Family Ideas for Lent

11 Feb

40 daysLent can be a hard season to get excited about. Surely it lacks the jingle and sparkle of Advent. Even more, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and, more to the point, involves sacrifice.

Further, it’s difficult to explain to kids. Most kids can understand the excitement of waiting for a baby to be born. Even when there is sacrifice involved in Advent, it’s surrounded by a sense of joy. Many of us have a much harder time giving our kids a good focus for the sacrifice that leads up to . . . the violent death of our Savior.

Below are some suggestions for activities that can (hopefully) help your family to embrace the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. The formal prayers of our Church are ways that Christians have been talking to God for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. I think we need both “from the heart” time with God, as well as a way to connect with all those who have come before us (“formal” prayer). Here are some suggestions for ways to bring prayer alive for your family:

  • For younger children:
    • help them to tell God one thing they are grateful for and one thing they really need each day
    • print off a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross (some even have coloring pages), and talk about one each day
  • For older children:
    • Read scripture (maybe the Sunday Gospels?) and have them tell you one line that stood out to them and ask them why
    • Engage their strengths in learning the Stations of the Cross. If they are artistic, they can draw one per day or week. If they are writers they can write prayers for each station, etc.
    • Find famous paintings of the Stations from different cultures and explore them with your children
  • For teens:
    • Encourage them to start a prayer journal that you won’t look at
    • Use Lent as an excuse to get involved in a good youth group or teen retreat
    • Have teens write a “teen stations,” relating one or more of the Stations to the difficulties that teenagers face
  • As a family:
    • Make a regular time to pray together. If that is totally new to your family, try just saying one thing you are grateful to God for each day. Other options are a family Rosary, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, a decade of the Rosary, or one Station of the Cross each day
    • Use Stations the children have made (or print some from the internet) and put a small votive near each one around your home. Move around the house as you would around the Church as you pray.
    • Choose a short Scripture verse that is appropriate for the season and say it after every meal. You and your children will have it memorized in no time!

Fasting. I think the key to successful fasting as a family is to explain to everyone what it’s for. When we fast, we give up a material good for a spiritual one. Even young children can understand what it is to give something up for someone else. For example, my son was terrified of getting a flu shot last year, but he found courage to do it when we told him that he was protecting his baby sister from getting the flu. We sacrifice out of love for God.

  • For children:
    • Make a “crown of thorns” out of clay or craft wire with toothpicks for “thorns.” Each time a member of the family makes a small sacrifice, they take a thorn out of Jesus’ crown. This is a way of connecting their sacrifice to love for Jesus.
    • For each sacrifice, children get to put jellybean in a jar . . . that they can eat during the Easter season!
    • Remind children that sacrifices should be something they like that they are giving up, or something hard for them to do (i.e. doing what mom asks the first time they are asked!) Varying the sacrifices can keep it from being too burdensome, and can help children start thinking of ways they can sacrifice for others.
  • For teens:
    • Have your teens consider giving up video games, iPad, Facebook, cell phone time (for non-essential purposes), etc. If the prospect of being unplugged for 40 days is too overwhelming, maybe consider unplugging on Fridays. Hint: agree to do it with your child!
    • Ask teens to help plan and prepare the Friday meatless meal. They may enjoy looking into meatless meals that are a staple for other cultures.
    • Invite your teen to “give up” a treat that costs money such as a movie out with friends, a snack after school, etc. Put that money in a jar and allow them to choose the charity for donation.
  • For families:
    • Choose one night a week during Lent to be family night, where all activities are cancelled (this may take some serious effort!). Use the time to pray a little bit, then either play board games or watch a movie with a good message that will inspire conversation.
    • Join in with one of the other activities above.
    • Consider one thing your family can “give up” together.

Almsgiving. Almsgiving just means serving others out of love. Several of the suggestions above for sacrifice could be used for this as well, but here are a few more:

  • Parents “pay” for each sacrifice, putting coins in a jar for each good deed. Alternately, if there is a behavior your family is working on changing (for instance, saying “Oh my God!”), each member of the family can put a quarter of their own money in each time they say it! The money then goes to a charity of the family’s choice.
  • Skip a meal out in order to buy your family’s favorite groceries for a food pantry.
  • Volunteer together at your favorite organization together.
  • Practice “deliberate acts of kindness” within the family. You can even do a Lenten spin on the “Advent Angel” idea, having each member do secret, thoughtful deeds for another family member.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, nor could any family handle everything mentioned. I hope it has gotten you thinking, though, about what will best help your family grow in holiness. Happy Lent, everyone!

Timothy and Titus Top Ten

26 Jan

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus. Both were disciples of St. Paul and are mentioned in the New Testament. Timothy eventually became the Bishop of Ephesus and Titus became the Bishop of Crete, so they are important early witnesses to the structure of Church leadership.

St. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus that became part of the New Testament. These letters are commonly grouped together as the “Pastoral Epistles,” because they provide pastoral guidance to individual bishops rather than instruction for entire local Churches, such as in the case of the letters to the Corinthians or Romans.

In honor of the feast, I now humbly offer my “top ten” list of favorite verses from the Pastoral Epistles. Here it is:

(10) 1 Timothy 3:15: “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

I’m probably underrating this one, perhaps because it is so frequently trotted out in the context of “winning” apologetics debates. While there is an unmistakable apologetics dimension, as St. Paul is clearly referring to the Church–and not the Bible alone–as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” what really moves me is the fact that I can turn to the Church, in season and out of season, for the truth.

(9) Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”

This is a really beautiful description of the Sacrament of Baptism, which is truly the doorway to the Christian life. I love the image of “regeneration,” as through the sacrament we become “new creations”–sons and daughters of God by adoption. Our Lord makes all things new!

(8) 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, . . .”

This popular verse connects the concept of “inspiration,” which means “God-breathed,” with Scripture’s value for the believer. And the next verse, sometimes overlooked, completes this beautiful insight:  ”. . . that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

(7) 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”

This passage provides a biblical basis for remembering civil and Church leaders in the General Intercessions at Mass. For me, it’s a challenging reminder, especially after the disastrous 2008 election, to pray for our leaders despite their entrenched opposition on the issues that matter most. (The only thing that President Obama and I agree on is that there should be a playoff system in college football, but I digress.) And I have to say that “a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” is a goal that really resonates with me.

(6) 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings.”

That time has come. Many people today do not endure sound teaching, and sadly they can find New Age gurus, heterodox theologians, start-up “churches,” and even some Catholic clergy and religious who will tickle their ears. Instead of saying “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” they say “You’re okay as you are, believe what you want.” This verse challenges me to have the humility to listen to the truth, and also the courage robed in charity to resist the temptation, born of a false compassion, to scratch ears rather than speak the truth. (See also 1 Timothy 1:19 about how going against what we know is right makes a shipwreck of our faith.)

(5) 1 Timothy 4:16: “Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

What a wonderful verse for those of us who are parents or teachers, as it challenges us to walk the talk–not only for the good of our “hearers,” but also for our own salvation. This verse also touches on the need to persevere in the faith if we want to attain the “crown of righteousness” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8).

(4) 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

St. Paul’s use of military and athletic images to describe the Christian life summons men to step up and live generous, heroic lives for Christ. This verse also points to the necessity of persevering in the faith, lest we run aimlessly or otherwise become “disqualified” through mortal sin (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  We’re not in heaven yet; we need to put on the armor of God and fearlessly run toward the prize.

(3) 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.”

What an amazing verse. St. Paul is instructing Timothy to guard the deposit of faith. Yes, the deposit of faith, summed up in the person and teachings of Christ, needs to be proclaimed, but it also needs to be safeguarded lest mere human wisdom or even outright error intermingle with the Word of God. So the Magisterium, or teaching office, of the Church not only plays offense (teaching the faith), but also defense (protecting the faith). Praise God that the Church proclaims the true faith in every generation, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors, by means of a special gift of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

I know, it’s a hefty four verses, but it’s such an inspiring passage that I didn’t want to chop it up. I especially appreciate how Christian hope impels us to live virtuous lives.

(1) 1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

What can I possibly add to this verse? Here St. Paul, a la the late Howard Cosell, is simply “telling like it is.”

Well, those are my favorites. What are yours?

What About the Tree?

26 Dec

Christmas treeFor many people, Christmas ends on Christmas day, so over the ensuing few days, amidst the various after-Christmas sales, the trees are unceremoniously taken down and dragged out to the curb.

But for those of us who do have a sense of Christmas extending beyond December 25th, the question still remains: When does Christmas season actually end? When should we take down not only our tree, but also other seasonal items such as nativity sets?

Traditionally, Christmas season is twelve days (like the song), which would take us to January 6th, the traditional date for celebrating the Epiphany, when the wise men brought gifts to the child Jesus. Now Epiphany is only approximately 12 days after Christmas, as in the United States it is celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas. This year, for example, the second Sunday after Christmas falls on January 4th.

But while Epiphany is an important feast within the context of the Christmas season, it doesn’t bring about the end of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at which point “Ordinary Time” begins. The Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord is thus the second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Baptism of the Lord usually falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which this year will be January 11th.

Lastly, prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Christmas season extended all the way to February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (aka Purification of Our Lady or Candlemas), based on Luke 2:22-38. While that is no longer the case, there is still something of a Christmas “flavor” to the early weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to the Presentation of the Lord.

But what does all that have to do with taking down my tree? And besides, if I wait too long to take it down, the garbage trucks won’t take it!

Well, rest assured there are no “rules” on all this. My recommendation, based on the liturgical season, is to keep Christmas decorations up till the Baptism of the Lord (January 11th). If that seems a little extreme for your household, I’d counsel at least waiting till after Epiphany (January 4th). That’s especially true for Nativity sets that include the three wise men.

And after all, why cut short “the most wonderful time of the year”?

Christmas Proclamation

24 Dec

nativityThe Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

What the Tilma “Said”

12 Dec

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We are all familiar with the events that occurred on this date in 1531 just outside of Mexico City. Our Lady not only appeared to St. Juan Diego and gave him roses that ordinarily don’t bloom that time of year, but also there appeared on St. Juan’s cloak, or “tilma,” the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  

The news of the miracle spread like wildfire. Within two weeks, the tilma was moved to the first of a succession of chapels, churches, and eventually basilicas constructed at the apparition site.

There were three points of great significance to the Indian people:

(1) The lady was Indian, spoke Nahuatl, and appeared to an Indian (Juan Diego), not a Spaniard. The oppressed Indian peoples could relate to her.

(2) The lady appeared, of all places, at Tepeyac, the reputed home of Tonantzin, the mother God. The Indians understood this as meaning that this lady—the Virgin Mary—was the mother of the one, true God. The Native Americans clearly saw that Christianity was to replace the Aztec religion. Even the golden filigree over Our Lady’s rose-colored gown matches the topography of the Mexican lands once ruled by the Aztecs.

(3) The Indians were especially drawn to the image on the tilma itself, which represented God’s sacrificial love for mankind. This image was a welcome change for those who worshipped deities that required human sacrifice. Continue reading

Thanks for Everything

27 Nov

Gratitude is the appropriate response when receiving a gift. As parents, we try to drill into our children the holy habit, or virtue, of saying “thank you” whenever we are the beneficiaries of a gift. We also teach our children to pray–to thank God, who after all is the source of all that we have and are.

Too often we take our lives for granted and don’t adequately acknowledge our abundant blessings. Sometimes, however, we may recognize the gift but not recognize the Giver. Instead, we take the credit ourselves. We “make our own breaks” and when things go our way, we are successful. At that point, we become like the man who prays, “Lord, help me find a parking place . . . never mind, I found one.” The truth, however, is that we are merely stewards, not manufacturers, of our material and spiritual blessings.

We also have to see the apparent tragedies, losses, and failures as gifts. This is where we truly need the vision of faith to trust that our loving God–even now, especially now–is drawing us to Himself.

I think the best way to develop the virtue of gratitude is to meditate on our most fundamental identity. We are truly “children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). In fact, Jesus tells us that we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God.

While we may be adults in the world’s eyes, we’re still children in God’s eyes. We are utterly dependent upon Him for the life of grace freely given to us at Baptism. He cleans up our messes through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and He feeds us with the true bread from heaven.

And, as a Father who truly understands and desires what’s best for His children, He disciplines us, even though as it occurs we might not fully understand His purposes (see Heb. 12:11). And, as children who joyfully and confidently await Our Father’s blessing, we begin to see, with St. Thérèse, that prayer is “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (Catechism, no. 2558). Continue reading

Aging Gracefully

28 Oct

holding hand of elderly personAs I turn 55 this month, I’m looking forward to all the senior discounts, especially now that my kids have outgrown the children’s menu. It also gives me an opportunity to reflect on aging.

When my family moved to Ohio in 1993, we invited my mother Eileen (“Mom”) to come live with us. While still capable of living on her own, Mom was beginning to feel the effects of age and heart problems, and it was increasingly burdensome for her to maintain her condominium. Plus, we considered “Grandma” part of our family, and valued her time with us. So we warmly welcomed her–and her cats!–into our home.

In December 1998, Mom was hospitalized with pneumonia. Complications ensued after Christmas. She developed a serious infection and became septic. She went into respiratory arrest and was placed on a ventilator and ultimately a feeding tube was inserted. She spent the entire month of January in intensive care, and the doctors were not at all optimistic about her recovery. So many machines, so little change in Mom’s condition. I had to consent to a dizzying array of procedures and tests on her behalf. But mostly, we were praying and waiting.

In February, Mom’s condition had improved enough for her to be moved out of intensive care. Even then, her doctors gave us little hope of her ever being able to come home, and had recommended various institutions where we could put her. After all, she needed so much personal care, and she’d likely be tube-fed for the rest of her life. We pleaded, cajoled, and argued with the doctors to let her come home. On Holy Saturday, a couple hours before the Easter Vigil, our request was granted.

At home, Mom’s condition steadily improved. We gradually were able to return the various hospital apparatus the state and local agencies provided us. We even weaned her from her feeding tube. But more than all the milestones and improvements Mom made, what stuck with me most was the doctor’s comment at one of her post-hospitalization visits. He admitted that he underestimated the ability of our family to care for Mom, and, in fact, that we were able to do more for her than he could.

We moved to Olathe in 2007, and Mom was still with us. In 2008, her conditioned worsened, and we were so grateful to have the Villa St. Francis nearby to care for her during her final months. She passed away in February 2009.

I really don’t see our family’s approach to caring for Mom as being particularly heroic. Having multiple generations under one roof can be very stressful at times, and we didn’t always show one another the love and respect Our Lord expects of us. Yet with God’s grace we made the effort, firmly believing that this is how Our Lord wants us to grow in holiness.

I come from a very large family, from which I learned the value of extended family. And while my Mom, a convert to the Catholic Church, never talked too much about her faith, she did manifest it to me when I was a child as she daily cared for my handicapped grandmother. Given this background, it always seemed “natural” to have Mom live with us.

However, I’m fully aware that in welcoming Mom into our household — despite her infirmity — we were making a distinctively countercultural choice. Our society often tells us that the older generation is just as inconvenient and annoying as children. Openness to the elderly can be just as politically incorrect as openness to new life.

We saw in the 20th century how Planned Parenthood and the little-known, radical views of its founder, Margaret Sanger, incrementally thrusted its contraceptive anti-natalist, racist, and eugenic agenda on the world. The result has been that conduct once considered unspeakably evil–the killing of unborn or even partially born children–is not only accepted, but enshrined as an inalienable right. Some of us, however, may not be aware that a similar effort is well under way to legitimize the killing of our elderly and ill citizens.

In 1938, President of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA) Dr. Foster Kennedy announced his organization’s support of legislation to legalize the killing of “defective” or “incurable” human beings–with or without their consent. Back then, such legislation was utterly intolerable to the vast majority of our citizens, so the ESA and other pro-euthanasia organizations eventually took a more strategic, incremental approach, employing deceptive language such as “death with dignity” and building upon the utilitarianism (“quality of life”) and radical autonomy (“right to choose”) mantras championed by secular society and sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many now see euthanasia as a topic of political discussion, not an abomination.

With advancing age the elderly develop an acute awareness of their own mortality, often accompanied by pain and loneliness. Yet, through faith and the supernatural virtue of hope, Christians understand the twilight of life as a passage from the fragile and uncertain joy of this world to the fullness of joy which the Lord holds in store for His faithful servants: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt. 25:21).

St. John Paul II wrote that honoring older people involves welcoming them, helping them, and affirming their gifts. He stressed that “the most natural place to spend one’s old age continues to be the environment in which one feels most ‘at home,’ among family members, acquaintances, and friends.”

The Holy Father by no means denigrated but rather praised “homes for the elderly,” especially those run by religious communities and volunteer groups that are committed to the care of the aged. What is most important, especially as America increasingly becomes a graying country, is to counter the culture of death by promoting a widespread attitude of acceptance and appreciation of the elderly, particularly within the family, so that people may grow old with dignity.

Leon Suprenant is the pastoral associate for administration in the Office of the Permanent Diaconate. For more information on the diaconate, visit www.archkck.org/deacons. This article, in abridged form, appeared in the October 24, 2014 edition of The Leaven.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 342 other followers