Updated: Mar 24
As I walked into the total silence of the church, it was like stepping into the dead of night. The sun had sunk below the horizon, as Easter Vigil Mass always starts after sundown to symbolize the world in darkness because of Christ’s death. My eyes were fixed on the only source of light – the paschal candle, a candle that is blessed on Easter Vigil to be used in certain Masses, including Masses for baptismal and funeral services (Encyclopedia: Paschal Candle). The paschal candle was so big that it took the tallest deacon to carry! As the candle was processed into the church in the expectant stillness, the deacon stopped three times, proclaiming, Lumen Christi or “Light of Christ” – or, the story isn’t over; Christ has resurrected and has not abandoned the world to darkness. As the candles of the members of the congregation were lit from the flame of the paschal candle, the church filled with a glow in the gloom like starlight at the beginning of creation itself. Later, the organ hummed and the priest began to sing an ancient chant known as the “Exsultet." “Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!” (Easter Proclamation (Exsultet)). One part in particular arrested me:
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave
you gave away your Son.
O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
(Easter Proclamation (Exsultet)).
The familiar fact hit me in a completely new way – Christ became incarnate and sacrificed His life so that we could live! Through His Passion and Resurrection, He had stepped into our self-made story of death and had broken death itself. All the past, present, and future heroes in our stories, both real-life and those dreamed up by our own minds, are only reflections of Him.
When the realization of how much God loves us actually hits home, our lives are changed forever. We are flooded with gratitude and want to love God in return. We want to repent, because we recognize that our own pride and sinfulness is the only thing that can separate us from God – not because God doesn’t love us anymore, but because, by refusing to repent, we are sabotaging ourselves, rejecting to receive his relentless, unchanging love.
How can we as writers not only embrace Lent but also allow this holy season to imbue new life and power into our writing? I will offer three ways to allow God to shape our writing this Lent.
“BEAUTIFUL” DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN “PLEASANT”
During Lent, we learn that suffering is redemptive. God doesn’t create suffering and He doesn’t will it, but He can use it. The pain, heartbreak, and circumstances in our lives can have meaning if we suffer alongside Christ and can bring us and others closer to Him.
Suffering isn’t pleasant – but it can be extremely moving. As authors, we have to remember that writing a beautiful story doesn’t mean that it has to be all sunshine and happiness. Though the experiences are not always pleasant, there is deep beauty in suffering well, in sacrificing on behalf of others, in asking for forgiveness, in doing the right thing when everyone else is telling you not to.
Think about Michelangelo’s Pieta, a hauntingly beautiful sculpture of the Blessed Mother holding her Son’s dead body. It is a scene of immense grief, and yet it is one of the most renowned sculptures ever made.
WRITE WITH A SACRAMENTAL WORLDVIEW
As Catholic Christians, we believe that God can use everything in this world to teach us and to direct us to Him. God can even bring good out of evil, which He didn’t create. An essential fact to consider is that human beings are both physical and spiritual, so we understand truths by interacting with physical things. For example, we can see the sheer goodness of God in His wonderful creation when we are taking a walk in a beautiful landscape. Having a sacramental worldview means realizing that everything in the world can bring us closer to God if we let Him work through the things we come across – even things that are unpleasant.
Embracing a sacramental worldview is very powerful for writers because God can also use the things that we write if we let Him. When we tell fictional stories, we draw on the real truths and mysteries that we understand through nature and in our lives. The metaphors, symbolism, and imagery that we use in stories can be informed by our sacramental worldview of reality. Even our books can be sacramentals, leading others closer to God.
Looking ahead to Easter again – think about the Easter Vigil Mass. The paschal candle, a product of human craftsmanship, is blessed by the priest at the start of the Mass and becomes the agent of real blessing. However, the candle also has a symbolic side, because it symbolizes the light of Christ coming back victorious into an empty world of darkness.
Though of course not in the same way as the spiritually efficacious paschal candle, our stories can bring the light of Christ to a dark world by opening up the wonder of life and reality through symbolic ways in fictional stories. Made-up stories can help us to see reality – namely, the beauty in the world and in ourselves.
ENGAGE IN BATTLE
In Darrell Falconburg’s article, “Flannery O’Connor on Sin and Politics,” Falconburg cites a Flannery O’Connor quote that gets to the heart of storytelling: “the greatest dramas naturally involve the salvation or loss of the soul. Where there is no belief in the soul, there is very little drama.” Lent is a time for us as authors to experience a renewed conversion by focusing ourselves and our stories on God (even if we don’t explicitly mention God in our stories). Many books and films today seem to be either outright immoral, or deceptively immoral (such as pushing an ends-justifies-means agenda). The stories that touch readers are those that portray a battle between good and evil that, if won, leads to happiness, and if lost, leads to torment – because this is the reality of our lives.
There is no Easter without the suffering of Lent, and Lent means nothing without the victory of Easter. The words of the Easter “Exsultet” chanted in the darkest night of human history ring true in our stories even now. In “Perelandra,” the second novel of his science-fiction work The Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis reflects on the “Exsultet” as the main character, Dr. Elwin Ransom, struggles to combat a demon’s deception and save an extraterrestrial woman from committing the first sin on her planet (104). Ransom says to the woman, speaking of Adam and Eve’s Fall and Christ’s Incarnation: “The first King and first Mother of our world [Adam and Eve] did the forbidden thing; and He [God] brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good; and what they lost we have not seen.” (Lewis, 104). Even so, “Whatever you do, He will make good of it” (Lewis, 104). The characters in our stories must either succeed in following God's wonderful plan and be victorious, or fail and subject themselves and others to the consequences of denying grace, which ultimately leads to misery.
This Lent, by writing with a sacramental worldview and not glossing over or refusing the battle against evil, we can create truly powerful stories that will inspire readers for generations to come.
“Easter Proclamation (Exsultet).” Catholic Online, https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=641. Accessed 15 Jan. 2022.
“Encyclopedia: Paschal Candle.” Catholic Answers, https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/paschal-candle. Accessed 25 Jan. 2022.
Falconburg, Darrell. “Flannery O’Connor on Sin and Politics.” The Imaginative Conservative, 2021, https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/08/flannery-oconnor-sin-and-politics-darrell-falconburg.html?mc_cid=8c6d917bd8&mc_eid=066e08dc2e. Accessed 15 Jan. 2022.
Lewis, C.S. “Perelandra.” The Space Trilogy, Scribner, 2011, p. 104.