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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

TW: Mention of eating disorders.

Let’s face it: if you grew up Catholic, you probably have a complicated relationship with religion. Both sides of my family are Catholic and I went to Catholic school from preschool up until last year when I transferred out of a Catholic college to come to UMass. But even though I grew up Catholic, I’ve never felt overly passionate about it. I always felt like the rules were too rigid and like someone was waiting for me to mess up and point out something I was doing wrong.

Lent was always the worst part: 40 long, agonizing days of constantly being reminded of how terrible I was. I was the worst Lent celebrator ever. I always eat meat on Fridays, I forget to give things up every year, and I didn’t even know you were supposed to go to Confession weekly until this year. It all seemed so pointless. Easter wasn’t a triumph for me — it was a relief. I had no idea what I was doing wrong until I realized I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

There was so much pressure on me, and on all Catholics, to do everything right (Catholic guilt could be the subject of an entirely separate article). I definitely fell victim to the idea that everything I did had to be perfect. All I ever heard was that I had to try harder and that no matter how much I volunteered or prayed or read the Bible, there was always something else that I could be doing. So, last year, I gave up on all of it. I don’t know if religious burnout is a thing, but I was feeling it. I didn’t go to Mass or pray or do anything like that. I decided that if God really wanted all of that, He was going to have to get it from someone else.

Although I had a pretty firm resolve and was just over it in every sense of the word, something did eventually change my outlook on the issue. I saw a video where a girl was talking about how she doesn’t fast for Lent even though she’s Catholic because it’s too dangerous for her mental and physical health due to her past issues with disordered eating. Fasting has been a huge issue for me for the last few years for the exact same reason. I did more research and learned that there are tons of Catholics who struggle with the same exact problem and modify Lent to fit their personal experiences. But this is a good lesson for more than just disordered eating. It’s the third year of a pandemic; in the past year, I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, transferred schools, moved across the state, and watched my friends and family members struggle with mental and physical illnesses. I’m not going to add more turmoil and suffering to my life if I don’t have to. I decided to give Lent another try on my own terms.

Instead of focusing on giving things up, I took the alternative, less-discussed route — adding something to your life that’s been missing. I started praying every day, journaling every night, and caring more about whether I ate enough than if my homework was done. I had been neglecting my mental and physical health for so long. So instead of trying to cut anything out, I planned to spend 40 days adding everything back in. I already feel so much happier, and I finally have the connection to God and my religion that I always wanted. However, I think this is a lesson that can be applied to anything, even if you’re not religious.

Maybe other people disagree and believe that Lent is the perfect time for suffering. But that’s their interpretation of Catholicism, not mine. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so why try? I’ll never pretend that my relationship with God is perfect, but I do know that it’s so much better — and that I’m so much happier — when I’m allowing myself the freedom to enjoy life.

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Katherine Kelly-Coviello

U Mass Amherst '23

Katherine is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying Communication. She is a content writer and editor for HC UMass! In her free time, she loves gardening and reading, and she plans to work in social media marketing after she graduates.