By: Helena Heffernan
I used to hate Lent. As soon as the Christmas season was over, the Lenten season loomed over me as a time of great sacrifice, suffering and doom. It seemed like a great obstacle course or race that was near to impossible to complete. I could only really enjoy my Easter candy without guilt if I had truly suffered for 40 days.
I saw penance as something hard I needed to endure in reparation for my sins. Sacrifice was a way of punishing myself for the bad things I had done to offend Jesus. And the more penance I did the more I thought I would feel holy. But I didn’t. I just felt tired and was ready to throw Lent out the window within a couple weeks.
It was not until I heard a religious Sister say that Lent was a joyful season that I knew something was off with my thinking. How could a seemingly uncomfortable season be a joyful one? “Lent is hard!” I thought and I could only associate it with being hangry, irritable and tired.
My focus was completely off and I was relying on my own strength. I was looking at Lent as a “what” instead of a “who”. I also began to realize I was approaching Lent and even Jesus with fear. I was making a meager offering of sacrifice to appease him, instead of making an offering as a gift.
Jesus is pleased with offerings and sacrifices we make for him or for others. He is even more pleased with the things we sacrifice that clear the path to walk more directly towards him. We give up things during Lent in order to clear away the things that keep us from him. We remove whatever is standing in the way of receiving his love. He has so much of himself to give but we aren’t always free to receive it.
Jesus wants you to know him - to know who he truly is. He wants you to know how completely loved you are. He wants to heal you and make you whole. Jesus wants you to experience freedom, the freedom of being a daughter of God. He wants you to experience the freedom that comes from letting him into all the corners of your heart.
All those places that you think are too dusty, he wants to get in and dust off. Those things you have not shared with a soul, he wants to take that from you. He wants to heal the wounds that hurt, the ones that ache and the ones that are wide open. He even wants to heal the wounds you have completely given up hope will ever come close to being healed.
Lent is about freedom. Lent is about love. Look at what you gave up this Lent as a key to freedom, not an annoying burden. If you let Jesus work in you and with you this Lent, he will surprise you. Let him teach you what needs to change so you can experience greater freedom and joy. I won’t say it will be easy, because it never is. But the Lord knows how much of a challenge you can handle. If you let Jesus set you free, you will be free indeed.
Helena is the Youth Minister at St. Thomas the Apostle in Ann Arbor. She is the oldest of 5 kids and lived half of her childhood overseas. She discerned a religious vocation for 7 years. Now she hangs out with teens, lives on coffee and is addicted to everything Disney.