Hope in Penitence and the Triumph of Easter

Mar 30, 2021

Stephen Loughlin, Ph.D.

My wife often recounts the story of an event that occurred while teaching an ESL class in Egypt a number of years ago, well before we were married. At the time, she was with Coptic Christians and since she possessed that most agreeable accent of the Canadian (a lovely compromise between the American and British accent), she was pressed into service at the local school teaching conversational English. Utilizing Holy Scripture to engage the avowedly Christian crowd before her, the question arose concerning constancy in the face of suffering. The conversation inevitably turned toward the question why Coptic Christians, so persecuted in their homeland, remained and endured the injustices that we, in the West, hear so little about. Among the many contributions to this lively discussion, one stood out in her memory: a young man, no more than 30, stood up and declared in all love and joy that his community remained in Egypt and continued to be faithful to and loving of God because when He returned, someone had to be there ready to greet Him.

My heart has always warmed to this story and especially to the beautiful witness of this young man. Among the many admirable things to be found here, I have been struck and inspired over the years by his willingness to suffer patiently as he awaits lovingly and faithfully the coming of our Lord.

On the face of it, I fear that I will never experience the fullness of this young man’s comportment: he is subject to a poverty, injustice, and suffering from which I have been excused by reason of the land of my birth and the blessings that I have enjoyed. Be that as it may, I have discovered over time that there is one way available to me, amidst my riches, to approach this Egyptian’s noble posture, namely in the penitential practices of Lent.

By taking up, for example, the discipline of fasting, I have discovered a most powerful opportunity to remind myself of the nature, meaning, and purpose of Christ’s salvific act, of all that it occasioned, and of the promise that one day He would return and draw the whole of creation to Himself. This not only tempers my grasp upon the wealth that I enjoy, but also draws me into the cheerfulness or light-heartedness that animated our young friend - an affective state that is held by many to be one of the defining marks of fasting and of penitential practices in general.[1]

When St. Thomas speaks of fasting, he refers not just to its obvious health benefits, but especially to the unity, integrity and peace that are achieved and maintained through this practice. For by this discipline we take hold of ourselves, no longer dissipated upon the plain of our everyday life, but instead establishing a channel within it through which the vitality of our humanity might flow and achieve the end to which it is directed.

Fasting radically and effectively centers our minds and desires in a way that few other practices can. Through the Christian practice of this discipline, we turn more assuredly toward God, consider how we stand with respect to our Creator, make recompense for our sins, and prepare a place for Him in our minds, our hearts, and our souls, readying both our house and the house of this world for His return.

In this practice, then, the Easter season is made all the sweeter as we transition from the cheerfulness or light-heartedness of our fast to that exultation reserved to Christians as we join not only with the community of all believers, but also with the whole of nature in celebrating His rising from the dead and His presence with us till the end of time. In this posture, we join in solidarity with our Coptic brother and with all who suffer for the sake of their Christian faith as we await in joyful hope the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May your Lenten fast come beautifully to this completion, and may the joy of this Easter give you a taste of the eternal joy to come when every tear will be wiped away, and all death, mourning, suffering, and pain will have passed away.

[1] Consider, for example, what St. Thomas has to say at Summa Theologiae II-II. 146. 1. ad4

Dr. Stephen J. Loughlin is President and Professor of Philosophy at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, NY. Dr. Loughlin earned his Master's and Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Before coming to St. Bernard’s last year, Dr. Loughlin was an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA., a position he held for almost 20 years. Dr. Loughlin’s academic work has appeared in The Thomist, Nova et Vetera, Pro Ecclesia, and Josephinum, and his areas of research interest include Medieval philosophy, and Thomistic anthropology. Dr. Loughlin deeply loves teaching, having engaged in the profession for 25 years. Dr. Loughlin has been married for the past 30 years to his lovely wife Carol who just recently retired as a NICU nurse.