by Mark Goldasich
Some stories, like the following, bring tears to your eyes:
One day a young man was shopping in a supermarket when he noticed an elderly lady who seemed to be following him. Whatever aisle he turned down, she turned down. Whenever he stopped, she stopped. He also had the distinct impression that she was staring at him.
As the man reached the checkout, sure enough, the lady was right there. Politely, he motioned for the woman to go ahead of him.
Turning around, the elderly lady said, “I hope I haven’t made you feel uncomfortable. It’s just that you look so much like my late son.” Touched, the young man said, “Oh, no, that’s OK.”
“I know that it’s silly,” continued the lady, “but could I ask you to do something for me? Could you call out, ‘Goodbye, Mom,’ as I leave the store? It would make me feel so happy.”
The young man was glad to oblige. After the lady went through the checkout and was on her way out of the store, he called out, “Goodbye, Mom!”
The lady turned back, smiled and waved.
The young man’s heart swelled, seeing that his small gesture had brought such joy into someone’s life. As he went to pay for his groceries, the clerk said, “That comes to $121.87.”
“Why so much?” said the young man. “I only have five items.”
The clerk replied, “Yeah, I know, but your mother said you’d be paying for her things, too!”
OK, OK, so those tears that I spoke of at the beginning of this column? Well, they’re tears of laughter. And they’re something I hope you’ll have plenty of throughout the seven weeks of the Easter season.
I recently came across a phrase that I really like: risus paschalis. It’s Latin for “Easter laughter.” Although some trace this expression back to St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 385), the Catholic Encyclopedia says that it refers to a “strange custom” that was common in 15th-century Bavaria. Apparently, priests would use funny stories in their homilies on Easter to get their parishioners to laugh. Then a moral was drawn from the story. As time went on, though, abuses crept into the practice, prompting Pope Clement X (1670-1675) to prohibit the “risus paschalis.”
It’s too bad those abuses occurred, because joy and laughter should be a big part of the Easter season. After all, in the Resurrection, death was defeated; it didn’t have the final word. And we believe that Jesus’ resurrection is something that we already share in, though not yet completely. How can we not be joyful?
Unfortunately, many people today are weighed down by their own sinfulness and by the multiple tragedies that they see daily recounted in the news: wars, injustice, natural disasters, murders, poverty, hunger and disease. As Christians — people of the Resurrection — we’re called to usher in hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness, and joy where there is sorrow.
One way to do that is to resurrect, so to speak, a healthy “risus paschalis.” Hopefully, our Lenten disciplines have made us holier, more willing and able to bring God’s joy and healing to the world. Our good practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving should not end now that Easter is here. The only thing that should change is our motivation for doing them.
As I look back on this past Lent, there were some bright spots, but I’ve also fallen short in other areas, especially with my “Lenten Tasks” bucket. I gathered up “to do” items that I’d been procrastinating on and wrote them down, one per small piece of paper. I’d intended to pick one out of the bucket each day of Lent and do what was written there. As of this morning, let’s just say that there are still a lot of papers “to do.” Knowing that these are things that will bring a smile to the face of another — a “risus paschalis”— I’ve renamed the bucket “Easter Tasks” and intend to have it emptied by the time Pentecost rolls around on June 12, the end of the season of Easter.
One of the things many people mentioned in the sacrament of reconciliation this Lent was how impatient they are. Because our schedules are so packed with commitments, there’s no time left to renew our spirits; we’ve forgotten how to appreciate and enjoy life. In short, we’ve forgotten how to laugh.
If this describes you, open your heart this Easter season to some “Easter laughter,” the new life of the risen Jesus. Start by trying something different — a new recipe, an alternate route home, a fresh radio station or genre of book — to reawaken feelings of peace and joy. Take pleasure in moments when things go right: when computers don’t crash, when your kids actually do what you ask them to, when you catch people doing good.
Let’s all rediscover a wholesome “risus paschalis” — even if we get fooled by an elderly lady at the supermarket.