The earliest that Easter can be celebrated is March 22, and that last happened in 1818 when we were not, and it will not happen again until 2285 when we shall be gone. It was very late, April 20, two years ago. That was close to the latest possible date, which is April 25, and that last happened in 1943.
Whenever Easter falls, the forty days of preparation enable thinking individuals to take stock of the state of the world and the state of their own souls. Is the world shaping us, or are we shaping the world? The answer must always be both: we are creatures of our times, and yet we are meant to be timeless. Ash Wednesday recalls our worldliness, being from dust and returning to dust, but we also are heirs to the good cheer of Christ who has overcome the world. Not to get that balance right is to lapse into the anxiety and fear that mark these present times. Observers of our looming national election say that our society is disappointed in its leaders and their policies, but this should not surprise anyone who warned years ago about putting trust in demagogues and their false hope.
As we are in the world, we are stewards of creation and fight daily in human struggles, but as we are promised eternal life, we also are engaged in a supernatural struggle against Satan himself. Human solutions to social problems are bound to fail if they do not acknowledge the reality of evil. King David was hounded by a madman, Shimei, who pelted him with stones. David was patient with him because, just as a broken clock is right twice a day, Shimei was shouting out some things that were at least partially true. But that was a strictly human confrontation, involving the natural virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. When Jesus was frequently challenged by Satan and his legion of evil spirits, the struggles were other-worldly, involving the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
Unlike Shimei, who only suffered some sort of mental illness, the raver in the land of Gerasenes was possessed by demons. The townspeople were not only amazed at the power of Jesus, they also were eager for him to get out of town, because they had grown comfortable with the brooding presence of evil and were unsettled by the presence of someone who was good beyond what they thought was possible.
In short, practical solutions for daily problems are impractical if they do not invite Christ into the soul, guiding the intellect and the will. In Lent, he says to us what he said to the healed demoniac: “Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you” (Mark 5:19).