Column: We give up things each Lent to make room for the Lord

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

I was watching Oprah recently. Actually, I have never watched an episode of Oprah Winfrey in my life. I was just trying to impress you how in tune I am with the popular culture!

However, at our archdiocesan Administrative Team meeting recently, we did watch a DVD of a segment of a recent episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in which she featured a community of religious Sisters, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, whose motherhouse is in Ann Arbor, Mich. Oprah sent a reporter and a film crew to visit the motherhouse. This community is attracting many young women. The average age of the Sisters at the motherhouse is around 30 years old.

Oprah had a couple of the Sisters, who are in their mid-20s, in the studio with her where she interviewed them. Oprah said to the Sisters in studio:
“Let me see if I have this right: Your life is one of no sex, no money, and no freedom to go wherever you want. How does that work?”

One of the Sisters described her life before entering the convent as one in which she had realized the American dream. She had a great boyfriend. She had a well-paying job. She was the CFO for a mid-level business. She had a closet full of fashionable clothes. She could travel where she wanted. She said in many ways it was a great life, but she was not fulfilled. In her heart, she wanted something more.

Another Sister said that she first began to think about religious life seriously when she attended the profession of vows by the sister of her boyfriend. She said that she and her boyfriend had this great relationship, but she wanted something more. Oprah asked how her boyfriend took it when she entered religious life. She said that it was hard for both of them, but he was very supportive. In fact, if things progress according to both of their current plans, the same year she makes final profession, he will be ordained a priest.

Several of the Sisters made the point that the decision to enter religious life was not as much about rejecting the world or giving up things or relationships as it was about becoming closer to God — developing an intimate friendship with Jesus. Oprah was fascinated with the idea that the Sisters considered Jesus to be their spouse and that their habit represents their wedding dress! Oprah did concede that one advantage of religious life was that Sisters wore sensible shoes as Oprah displayed her high heels.

The scenes from the convent showed the Sisters praying and participating in formation classes, but it also showed them playing field hockey and cards. They were obviously very, very happy.

The reporter, who had actually visited the motherhouse, confessed that she began the assignment wondering about all that religious Sisters give up: no dating, no sex, no money, no exotic vacations, etc. However, she came away from her visit marveling at how much freer and happier the Sisters were than so many young women she knows.

Why did I choose to write about this? First of all, because just as every Catholic young man should consider a priestly vocation, so also every Catholic young woman should consider the possibility of becoming a religious Sister. Religious Sisters have been incredibly important in the life of the church and they continue to be so.

Secondly, Oprah’s attitude about the life of religious Sisters is similar to the way in which many people think about Lent. Oftentimes, we consider Lent a time when we are just saying “no” to things. Acts of penance and renunciation are an important component of our observance of Lent, but they are not the essence of Lent.

Lent is essentially about deepening our friendship, our intimacy, with Jesus Christ. Lent is about inviting the Lord to speak to our hearts and making room in our hearts to listen to Jesus.

We give up things to remind us that food, drink, entertainment and other pleasures are not where we will find enduring joy. We give up things to open up space in our life for Jesus.

Whatever else you do this Lent, spend more time with Jesus. You can do this by participating in daily Mass, reading and praying over the Gospels, eucharistic adoration, and making more time each day to pray — to talk to Jesus. Whatever our vocational call, the source of authentic and lasting joy is only to be found in Jesus!

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