Help each other do more than the bare minimum for Lent
by Colleen Roy
So, how is your Lent going?
Well, it’s never too late to start again, refocus, or even go deeper. At our home, things basically go like this: the kids understand that treats of all sorts are basically gone, with some celebratory exceptions, during Lent.
Sometimes we have a ceremonial dumping of candy bits on Ash Wednesday. The sweets issue is a non-negotiable for us, an assumed practice, as Lent is a time of fasting. Some might say, “Why fast from food? Try fasting from sin.” And of course, I agree with that. But the fasting from food is what enables us to master ourselves, and in turn, fight sin.
So, my kids say farewell to all sweets. Even my three-year old handles it with grace. (I actually just caught him sneaking raisins, so never mind that.) All added sacrifices of Lent are up to them. They can then put a bean into an empty jar when they have done one. I encourage the kids to not announce these sacrifices. They can include doing someone else’s chore, reading a story to Thomas, holding their tongues, or obeying me without complaining. I have a list of things written out that they can pick, randomly from a jar, if they are looking to add a few beans. At Easter, they are beautifully changed into jelly beans.
The second assumption of Lent is that it is a time of prayer. Our family has regular prayer times that we try to keep; Morning Offering, Angelus, Rosary, night prayers.
And thirdly, Lent is a time of almsgiving. We have a little jar where money that is not already a part of our tithe can go. At the end of Lent, we’ll decide where to send it. So, you could say that Lent is already a success at the Roy household. Right?
The time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving are the expected part of Lent, kind of the non-negotiables. I find that it is very easy, speaking only for myself, to kind of get into a groove. I eat something boring for breakfast, wait to eat something boring for lunch, and hold on until the bore of dinner. I say my rote prayers, while scowling at distracted kids. Then I toss a few bucks into the jar. Good for me.
This routine, on my part, can so easily become an excuse to be satisfied, to say, “I’m doing enough. Look how much I’m giving up.” Whoopty doo.
If I find myself contented in the above, I am simply doing the bare minimum. I will be on Lenten survival mode.
The whole point of these “assumptions” is to lead us beyond and deeper. The expected prayers are said in the hopes of leading us into a love affair with our Saviour. The rote prayers are meant to teach us how to love, but it’s our hearts that are meant to carry those words.
I don’t know why I find it so difficult to find a measly 10 or 15 minutes of personal prayer time, just me and God. I have many excuses – small house with noisy kids, fatigue, homeschooling, blah, blah, blah... They have some small amount of merit. But a real love affair would find a way. So, if I’m honest, I must admit that, while I’ve given what’s expected, I haven’t yet completely given the Lord my heart.
So, do we skip the fasting, almsgiving and rote prayers? Absolutely not! First off, they are the very descriptors of Lent, non-negotiables. But don’t just do them because they are the non-negotiables, do them because we have the humility to see a need for direction, a need to be led into a relationship. And then allow the direction to take us deeper.
Go to confession, yes, because it’s a law of the Church, but more so because you’ve taken the time to really read an examination of conscience and reflected on your deep need for forgiveness.
Say your prayers, but then make time for the love affair.
Give your alms, but let it hurt a bit, to detach from the items and toys and junk.
Fast, yes, but then pray for the hungry, give to the food bank. Don’t make excuses for your children to do less, encourage them to be the soldiers of Christ they were anointed to be ... that we were anointed to be.
Pray for me, and I will pray for you.
“May Mary, our guide on the Lenten journey, lead us to ever deeper knowledge of the dead and Risen Christ, help us in the spiritual combat against sin, and sustain us as we pray with conviction: ‘Converte nos, Deus salutaris noster’ – ‘Convert us to you, O God, our salvation.’ (Ps 84:5). Amen!” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.