It was Mom’s birthday and I was 12 years old. I made her a card that said “I love you mom!” and when I gave it to her I said, “Thank you for being my mom and for giving me life.” She responded with a smile, saying, “It was a pleasure!”
For a long time I didn’t get it. At the time I thought her response was a bit strange. She had just given birth to my younger brother and I was there when she no longer fit in her clothes; when she would ask for help to get up from the sofa; when she would get angry at my dad for no apparent reason. I remember Dad telling us children that there were five of us and that we had to behave and to help out more around the house. Mom did not feel well.
The first time the baby gave her a kick, she was excited and invited all of us to feel her belly. It was awesome. But soon the kicking and moving around stop being cute, and as the big day drew near, she was truly miserable. I was not at the clinic when my brother was born, but Dad says that she went through a lot of pain.
When they came home it was a whole other story. Mom was glowing with joy and dad beaming with pride. I put up a sign in the living room that said “Welcome home David.” We had a celebration that day, and all the pain and suffering of the past months—and especially the last few days—were not talked about. I dared to ask mom a few days later, “Did it hurt?” All she said was, “Now that I see him, it was all worth it. Look at him, he is so beautiful. I would do it all over again.”
I didn’t understand at the time, but there are things in this world worth suffering for and even worth dying for. She told me that giving life was the most wonderful thing she has ever done. Her joy became for me an example of Easter joy.
Maybe a man will never really capture the depth of meaning and joy that comes with the birth of a child. Maybe we can only come to some approximation of what it means to live, suffer, and even die for someone else.
Years ago, a friend of mine told me about something that happened to him when he was a soldier in Vietnam. One night amidst rain, gunfire, and mortars lighting up the darkness, he and some other GIs were shooting into the maze of noise and confusion when a grenade landed in their trench. One of the soldiers, without saying a word, just threw himself over the grenade saving his buddies and losing his own life. My friend later thought about what happened and couldn’t figure out why this guy did that. What was in him to sacrifice his life for the sake of others?
When he finished his tour in Vietnam he came back to the states and the first thing he did was to go visit the parents of that soldier. With tears and a trembling voice all he could say to them was, “Thank you. Thank you for your son. I am here because of him.” My friend is now a father and a grandfather. He has a good life and he prays for that young soldier every night and tells others about him. He keeps his memory alive. He thanks God and lives his life with grateful joy.
Easter joy is living in gratitude for the gift of life, especially newborn life and life that has come at a great price. Easter joy is understood in a special way by those who know what it means to have life because of the sacrifice of others.
Easter is a joyful celebration of Jesus’ life lived for others, given for others and which continues to live on in a new way. He lives on in a special way in the lives of all those who have followed in his path, some without even knowing it as seen in Matthew 25:31-40: “I was a hungry and you gave me food…”. He is risen; let us rejoice and be glad!
I know that he lives when I see him in the people around me. It is not about religion. It is about a man, a person who shows us our true nature and mission as sons and daughters of a loving and compassion God. For Catholics, we do this in a special way during the celebration of the Mass, the Eucharist (which by the way is the Greek word for “thanksgiving”). We remember Jesus and give thanks and praise to God for the gift of new life. His suffering and death was not in vain.
Easter joy is living in God’s joy and finding ways to pass it on this hope and joy to others. It is the joy of giving life. And after expressing our gratitude, I imagine God smiling and saying, “It is a pleasure!”
To read all reflections in our Lenten series, click here.