For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the Church’s calendar is genius.
In December, when the cold sets in to stay, we don’t mind because the Church gives us Advent and Christmas.
When February drives us to despair that the cold will never end, the Church gives us Lent to add some meaning to our suffering.
Then, when Christ dies and rises, the Church gives us eight weeks of the Easter season in the heart of spring.
This year the entire months of April and May are taken up with Easter. If the Church re-brands December “ready…set…Christmas!” and February and March “offer it up,” She re-brands April and May “Easter joy.”
April is the month when the winter finally gives up, buds appear, and flowers get ready to bloom. I love April. If she were a woman, I would marry her.
And May is the greatest single month on the calendar. I grew up in Arizona, where our saguaro cactuses bloomed once a year—in May. When I lived in Connecticut, people said, “There is nowhere on earth more beautiful than Connecticut in May.” Then, last year, I heard the exact same sentence spoken about Kansas.
The Church wants to reach out and claim the beauty of these days for Christ. Why not help her? Here are ways to re-brand your spring.
April 5: Easter Sunday I
This is the climactic day that ends Lent and Holy Week, the day of the empty tomb, the day Mary Magdalen rushes back to the Apostles and Peter and John race to the tomb.
In the Hoopes household, we noticed that the whole house looks different throughout Christmas and thought: Shouldn’t the Easter season look different, too? So this is the day our table centerpiece becomes a tree dripping with decorative Easter egg “fruits” (the bare branches have been the centerpiece throughout Lent). The table that holds our nativity scene in Christmas holds an empty tomb in Easter.
There are a number of ways you can transform your house for Easter. Do you have a big family Bible? Put it out for Easter. And why not keep lilies on the table, until God and your backyard provide homegrown flowers?
April 12: Easter Sunday II, Divine Mercy Sunday
Easter is an Octave, so every day, including today, is “this Easter Day” in the liturgy. The Octave Day is also called Divine Mercy Sunday, and boy, is it ever: We get the institution of the sacrament of reconciliation in the Gospel, we get Paul practically describing the Divine Mercy image (“water and blood”), and we get “His mercy endures forever” in the Psalm.
This is a great week to go to confession…and then to celebrate the heck out of absolution with ice cream.
Movie: Les Miserables is the classic story of mercy. You can watch the 2012 musical with teens (skip “Master of the House” at the very least) or the 1998 non-musical version (preview to know what to skip), or listen to the Focus on the Family version with everyone. For small children, the Veggietales Jonah is a great forgiveness movie.
April 19: Third Sunday of Easter, Emmaus Sunday
In the Church’s A, B, and C years, this Sunday switches off between the story of Emmaus, the story right after Emmaus, and the story of the miraculous catch of fish. This year we’re with the disciples just as they return from Emmaus, when they are surprised to see Christ again. In each of these stories, Jesus eats with his apostles, showing that he is not a ghost.
This Sunday is a great day for an “Emmaus Hike” and picnic lunch. We started Emmaus Hikes—short outdoor walks in state parks—as our Sunday activity in the spring, and the kids beg for them every year. The weather is just right for hiking, and summer camps haven’t complicated life yet.
Movie: After the hike, we have a small dinner and watch a family movie. With baseball season underway, why not watch The Perfect Game, a nice little movie with Catholic elements about the first Mexican team to win the Little League World Series.
April 26: Good Shepherd Sunday
This Sunday is a Vocations Day in some parishes; in those blessed with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, it’s even a bigger deal. The readings have wonderful bedrock phrases: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” John calling us God’s children, and Jesus explaining what a good shepherd is and what a good shepherd does.
Deliver Good Shepherd thank-you notes to your parish priest today on the way out the door for your Emmaus Hike. Then head to a lake with food for the ducks, where you will probably see mothers shepherding ducklings, or go to a petting zoo (they will often have spring babies, too).
Movie: The Scarlet and the Black is a great movie about a shepherd willing to lay down his life for his sheep in the Vatican during the Nazi occupation of Rome. (It’s long—maybe a two-nighter.)
May 3: Vine and Branches Sunday
This Sunday Jesus makes the analogy the vine and we the branches—an analogy that children can really appreciate. Jesus lives and bears fruit in us—and we live and bear fruit in him.
You can really bring the vine and branches lesson home by planting something today. You can go small-scale (a bean in a cup) to epic (a tree in the yard), or you can literally plant a vine (in May, try vine cucumbers or summer squash). I also like to teach about vines by getting the kids to cut the ones that grow on my hedge.
Movie: Lilies of the Field (1963) is a great movie about how our deeds, when joined to the Church, become greater than the sum of our efforts.
May 10: New commandment of love
Today’s readings include Cornelius and his whole household getting baptized, John saying, “Let us love one another,” and the remarkable statement of Christ in the Gospel: “I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you.” It’s a good thing this Sunday comes after Vine and Branches Sunday, because Christ’s love in us is the only way to fulfill this particular commandment.
Today you might consider creating a coffee-can bird feeder (you can find lots of tips online) to illustrate how God loves—or, for a true act of corporeal mercy, do some spring cleaning and gather items to give away to those in need.
Movie: We like to watch The Miracle Maker every year, a story of the love of Jesus that ends in the Resurrection.
May 17: Ascension Sunday (or Sunday after the Ascension)
The nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost is a mini-Advent for the Church, only it’s preparing for the Church’s birthday, not Christ’s. Christ makes clear what gift the Church wants to receive, because he asks for it explicitly: “Go out into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
This is a great day to fly a kite or hike to an overlook and imagine what it must have been like for Christ to ascend to the Father.
Movie: We always watch Ben Hur on Good Friday. The Robe, its Roman-focused counterpart, is not as good as the Jewish-focused Ben Hur, and we watch it less often—but it’s a good movie to remind everyone that it is still Easter.
May 24: Pentecost Sunday
This is it—the final, glorious Sunday of Easter. We hear from Paul about our different gifts emanating from one Spirit, and we see in the Gospel how Christ breathed on the apostles (the Holy Spirit is the breath of God) and how he explained the “Advocate” he was sending.
On this day we always bake a birthday cake for the Church, which was born when the Spirit was poured out on the Church. In Rome, they drop rose petals from the ceiling of the Pantheon on Pentecost. You can imitate the effect (sort of) with bubbles.
And then we put the Easter decorations away at last and greet Ordinary Time—which the Church, in her genius, paints green, like summer grass.