I’ll continue to honor Lent in my heart all the year. The reason is neither “Catholic guilt” nor “Jansenism.” It is that Jesus rose from the dead so that we might imitate him, take up our own crosses, and experience truly what it means to be an Easter people, freed to love and serve God no matter the cost.

It sounds mildly heretical. No doubt some would call it, without historical accuracy, Jansenist. Most people would say it’s masochistic or perhaps a sad manifestation of that great modern bogeyman, “Catholic guilt.” But I’ll say it anyway. I’m glad for the bacon and the other goodies of Easter, but I’m sad to see Lent gone. And I prefer to carry it with me throughout the year.

Many people do this with other liturgical seasons, for worse or for better. Among the worse are those quoting St. Augustine: “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song!” It’s got a good meaning, but too often when I’ve heard this line, it’s been in the service of downplaying ascetical discipline or practice—even in Lent. The message is often that because Christ has conquered sin and death, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. We should just rest in Christ’s grace and enjoy the fruits of the Resurrection. Yet the fruit of the Resurrection is the grace that allows us to live a life that includes both enjoyment of this-worldly goods and the understanding that, without them, we still have the Giver of them.

Or, sometimes, this line about an Easter people is part of an exhortation to people not to grieve too much when they lose a loved one. Though we can be certain of Christ’s Resurrection and his promise to raise those who are “in him,” as St. Paul likes to say, hurrying people through the Good Friday part of their grief is a disservice. If the Lord Himself could weep when Lazarus died, knowing full well that He would raise his friend up that day, we should never feel ashamed of our tears or grief when we experience death.

Yet there are better versions of keeping a particular part of the liturgical calendar alive throughout the year. Christmas is perhaps the clearest example of one that even secular people understand. Many charitable organizations hold donation drives in the summer and title them “Christmas in July!” Like the reformed old Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, such activities say, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” The time for true love and gift giving is all the year.

And this is the key to my desire to keep Lent going even in Easter season. We want to keep the spirit of Lent present throughout the year even if we don’t keep up each and every practice in the same fashion as we might during Lent. As the Catholic writer Marcellino D’Ambrosio has observed, the Fathers of the Church thought about the “lengthy period of serious penance” in Lent as a kind of “spiritual rehab, necessary to restore the health of sinners and the well-being and equilibrium of the Church.” With physical rehabilitation, the goal of the process is not the cessation of the physical movements one has been practicing; it is the ability to move with freedom, strength, and grace. So, too, with Lenten “rehab.”

What, after all, are the three pillars of Lenten practice? Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting in the service of making us more like Christ. It’s pretty obvious that for the first two, the suggestion that we should stop or even let up makes no sense. And even with fasting, there is a pretty good case that it is a healthy part of ordinary life. We ought to continue these disciplines after Lent.

Prayer. Is there anyone who seriously thinks that we should stop praying or even stop praying so much after Lent is over? The whole point of increasing our prayer during Lent is not to do an onerous task a lot more as a “sacrifice” to God of our time and effort. It is to tune our hearts to the heart of God by speaking to Him, listening to Him, and remembering that we are always in His presence. A successful Lent would not mean that we had done enough prayer that we can back off. A successful Lent would mean that we had done enough prayer that we would naturally lift our hearts, ears, and voices to God more easily, that we would actually be closer to making the whole of our life a movement of prayer.

Almsgiving. As with prayer, the giving of alms to those in need in Lent is not supposed to be a one-time only action. It is meant to make us more openhanded to those in need, more willing to see what our Lord teaches: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The goal of Lent is to understand that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). We want to reap bountifully, knowing that what we reap is a greater ability to receive God’s love. For “God loves a cheerful giver,” St. Paul adds (2 Cor. 9:7).

Fasting. The Easter season is not meant to be a time of fasting but of feasting. My daughter gave up cheese this year for Lent. She should enjoy being able to eat it again. But I also want her to be okay with it when we’re out of cheese. We all need to know that with God, we are indeed okay no matter what other goods we have or don’t have. To that end, even amid our feasting there is still room for a bit of fasting to make sure that our feasting is itself ordered well. We know we ought to fast before reception of Communion. And every Friday, apart from solemnities such as Easter Friday, is a day of penance.

I’ll continue to honor Lent in my heart all the year. The reason is neither “Catholic guilt” nor “Jansenism.” It is that Jesus rose from the dead so that we might imitate him, take up our own crosses, and experience truly what it means to be an Easter people, freed to love and serve God no matter the cost.

Reprinted with the gracious permission of The Catholic Servant.

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The featured image is “Engraving after Good Friday” (1888) by F. H. Tompkins, and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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