Lenten Liturgical Living 3: What are you doing for Lent?
Now that we are halfway through our Lenten journey, I find myself reflecting on the Lenten promises made this year. In my own experience, there are years that I am ever-focused on the cross during this time, but there are also years that I struggle to bring my concentration into the present blessed season.
Lent is a time for us to meditate on the great sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It is a time of penance and preparation for Easter, and a time to recalibrate our lives to be centered on Christ. As Catholics, the Church asks us to prepare with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. At this midway point of Lent, let us reflect what we have – or haven’t – done well, and some ways that we can incorporate each into our family life.
PRAYER is such an essential part of our faith life, it is easy to understand why this is the the first component that we focus on during Lent. There are so many ways that this can be incorporated into our daily lives, from morning Ignatian exercises to family Rosaries. Many parishes offer Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent, and there are many crafts, coloring pages, activities, and videos that can easily incorporate the Stations of the Cross into our homeschool this time of year. Our family is particularly fond of this presentation by Loyola Press, these booklet printouts by Family in Feast and Feria, and this prayer challenge activity from Look to Him and Be Radiant. The Diocese of Des Moines offers a wonderful Lenten Faith Conversation series, with prompts to help spark deeper discussions around Lent with the whole family.
FASTING was an essential part of Jesus’ time in the desert as He reflected and prepared for His sacred mission. Similarly during our time of preparation, we are asked to follow His holy example. This ancient tradition is symbolic on many levels, as an practice of penance, an expression of self-denial, and a reminder that our true nourishment comes from the Lord. It is also a way to prayerfully unite ourselves in solidarity to those who are hungry or in need (which will hopefully lead us to the next section). As a Church, we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, eating only one regular meal with two very small meals. We also abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. Although Church requirements limit the ages of both, our family has found ways to incorporate most age groups with simple modifications if needed. If meal fasting, for example, is not possible for medical reasons, then fasting from electronics or television may be a possibility. Growing up, it was standard practice to “give something up” during Lent. When we were very young, chocolate or ice cream were popular choices, simply giving it as a sacrifice for the Lord and helping to “work out” that important self-discipline muscle. As we got older, we were challenged to see the deeper meaning in “giving something up” by looking at poor habits or things that busy our calendars but don’t produce any fruit. This practice of fasting and abstinence is meant to bring spiritual growth, and should be closely linked to the next part of our Lenten promises…
ALMSGIVING. Many times we hear that for Lent we don’t only “give up”, but also “take up” something. Almsgiving is how we bring Christ’s love alive in our lives and in the world. It should begin in our families, then extend outward to our community and the world. This can include sharing our time, talents, or resources (or all of the above!). We are invited during Lent to especially reflect on those who are in need, and how we can help. Within the family, there are endless ways to serve and help others on a daily basis. Many parishes participate in the Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program. Their website includes many resources including videos, recipes, and Lenten ideas for families and learning. Volunteering or dedicating time and resources as a family is another excellent opportunity for united growth. Some families create a space in their home for sacrifice beans, crown of thorns, or tree for the family to track their sacrifices throughout Lent (similar to the Advent straw manger activity). The Diocese of Des Moines offers a Family Almsgiving Project Planner, as well as a Corporal Works of Mercy Worksheet that are excellent tools for planning and reflection of Lenten almsgiving.
Of course, there are also some great all-in-one resources that provide ideas for families that include all three, such as these Lenten Tags from Kathryn Whitaker, this Pray, Fast, Give activity from Look to Him and Be Radiant, or this printable chart from Real Life at Home (which our family colors in as we go – aiming for all 40).
To make our promises more concrete, I like to write them down and put them up in a very visible place in our home so that it can serve as a reminder. This simpler printout by Faith and Fabric Design includes prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as does this worksheet provided by the Diocese of Des Moines.
May the Lord continue to transform our hearts and families this Lent, and draw us nearer to Him as we approach Easter. May He guide each of us along this Lenten journey.
Saint Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us.
Mary, our Good Mother, pray for us.