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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | April is the cruellest month

T.S. Eliot, the poet who was born in St. Louis in a house around the corner from where I once lived, wrote, “April is the cruellest month.”

He wrote that line in a poem called “The Waste Land,” which expresses his feeling that modern life has come unmoored. We’re collectively searching for meaning, wandering a spiritual desert and starving as we go. We’ve crowded out God and are suffering for it. It’s a difficult poem to read even though it has moments of hope.

It reminds me of the years I lived on Cape Cod where April arrives dark and cold. It felt cruel, that last gasp of winter gloom even while Easter lingered around the corner with promises of spring. Meanwhile we were still buried firmly in the stinging salt wind that rippled across the cedar shingles of the houses and seeped into our bones.

By the end of April, though, the crocus flowers were finally blooming, ushering in the vacation season and the glories of an endless New England summer — fried clams and raw oysters, the Cape baseball league with its crack of wood bats, and heading out to the sandbar off Monomoy Island to fish for striped bass, while a seal colony lazily sunbathed on the sun-warmed rocks. On the Cape, when the tide retreats it uncovers miles of beach. The children chase the waves, rushing about, laughing and whooping over the glassy sand.

Like a Cape Cod summer, Eliot, too, recovered his hope. After writing “The Waste Land,” he turned more closely to religious faith, reconciling his concern about the ravages of modern life with the mysterious hope of Christ that all things shall be made new.

In 1936, he visited the site where a little semi-monastic family had lived centuries before, the Ferrar family, who prayed their way through the days and nights in their private chapel. The rural estate located near Cambridge in England was called Little Gidding. Eliot wrote a poem about it, the last poem he ever published. It begins, “Midwinter spring is its own season/ Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,/ Suspended in time …”

It appears as though Eliot returned again to the month of April, only this time he’s in Gidding, he’s dwelling in the presence of the timeless God. What does it mean to live our lives in a spiritual midwinter spring? We’re surrounded by difficulties — war, suffering, disappointment, aging, death — and yet this sodden soil hides a secret. Easter is around the corner. The sun is brighter every day. The frost on the fields at dawn glows as if with divine pentecostal fire and the love of Christ, His heart’s heat, continues to melt the earth. As Eliot would have it, we linger, “Between melting and freezing,” but here, on our journey, our faithful pilgrimage to God through the darkness of faith, this is where, “The soul’s sap quivers.”

Take heart, friends. Even now the Easter candle is prepared to be lit. The light of the world will soon be here.

Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.

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