During Lent I will be sharing meditations and reflections from Word On Fire Catholic Ministries. I pray that this may be a blessed Lenten journey for us all.
In Corde Jesu,
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Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and as we move into this season of penance and prayer, many of us are left wondering how best to observe it. Ellyn von Huben shares seven practices today that make for a deeper, more powerful Lent.
1. PrayerPrayer is already a daily staple of the Domestic Church. Lent can be a good time to introduce a new prayer or the opportunity for more prayer as a family group. This can be something simple when children are very young and with older children this could be a good time to use devotional materials for prayer and brief discussion of the meditation for the day. A variety of daily devotional materials are easily accessible, including Father Barron’s Daily Lenten Reflections and those found inMagnificat.
The Stations of the Cross are a splendid practice to introduce to the family if you have not already done so. Many parishes have Stations weekly during Lent. When I was homeschooling my two youngest children I decided to use Lent as the time to introduce them to the Stations incrementally by learning about two Stations a week. I put a long piece of white paper along the dining room wall. (Covering a mirror, which did lead to some interesting conversations when visitors asked if it was a Catholic custom to cover mirrors during Lent. It was kind of funny – but any conversation is an opportunity for evangelization!). I bought a set of 5”x7” pictures of the Stations, available through most religious goods and Catholic homeschooling catalogs, and put up them up as we discussed the meaning of each Station and worked our way into praying all fourteen.
2. “Giving Up”Everyone talks about what they are “giving up for Lent”. As a general practice, I am not too keen on discussing what I am giving up. Especially in those social situations where people mention they are giving up chocolate for Lent and won’t it be nice when they lose those extra ten pounds. It always seems to be about some tangential side benefit.
Home is the one place where talking about our Lenten sacrifices is a definite good. Home is where we not only model this practice but have the opportunity to talk about not just what we are giving up but why. The “what” is worthy of discussion; the why is the big teachable moment.
3. PenanceAlong with giving things up for Lent, there are the other opportunities for sacrifice and penance that can begin in the home. For example, a Crown of Thorns made with toothpicks and a grapevine wreath is a simple, tangible focus for Lenten acts of kindness and sacrifice. Each time such an act is performed a thorn can be removed from Our Lord’s crown. (Full disclosure: the first year I did this a rather pragmatic child of mine decided to help Jesus all at once and pull out every thorn. This was my opportunity for humility as a teacher. And I offered up my annoyance as I reinserted the multitude of thorns. I had five children at home at the time; I had custom-colored a lot of toothpick thorns!) The Crown of Thorns link is from theCatholic Icing website which has a great selection of Lenten ideas for the Catholic family.
4. FoodOur Lenten days of fasting and abstinence are more excellent formative moments within the home. Dinner discussions over fish sticks, mac and cheese etc. (sorry, no capybara at our house – though that is an interesting, educational subject in itself) reinforce our Catholic customs and help the family grow in understanding of this practice. I have taken the short route of “You hate fishsticks? Offer it up!,” but it’s been much more fruitful to make it part of a true conversation.
Recipe sharing with Catholic friends and through various websites can be a nice way to expand our Friday abstinence practices. I wish I had room here to share my mother’s Salmon Loaf (sounds gross, but it’s fabulous) recipe. This was a favorite recipe of Mom’s and her fallback serving selection when I had Catholic friends coming to dinner on Friday nights.
5. Family Alms ProjectsGiving of alms, another of the practices of Lent, also starts in the home. Many parishes sponsor a project that the whole family can participate in, such as Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl project. There may be charitable projects dear to your hearts throughout the year that can be the focus of a special family alms project. Lent can be the time to do a little more in terms of collecting items for food pantries, mothers in need, or local homeless outreach efforts.
Even a deceptively simple yet edifying family effort to collect sacrificial cash is good. Designate an appropriate container and everybody can start pitching in. Even choosing the container can be part of family involvement. Having the young ones help pick out a container that symbolizes the recipient helps reinforce the project - for example a baby bottle or empty ‘wipes’ box for money to go to help mothers and babies in need - and differentiates this from merely collecting loose change. Plus this is an alms project that family members of all ages can participate in – Mom and dad can toss in the dollars saved by passing up that ornate, pricy coffee drink and even the youngest child can add his or her change. As anyone who has had those frightening experiences with babies finding coins and putting them in their mouths can attest, even the youngest can literally cough a little something up.
6. No KvetchingA long standing humorous truth in my family is that I give up kvetching for Lent. While I express it in a funny way, the truth is that is important to model to family the words of Matthew 6:16-18: When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
When we fast, give up things up and do other penances for Lent these must not be done with that “gloomy look” to which the Evangelist refers. Model to your family that the neglecting your appearance includes failure to let your Christian joy show through in one’s smile…and kvetching about what you have “given up.” Especially if you have given up kvetching!
7. Slow DownFor years I was under the delusion that the meaning of the word “Lent” meant “slowing down”. This was based on the memory from 7th grade French class of lentement, which means slowly. The wind was knocked out of my vocabulary sails when I found out the etymological basis for the word Lent is rooted in archaic European words meaning “spring”. But that doesn’t mean that a certain slowing down is such a bad thing. In one of my favorite yearly Lenten reads, Death On A Friday Afternoon, the inimitable, late Fr. Richard Richard John Neuhaus pleads with the reader, “Do not rush to the conquest . . . Stay a while in the eclipse of the light, stay a while with the conquered One. There is time enough for Easter.”
Yes, there is time enough for Easter. And part of observing Lent in the home is pushing back against the trappings of Easter, which were creeping into stores before St. Valentine’s Day. In a small way we can take Flannery O’Connor’s advice to, “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.” The true Easter season, contrary to what we see sold around us, starts with Easter; the Domestic Church has the mission in Lent to push back against the faux-Easter which is pushed at us from all directions. Observing Lent in the home means guarding Lent in the home.
Ellyn von Huben is a writer and contributor to the Word On Fire blog.