A Catholic Parent Takes on the Challenges of Parenting

Every day, the cross, with joy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Family-based Lenten Resolutions

Coming up with a good Lenten penance is often challenging for faithful Catholics, including busy parents. We might have high ambitions, but choosing and sticking with a Lenten sacrifice can be difficult. In part, this difficulty stems from the individual nature of Lenten penance as currently practiced. Prior to the Lent of 1967 all Catholics in the U.S. abided by the same Lenten practice of fasting every day of Lent (excluding solemnities, such as Sundays). This provided built-in social support. Lenten resolutions are not meant to be tests of individual willpower demonstrating heroic self-control. A Lenten resolution should be part of the shared endeavor to embrace penance as a preparation for Easter. 

It's not about YOU, but about US, the Church.

Though the Church no longer has the strict Lenten observance that provided unity in penance, the family provides a setting that makes possible the practice of social penance - a penance that is not simply about individual voluntary mortifications, though those are also good! By deciding on and practicing a Lenten penance as parents (or as a family, if you're children are older), parents can promote the idea that penance is not about YOU, but about US and OUR relationship to God. Here are a few suggestions for family-based Lenten resolutions:

FOOD:
Food-based resolutions can be good ideas to implement as a family.
1. Abstaining from meat during Lent (excluding solemnities). This is a traditional Lenten penance still observed in many places.
2. Abstaining from eggs and dairy during Lent. This is another traditional Lenten penance.
3. Abstaining from dining out or ordering in food. This penance might also provide some extra change that can be used in almsgiving.
4. Abstaining from processed foods such as boxed cereal, and replacing it with non-processed or minimally-processed food such as oatmeal.
5. Empty the pantry. Commit yourself to using up as much food in your pantry as possible while simultaneously limiting the food you purchase in your regular food shopping trip. Again, this should provide extra change that can be used in almsgiving.
6. Abstaining from sweets.
7. Giving up certain beverages, such as soda or alcohol, or limiting intake. Possibly even abstaining from all beverages excepting water or milk (and coffee for adults who need it!). 

ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY:
Entertainment resolutions can also present possibilities for family-based Lenten resolutions.
1. Abstaining from or limiting time on the Internet, television, games, movies, etc.
2. Consider using the time normally devoted to entertainment/technology for activities like writing letters to people.
3. Not listening to music while in the car.

ALMSGIVING:
The above practices should decrease spending and make possible additional almsgiving. Contributing to the usual Rice Bowl donation box is a good way to indicate to the whole family the monetary result of the above sacrifices.

PRAYER:
Choosing a family prayer practice to add into the regular schedule can also be a great family-based Lenten resolution.
1. Such practices might include praying the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, attending Eucharistic adoration together, attending daily Mass, reading aloud the daily Mass readings at dinnertime, and praying the Stations of the Cross. For young children, presenting one Station of the Cross per evening and saying an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be before dinner might be the most you can do.
2. A variation of this is to invite friends or family over to pray the Stations of the Cross, followed by a simple meal.
3. (With older kids) As a family, commit to a more regular reception of the sacrament of confession throughout the season of Lent.

WORKS OF MERCY:
Depending on the age of your children, you might want to consider the possibility of donating your time as a family to a charity, e.g. volunteering in a soup kitchen. There are other ways to engage directly in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; be creative. You may be able to take a meal to a family mourning someone's death or to visit a homebound elderly friend, for example.

SPRING CLEANING:
"Spring cleaning" can certainly be a mortification, and Lent also presents itself as an ideal time to have family members clean out their rooms, go through their clothes and their toys, and donate or get rid of items they are no longer using. Lent is a good time to take on home-organization tasks that might involve the family. This cleaning can also be a helpful metaphor for the preparation undertaken for Easter.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS:
1. There are many other possibilities for family-based mortifications, such as lowering the temperature of your water heater or thermostat.
2. Make sure that you and your spouse agree and have a plan for implementing the Lenten penance.
3. Try to avoid choosing anything that will make life particularly difficult for one particular person in the family.
4. Be willing to reevaluate each Sunday if necessary; don't let the sacrifices make your kids hate Lent. It might be best to change the resolution.
5. Consider the possibility of adding another penance each Monday.
6. Consider taking on your own individual Lenten resolution in addition to the family sacrifice.
7. Remember that your modeling of Lenten penance is crucial. It's ok to admit it's challenging, but complaining or being nasty to your family is not a good witness to the penitential power of Lent. If you recognize that you are consistently failing, reevaluate and choose a different penance.


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