Think about how different heaven is from earth. On earth, sin continues to wound people every day. In heaven, not only is there no sin, but there is no temptation either. On earth, families, neighborhoods, and even entire nations are divided against each other, often over very minor issues.
In heaven, there is perfect harmony and peace. On earth, there is sickness and suffering. In heaven, every tear has been wiped away, and all physical and emotional disorders are healed. On earth, millions of people suffer from the effects of poverty. In heaven, everyone is cared for equally and with great tenderness.
Heaven sounds so attractive, doesn’t it? No wonder the Bible ends with the plea “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)! No wonder we all yearn for the day when sin is no more and when we are brought into the perfection of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom! We know that day is coming, but until it does, Jesus asks us to put our hope in him. He does not want us to be discouraged over the state of the world or the state of our own lives. He wants to help us and heal us and redeem us so that we can come closer to the perfect harmony of heaven here on earth. And so he calls out to each of us, “Return to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2:12).
This call to return to the Lord can sound intimidating, especially during a season like Lent, with its emphasis on repentance and self-denial. So let’s look at three central truths of our faith that will make it easier for us to draw closer to the Lord this Lent.
Turn to Him Who Is Love. God once told his people, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). He once told Joshua, “I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). And Jesus continues to tell us, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
In age after age, God assures his people that he will never abandon them. And he does this not just with words. All of his actions show us another dimension of how deeply he loves us. He showed it when he rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He showed it when he called David to draw his people into one kingdom. He showed it when he promised to bring the Israelites back from their exile in Babylon. And more than anywhere else, he showed it when he sent his only Son to take on human flesh and offer himself on a cross for us.
We can examine God’s words and actions to see his love, but in the final analysis, it’s only by faith that we can begin to experience that love. Scripture tells us that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). When we exercise our faith, all that we hope for in Christ can become real for us—even though we can’t really see it. Every time we pray, every time we celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, we can say, “Jesus, I know you are with me. I believe in you, Lord; please show me your love.” This is a prayer he loves to answer—and sometimes in surprising ways!
Turn to Him Who Is Mercy. After Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). We know that Jesus died for our sins. We proclaim this truth every Sunday in the Creed at Mass. But what is it like to experience the freedom that comes from Jesus’ act of mercy?
One day a religion teacher asked one of his students to come up to the chalkboard and begin writing out the most common sins. The student began writing words like lying, anger, stealing, jealousy, and lust. As he wrote each sin, the teacher was right behind him with an eraser, wiping away the words. “This is how quickly God forgives us when we ask,” he told them. “When God forgives you, your sins are gone, erased. All that’s left is his love for you.”
When we go to Confession, we can experience something like that student experienced in his religion class. It’s not always easy to confess our sins, especially since it means openly admitting our failings to a priest. But when we give voice to our sins, and then hear the words of absolution, the Holy Spirit comes and lifts the weight of our guilt from us—just as that teacher erased the words on the board. The sins are gone, and in their place is the mercy of the One who said, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11).
Turn to Him Whose Grace Is Overflowing. We humans are a bundle of contradictions. We want to be good, kind, and loving, but all too often we end up making choices that hurt people, especially the ones closest to us. We want to stay close to God, but it can be very easy to fall into disobedience. We don’t want to commit any sins, but we often find ourselves doing the very thing we don’t want to do.
St. Paul saw this battle in his own mind. He genuinely loved Jesus and sincerely wanted to serve the Church with his whole life. But for all his preaching about God’s love and mercy, Paul could sometimes be a force of division and animosity. He argued with his fellow apostle Barnabas about a missionary decision—so much so that the two men parted ways in anger (Acts 15:36-40). He chose to call out St. Peter in front of the believers in Antioch, instead of taking him aside and speaking to him privately (Galatians 2:11-14). He even went so far as to wish a particularly graphic form of vengeance upon his enemies (5:11-12).
But Paul was fully aware of his weaknesses and his failings. “Miserable one that I am!” he once cried out. “Who will deliver me?” (Romans 7:24). And immediately, he rejoiced in the answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25).
What was Paul’s secret? Through his own experiences of God’s mercy, he had learned that “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5:20). Paul knew that no matter how many sins he committed, God’s abundant grace would always surpass them. He knew that God’s overflowing grace was powerful enough to change even his stubborn heart, so he always had hope. He continued to hold onto the promise that “if we persevere we shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). Jesus’ grace would never let him down.
Believe that the saving power of Jesus is infinitely greater than the power of your sinful habits. Trust that God’s grace is always available to help you change. Remember, you may see yourself as a terrible sinner. But that’s not how God sees you. He sees you as his beloved child, and he wants to help you become more like him every single day.
A Gracious Invitation. Love. Mercy. Grace. God is inviting us to turn to him during the next forty days so that he can pour these gifts upon us. He promises that if we take up his invitation every day in prayer, our faith will grow and our lives will change. We’ll find an inner strength from the Holy Spirit to help us overcome temptation and sin.
There are two sides to this invitation. For God’s part, he will deepen our experience and our trust in his love, his mercy, and his grace. Because he cares for us, he will prick our consciences when we face temptation. And he will help us to be more kind, patient, and loving. So try to be alert to his Spirit during the day. Look for ways that the Spirit is moving you and urging you to stay close to him.
For our part, we need to set aside time for prayer, for it is in daily prayer—even if it’s just ten or fifteen minutes a day—that we can tap into God’s grace. Then, during the day, we need to try our best to say no to temptation and yes to God’s commands and his promise to help us. As St. Paul wrote, we have to try to “put away the old self” of our former way of life and “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:22, 24).
It can be hard to make changes to our lives. But we are not alone. With the help of God’s overflowing grace, we can make progress during Lent.
It may take time. You may not always succeed. But by the time Easter comes, you can be sure you will see some positive, encouraging changes in your life. Perhaps you’ll have more of a desire to pray or go to Mass. You may approach a stressful or difficult situation with more peace. Or maybe God will soften your heart so that you are ready and able to forgive.
So let’s decide this Lent to turn to the Lord with our whole heart. Let’s ask him to come and fill us with his love, his mercy, and his grace. Let’s do what we can to open the door of our hearts and say, “Jesus, I welcome you.”