled with the mixed emotions I had from the process. Eventually, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and sought therapy. Through this process – and through friends, family, and the Church – I began to discover new ways to instill meaning behind my suffering. Contemplating how much my identity was tied to my profession led me to seek ways to rely more on my faith and renew my sense of identity as an image-bearer of God rather than a worker only. I began to lean into the liturgical calendar rather than the academic one to define not only my life but also my family’s life, including fostering joy during a time when I didn’t necessarily feel joyful.
Easter isn’t just one day; it is the second-longest liturgical season in our calendar, lasting 50 days for Catholics. We are to practice 50 days of joy in the knowledge of the resurrection. Keeping joy, as I learned while I was suffering from depression, isn’t an easy task. While suffering may mark the first part of the Easter story, it isn’t the last part that is essential for all of us faithful to remember. 1 Peter 1:3 reminds us to praise God and to recognize that “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Easter is about a “living hope,” not one that is gone in a day, but one that lives in us.
Lenten practice, in my experience, feels like work on the soul, and I would argue that Easter practice ought to, as well. It simply ought to feel like a different kind of work, a work toward proclaiming joy — and resting in it — for 50, long, well-earned days.
Now, my family celebrates Eastertide with intention, just as we do Lent. Here are a few practices we’ve adopted that have lightened my soul and altered our family culture around the Easter season:
We practice gratitude daily.
In a personal journal, I write down at least two things that I’m grateful for each day. These can be as small as walking the dog or enjoying the sunshine. When I pick my children up from school, I ask them to practice this with me. “What brought you joy today?” I inquire. Because I have elementary-age schoolchildren, I delight in their stories of races won and lost at recess, of learning new science facts in school, and of lunchtime antics between their many friends.
We create an Eastertide family calendar.
We began this practice with Advent, and we’ve learned that liturgical calendars based around the Easter season help us partake in at least one joyful, praising activity each day. For Eastertide, some of these activities include: reading a Catholic book together, singing worship songs, dancing, celebrating Saints with Feast Days during the season like Saint Catherine of Siena, finding and planting flowers, serving others in the community, and praying. We build these calendars around what works in our home, and each day the children mark off what we’ve accomplished. “We can’t go to bed without dancing!” they’ll exclaim, and they’ll be right.
Even on days when I don’t feel ready to praise, the calendar reminds me — and my family — that Easter is the season of joy, of living and sharing in the happiness that is Christ’s resurrection.
We go to Adoration.
y parish has scheduled times for Eucharistic Adoration, and our family goes together. Being inside the Church, praying there, basking in the beauty of the Eucharist and the prayerful community that gathers together reminds us that we are not alone in maintaining and celebrating the joy of Easter. We pray in the car before going into the Church, and then we pray inside. I allow my children to walk quietly around and appreciate the stained glass windows in our parish. Every time we’re there, we leave with our spirits lifted, knowing that we chose to spend time with God. It isn’t always quiet, or perfect, but it is joyful — and the questions they ask (such as “Why would Jesus suffer?) remind me of all that I have to be grateful for as a Catholic.
Lent is a time of spiritual growth, yet so, too, is Eastertide. For those like myself who have suffered, and still deal with the ramifications of depression, Eastertide as a practice may even be more difficult than Lent. Yet as Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness.”
In celebrating the full 50 days of the Easter season, we accept the offer salvation provides us. Moreover, we evangelize to others the joy of the Gospel because they see us living, and practicing daily, a sustained encounter with Jesus. As humans, we all suffer, yet we all also experience moments of joy. For me, especially when experiencing the worst parts of my depression, Eastertide helped me remember Jesus’ love and cultivate his promise fulfilled in my life — even on those days when I least wanted to do so. Indeed, in the midst of one of my most salient times of isolation and despair, joy found root in my soul again — and it occurred because of committed and renewed Eastertide devotional practice. Psalm 32:11, one of my favorites, echoes this joyful message: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”