A different approach to Lent

This Lent, I went through the same ordeal I’ve gone through since fourth grade, when the Sisters of St. Joseph asked us what we were “giving up.”

It was a daunting concept for a 9-year-old, and it’s still daunting decades later. I can almost hear Sister’s voice. Correction #1: I can actually hear Sister’s voice as she stood at the front of the class in her black habit and stared ominously at us kids, whacking her 16-inch ruler against her hand. Correction #2: There was no ruler. I just added that for dramatic effect because every person I know who was taught by nuns has a story about the “16-inch ruler.”

After she explained Lent, Sister asked, “So what are you going to give up?”

In a terrifying act of public confession or commitment—or whatever it was supposed to be— we had to proclaim our intentions, right there on the spot. A collective gulp resonated through the classroom.

My classmates did some quick thinking, and many of them resorted to the time-honored tradition of responding, “Candy.” The more ambitious students, who wanted to get into Sister’s good graces, replied, “Candy and ice cream.” I suppose it would have been terribly unsettling if someone said, “smoking” or “swearing.”

So candy it was although, truth be told, I never succeeded in my resolution. Usually around Week Four, I lapsed and snuck some Peanut M&M’s and was consumed by guilt.

That “giving up” concept seemed to fall out of favor a few years ago, when we were told it was outdated and that instead of giving up, we should be giving alms.

This Lent, I decided to try something different. My goal is to get closer to Christ. I want to “up my game,” as athletes say. Golfers do stuff like this all the time, so do bowlers. Very often we’re trying to get better at something, but how much effort do we put into getting better spiritually and improving our relationship with Jesus?

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we’re not getting closer to Jesus, we’re moving further away from him. There’s no standing still. That’s a fundamental law of spiritual physics.

Yes, I want to get closer to Christ. And while I can commit to praying more rosaries, doing some meditation and adding a few other devotions, I’ve decided to take a different approach, one I discovered after I wrote a story about a young woman who entered a monastery in Roswell, New Mexico.

Last year, Brianna Farens of Shelton was invested as Sister Maria Antonia of the Holy Wounds of Jesus in the cloistered religious order at the Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

She had been headed for a career in medicine, inspired by her father Dr. John Farens, when the Holy Spirit intervened and she discovered her true calling was to follow Christ in the contemplative life.

Before then, she went into her own spiritual desert for several years—praying, searching, discerning and waiting for Jesus’ directions. During that time, her prayer was a simple one. It is a prayer that all of us should say every day because it’s a prayer that Jesus will always answer. It is: “Lord, I just want to be closer to you.”

Jesus will never deny that request because the primary goal in our lives should be to grow in holiness. When you say that prayer, you can be sure you’re coming closer to Jesus even if you don’t realize it. You might not immediately detect the changes, which can be imperceptible to us, but not to him because Jesus works at his own pace.

As the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah: “When you search for me, you will find me. If you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me.” So, I’m taking him at his word.

This Lent, I’d urge you to say, “Lord, help me move closer to you” as often as possible. You won’t regret it. Thank you, Sister Maria Antonia, for a prayer of immeasurable value.

And just so you don’t think I’m sitting down on the job, I also resolved, somewhat reluctantly, to give up candy so hide the M&M’s.