For those of us in the Church, the past few weeks have been a journey of sorrow and joy, defeat and triumph. We finally completed our 40 days in the desert- prayer, fasting and almsgiving, culminating with the Cross- to come to the glory and Victory of the Resurrection. After a week of celebrating this great Victory (the Easter Octave), we ended with the feast of the Divine Mercy: the open offer made to all, regardless of our sin and weakness, that God’s mercy wants to embrace and renew us as beloved children.

What a ride…Or not.

The challenge for believers is to always make this a new and present reality in our lives. The Church reminds us that the Cross and Resurrection of Christ are not just distant realities but something we are to experience today. Yet often it does not feel this way.

For most of us, Lenten penance means giving up the morning coffee or a nice dessert after dinner; maybe it means taking on some new spiritual discipline, but we often do so imperfectly- in practice or in our intent. Too often Lent becomes something we forget about or do half-heartedly until Easter surprises us and we’re left resolving to do better next year.

I wanted this Lent to be different and so, at the recommendation of my spiritual director, I embraced a spiritual regime known as Exodus 90. For 90 days (starting in January) I, along with many other men, embraced a more severe fasting and commitment to daily prayer. The organizers recommended doing it to experience renewal and freedom in one’s life, usually for a particular intention. Many men do it to better their family life, their marriage, or their relationship with God, but most seek freedom from a variety of addictions.

Having worked in the North for the past number of months, I have come to a newfound appreciation of the value of freedom. The reality of many communities is that crippling addictions are normal. Many people we encounter have or do struggle with one or several of these addictions. They destroy families, careers, marriages and, sadly, take many lives.

This is not to say that the Indigenous people are somehow more to blame for the conditions that affect them. These issues exist in the south: they just happen to be better hidden. Many of the young people I worked with in Alberta last year knew someone with an addiction or were personally experiencing this on some level. The truth is that most of us on some level struggle with attachment to things we know do not bring us life. We struggle with sin and our freedom is only partial. This is why Jesus said to the Jews who already believed in Him,

“Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sins is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house forever; the son continues forever. So, if the Son makes you free you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

Only those in heaven are truly free- truly living as sons and daughters- free to love and follow God: the rest of us have some growing to do. There is, of course, a difference between struggling with substance addiction and being overly attached to your phone, but both prevent us from living the abundant life God has for us.

I knew going into Exodus 90 that I would experience greater freedom from sin in my life. For some time, I had battled with an attachment to sin in my life and did not seem to be gaining ground. I was discouraged and tired but hoped that this spiritual boot camp would bring me freedom and peace.

In the beginning, it was fine- fasting was easy and motivation was high- but by day 20 or so I was beginning to feel it; It was hard to pray, to fast, to trust, but I asked for grace and persevered. As the 90 days continued, I felt myself gradually experience freedom; I was able to resist temptation and live with greater peace and joy. And the more I fought, the more I persevered in prayer and fasting, the more I began to see light at the end of the tunnel.

But my struggle didn’t end. I fell again and again, and I grew discouraged. Even after Easter, on the feast of Divine Mercy, I sat before Jesus in the tabernacle begging Him to strengthen me. I felt broken and defeated: was my prayer and fasting in vain? Defeat after defeat had brought me to my knees, begging for help. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last. Where was He? Why did He continue to let this happen? Did He not care about me and my Cross?

I asked my NET brother to pray for me and peace gradually returned. As the days continued, I heard His voice speaking; reminding me who He was and what He had done: reminding me who I am to Him.

And that brings me to my point: the Cross. We can (and should) pray and fast, we can read devotional books and study theology, but Calvary cannot become a reality until we realize that we need a Saviour. To recognize that I am not enough on my own and need help is grace. To accept that I am a slave in many ways and need to be set free; I was made for freedom, I hunger for it, but I can not be free on my own.

This was and is the point where God met (and still meets) me most truly. Not to stay there of course- the Prodigal Son is invited into the Father’s Home for the Feast- but to be loved, embraced and saved in the utter brokenness and emptiness of what I am: and that is the power of the Cross and Resurrection. The Cross breaks our chains, the Resurrection leads us out of the prison bars if: if we want it.

This is all grace of course, but with this realization, the whole Mystery of the Church’s liturgical life is not just something abstract and irrelevant but the opportunity I need to enter into that Saving Mystery of which She was born. It reveals to us that we are amidst a cosmic battle for every living soul, that Heaven and Hell are but a “yes” away, and that so many live their hell here on earth because they don’t know any other way. But for us Christians who it has been revealed (who have a duty to proclaim this) we must remember the gravity of this all. Not that we live in fear or anxiety, but with intentionality. Our time matters. Our prayer and fasting matter. Our freedom matters.

Freedom is given to love. Love brings joy. While we may be in a cosmic battle, the Father holds the entire thing in His hands and directs with love all of it: from angelic hosts to ants. We are children given a world of treasures by our Father to explore, to enjoy. Life is good and to be enjoyed. As we walk with Christ into greater freedom, let us pray for those in chains and bring Christ to them, but less us also walk and skip with joy. Let us be confident in His love and care: let us live our freedom well.

But first, we must want it, we must ask for it. And that is something only you can do.

Avery Burrowes, Team 4