Do you want your children to grow into faithful Catholics?
I’m going to suggest a way to help things along: celebrate Lent well. Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote, “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.” A Lent well spent is crucial when trying to raise saints.
Mother Teresa said, "As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst … He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”
Catholics are often stereotyped by other Christians as having a preoccupation with suffering, for “keeping Christ on the cross.” We most certainly do not keep Him there, but we do well to remember Him there. It is on the cross that we see the greater Love.
We are already believers and accept that Jesus is God, so it isn’t exceptional that He rose from the dead. He is God! Do we expect anything less? But that He suffered and died for us, that is something unexpected, something to marvel at: not just Christ the conqueror, but Christ the lover. It is in this great act that we know we are loved. I truly believe that when a child is face to face with this radical kind of devotion they will develop a type of gravitas, a depth in their connection with Christ on the cross. Simple Lenten activities, like doing the Stations of the Cross, having a crucifix for them to kiss, or praying the Divine Mercy chaplet together, help to build a love affair.
The expectation that we take ourselves and our children to confession during Lent also builds an organic understanding of our need for redemption. Catherine Doherty wrote: “Lent is a time of going very deeply into ourselves… What is it that stands between us and God? Between us and our brothers and sisters? Between us and life, the life of the Spirit? Whatever it is, let us relentlessly tear it out, without a moment’s hesitation.”
Examining our consciences brings about self-knowledge, which can only lead to a desperate realization of how much in debt we are to Christ and how undeserving we are of such a passionate love as His.
“The ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us to make a complete gift of self to God,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI. When we fast, pray, and give alms, we abandon three of the most difficult things to give up. When a child develops a habit of regular prayer, self-denial, and tithing, they join in a connection that exists within the Mystical Body of Christ.
What that means is that every time they make a sacrifice they are united in the supernatural reality of the saints in heaven, those waiting in purgatory, and the faithful on earth.
The simple act of abstaining from meat on Fridays becomes an opportunity for children to feel a historical attachment to all the faithful through all time. We ask our children to join us in tearing out those superficial attachments that make up so a huge portion of our lives. Children, in their beautiful fervor, will be easily convinced that these things will never have the ability to satisfy. When they make a gift of self to God, He will fill them with Himself.
“Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven,” said St. Rose of Lima. To be a Catholic is to know the sorrowful mysteries by heart. This is not because we are obsessed with the morbid, but because it is His suffering and death that remains Christ’s great gift of love to us. It is that great sorrow that is our greatest joy.
A Lent well lived will bring about an Easter much longed for.
(If Lent has somehow sneaked by you, it is not too late! There are many great Lenten activities to help you and your children on the way to Easter. I found some here).