The glorious Octave of Easter is the time to truly feast after tireless fasting throughout Lent. Now is an especially gratifying time for folks who spent their Lent with profitable penances such as . . .
- Skipping meals (within reason)
- Not eating meat or other savory foods on Friday
- Abstaining from the marital act (more on this below)
- Daily Eucharistic Adoration
- Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary
- Reading the Book of Job (he suffered well; more on this below)
- Performing the Stations of the Cross
- . . . and several other mortifications.
Why did we do all of this?
Well, some folks didn’t, which is most unfortunate because they miss out on many graces, and won’t be able to fully savor the joy of Easter. Modern Catholics may have tried to “game the system” by going to fish fries, spaghetti parties, and other heavily indulgent activities every Friday during Lent. Yes, they technically abstained from meat, but only by consuming other foods that taste and satiate just as well (if not better). As I’ve written before, this destroys the spirit of penance, deprives the person of valuable redemptive suffering, and makes all that jolly Easter food less palatable.
Why do you enjoy the celebration, joy, merrymaking, and feasting less?
Because you failed to capitalize on the golden opportunity of delayed gratification. This is the way of the Cross in a nutshell – suffer now, to enjoy glory later, and it applies to everything worth obtaining (in this life and the next).
If you’d like to understand this concept on a secular level, check out the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment some time. It’s a social experiment researchers did with children where the facilitator offers them one of two prizes. They could select either a small, immediate reward (one marshmallow), or go after the greater reward (more marshmallows) by waiting a while.
Some children, those more oriented to instant gratification, took the fast gains, whereas others delayed their gratification and won multiple marshmallows. You probably know several adults who skew toward one of these paradigms (instant or delayed pleasure) with the way they run their lives. There are numerous examples of how this works: everything from exercising for better health to training long hours to qualify for a better career. Delayed gratification nets you the better prize, including the more glorious Eastertide, almost without exception.
Job’s Delayed Gratification & Easter Reward
Job’s life was a gruelling ordeal, as many of us know. One aspect of it, which is not clear at first glance, is that his various sufferings did not happen all at once. He endured a loss of property, possessions, children, ulcers, and, for good measures, a miserable and non-consoling wife.
Yet, this did not happen within just a few weeks, as you might surmise from a cursory reading. According to various opinions and sources, Job would have suffered these miseries and deprivations with about five to 10 years in between each chastisement. The devil’s antagonisms were “spaced out” a bit, enabling a longer period of progressively worsening agony. As most of us understand, Job was an upright man, permitted to endure this, for God’s glory and triumph over the devil.
How did Job succeed and pass this difficult crucible?
Despite his weaknesses and marginal levels of self-pity, Job excelled in three critical ways: 1) Patience, 2) Penance, and 3) Delayed Gratification (not apostatizing, as his lovely wife insisted). The third component encapsulates the first two. He patiently endured his sufferings, accepted them as God’s will, and when confronted by God over his slight faults (whining and moping), repented and made a good confession. He even interceded for his friends and interlocutors, one of the best ways to love thy neighbor.
Then, at the end of the book, you discover how Job not only regained everything, but enjoyed several magnitudes better. He had more riches, more children, his daughters were the most beautiful in the world, and he lived to a ripe old age. Job, did what we’re called to do every Lent. He embraced the miseries, accepted the corrections and graces from God, and was rewarded with an Old Testament “Eastertide” for his remaining years.
Job is a terrific model for how we should approach our spiritual journey and optimize our chances of a fulfilling life, especially for what awaits us in eternity.
Implications for Courtship & Marriage
I want to take this concept in a different direction now. On the one hand, I mentioned how married couples can fast from the marital act, which would probably make it more pleasurable once resumed. Then again, there are numerous other marriage/courtship elements worth tempering as well. I’ll explain some examples.
Gentlemen could help their relationships exponentially by not over-saturating their wives (or girlfriends) with attention. Many men lament when their women accuse them of “falling in love too fast.” It’s a common refrain from fellows who cannot grasp the psycho/socio economics of their interactions with women.
“This isn’t fair,” they might whine, “Why am I being friend-zoned after being so attentive, doting, and so forth.” Yet, there is an obvious problem here. Men who inundate women with too much romantic love, adoration, and consolation ALWAYS get spurned. That’s because whenever you show too much affection, the object of your affection ALWAYS rebels.
This is exactly why Our Lord allows us to endure desolation or the dreaded “dark night of the soul.” He, being the most alpha or chivalrous lover, a pursuant lover of all mankind, knows what happens when he showers us with excessive consolation. We become spoiled rotten and reject him. After all, when love and mercy are cheap and abundant, the universal laws of supply and demand arrive. Inevitably, folks take the abundant supply (be it love, food, mineral resources, etc.) for granted and search for anything else.
Therefore, in the most loving way, Our Lord allows us to endure the ardor of delayed gratification, where he withdraws his consoling love to increase our demand for it. If this sounds familiar, it’s the underpinning of all economics. Anyone acquainted with the modern banking catastrophe knows that it’s the result of an excessive supply of money and credit.
We’ve taken “easy money” for granted, choose to “finance” all of our purchases for instant gratification, and now find ourselves in an unsustainable, collapsing mess. The world, which abhors delayed gratification, is now in debt at every level of analysis (individuals, sovereign states, companies, and so forth).
Ah, but before I forget, yes, there are ways for women to improve their romantic relationships as well. While I won’t expound upon every opportunity, one of the best female mortifications is to resist the urge to talk so often. As much as men struggle to govern their affections, women enjoy talking more than men, which suits an important purpose, but is easily driven to excess. Therefore, a terrific mortification, for ladies, would be to gain custody of the tongue and speak less. The men in your lives will appreciate this substantially and may behave better themselves as a pleasant consequence. Perhaps when you sow in silence, you would reap better conversations later.
In conclusion, for married couples, you would do well to temper the pleasures of the flesh, shows of affection, attention, idle chatter, and anything else that elicits a dopamine release. Once you do, you’ll obtain a much greater springtime of love and joy. Finally, for what it’s worth, the food, martial act (if applicable), and all other pleasures will be much more appealing and satisfying. Pleasures of the flesh, as they say, are best consumed in moderation.
Embrace Delayed Gratification for a Greater Love of God
So, while fasting and voluntary deprivation aren’t the most delightful of our duties, neither was Our Lord’s passion, which is what we were commanded to replicate. Jesus Christ, for love of us, and His desire to live with us forever in heaven, endured 33 incarnate years without a single consolation, and a plethora of misery. We, who insist on instant pleasure and “cradle-to-the-grave-security,” should reform our lives to His holy example: “manger-to-the-cross-redemptive-suffering.”
The overwhelming testimony of holy scripture, the saints, and Church doctor implores that this is the only way to secure the unending bliss of heaven. Delayed gratification, the way of the Cross, is the solitary path to salvation.