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Lenten Melancholy Versus Easter Joy

May 7, 2018 by  
Filed under Easter, Fr. Bartunek, Lent, Spiritual Direction

I have a question: Why is it that during Lent I am so melancholy – and I don't seem to be getting [out] of it [like I were under attack] until Easter morning. It happens every year as long as I can remember – I am now 80. It would be boasting to say that I partake in my Lord's suffering … so what is it?

You are not alone. This is not so uncommon a phenomenon as you may think. Not knowing you personally, I can’t make any specific observations, but maybe some general thoughts could be helpful.

A Penitential Season

Lent is a penitential season. We are asked by the Church to pay special attention during those weeks to our need for God’s mercy and grace. We are called to become particularly aware of our brokenness and of God’s generous response to our sins and rebellions. Contemplating these realities can stir up a true and healthy sadness, the kind of sadness that leads to conversion and humility. St Paul calls this “godly sorrow”:

“For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret,
but worldly sorrow produces death”
(2 Cor 7:10).

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Many spiritual writers comment that the beatitude about mourning is linked to this kind of healthy sadness:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”
(Mt 5:4).

In other words, the fallen condition of this world, the spread of sin and the wounds caused by sin, the persistence of evil and suffering – these realities are part of our earthly pilgrimage, and they stir up sadness. In a certain sense, Lent is the liturgical season when we are given explicit “permission” to feel melancholythis sadness and to integrate it into our relationship with Christ, bathing it with prayer as we look forward to celebrating the redemption, by which Christ conquered sin and evil and death through his Paschal Mystery.

It may be that the Holy Spirit has been nudging you, through the years, to participate deeply in this rhythm of the liturgical seasons. If so, I would say there is no need to worry at all. Accept what you feel, bring it to prayer, and let the Lord guide you.


As regards partaking in the Lord’s suffering, I am afraid I can’t agree with you! I do not think it would be boasting to say that you partake in his suffering. On the contrary! One of the main reasons that Jesus saved us by suffering on the Cross was precisely to enable each one of us to give lasting meaning to all of our own sufferings by uniting them to Christ’s. Remember, we are members of his Mystical Body. Our crosses take on meaning when they are united to his Cross. Our sufferings further the redemption when we unite them to his. As St. Paul puts it: “…in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church…” (Col 1:24) If you would like to probe more deeply into these mysteries, I can recommend my Retreat Guide on Our Lady of Sorrows, A Mother’s Tears.
May God bless you and grant you a joy-filled Easter Season!
In Him, Fr John Bartunek, LC

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” – James 4:8


Art for this post on Lenten melancholy versus Easter joy: Figura de una mujer de pueblo (Figure of town woman), Pedro Lira, 12 December 1910, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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