“If any specific day is to be singled out from the rest and celebrated as a festival, this can only be done as the manifestation of a perpetual though hidden festivity.”
Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity
Easter joy. In these powerful words is signified a reality at the heart of Christianity. Easter is a celebration. It is a matter of joy, and joy happens when we receive something beloved.
Any real festivity is a matter of receiving something: something that is marvelously good and transcends our own doing or crafting. To be festive is to receive a gift and to enter it, with open arms and heart. And to be transformed by it—in all that we do and craft. Who could have imagined? Reality is always better than we have yet realized!
Truly to feast is to strive to realize just how good things are, and to see what we have been given. If only we could see.
We celebrate the feast at a certain time, for a certain number of days. We rightly take concrete actions to mark this time as festive and to set it apart from other times. When we do this, entering into the spirit of these days, we can find ourselves loathe to ‘go back’—to the work-a-day world, and what often seems a drudgery, if not an outright crucifixion.
But perhaps then the deeper reality begins to dawn on us. To the extent that we really succeed in entering into the feast—and as Pieper points out this cannot be taken for granted, and so we pray to be able to, and we wish it upon others in wishing them a good feast—we can discover the feast behind the feast. We discover the gift behind all gifts.
What an astounding notion Pieper suggests: setting aside special time for a festival is precisely for the manifestation of a perpetual though hidden festivity. A festivity that can be ours: if we are willing to receive it, and conform ourselves to it. Then it won’t be so hidden anymore, at least not for us.
Life is so good. We are so loved. To see this, is to see things as they are. It is to begin to share in the joy that underlies the universe.
Friedrich Nietzsche once poignantly wrote: “The trick is not to arrange a festival, but to find people who can enjoy it.” Perhaps we should say the trick is that we become the kind of people who can enjoy it. More fully. And we can begin by doing our best to keep the festival well, today.
Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a German philosopher in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas. Many of his works have been translated into English and are still in print. In addition to In Tune with the World, his books include Leisure the Basis of Culture, Happiness and Contemplation, The Silence of St. Thomas, and The Four Cardinal Virtues, to name just a few.
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