Tag Archives: almsgiving

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!

God’s “Secret Service”

18 Jun

Sermon on the MountIn today’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Himself teaches us about the traditional expressions of Christian piety: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We hear about these things quite a bit during Lent, but really, they should be part of the fabric of the Christian life throughout the entire year. They purify our hearts and draw us closer to Our Lord and to our neighbor, especially the poor.

For that reason, one would think that it would be really edifying to see others fasting, praying, and giving alms. After all, good role models always help, right?

Yet, Our Lord’s recurring message today is to do these things in secret, when no one is looking, behind closed doors. Don’t even let your right hand know what the left hand is doing. The only one who needs to know the good that we’re doing is our heavenly Father.

But why is that? Why shouldn’t others be able to watch and learn from us?

The answer is that of course our actions should be edifying to others (cf. Mt. 5:16). However, as Our Lord explains in the course of His teaching, it is very easy for us to do things in order that others will notice us and think well of us. That’s pride, not good example. Sure, there are times that we do good things and others may notice, to their benefit. But our motive must always be  God’s glory, not our reputation. The best way to guard against the temptation to pride is to keep our acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving—as well as other acts of charity–to ourselves as much as possible. When we do that, we’re more likely to serve God and not ourselves.

And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Giving with All Our Mite

19 Mar

When my family lived in Steubenville, Ohio, my wife Maureen and I always looked forward to the dinner in which our bishop would launch the annual diocesan fund-raising campaign. It became an annual “date” for us. We have always tried to give what we can to our diocese and parish, Catholic apostolates, and worthwhile charities.

Each year we’re stretched a little thinner as we support more and more “good causes.” And at the same time, our children have gotten older and have more expensive educational and personal needs, including Catholic schools.

We know that good stewardship involves looking out for number one, except our “number one” is not ourselves, but Our Lord.

The biblical concept is tithing. In the Old Testament, tithing was a moral and spiritual obligation to make an offering to God of ten percent off the top of all the fruits of one’s labors (cf. Lev. 27:30). In fact, if one didn’t tithe, it was considered stealing from God! (Mal. 3:7-8).

Even more fundamental than the mere “accounting” aspect is the sense of generosity and piety that goes along with tithing. It’s all about making the Lord the priority in one’s life, as brought home so clearly in the story of the widow’s mite (Lk. 21:1-4). The poor widow was not a major Temple benefactor by earthly standards, but her gift was singled out for praise by the Lord because of the great love she showed in giving the little she had.

Maybe that’s why my favorite birthday or Father’s Day gifts tend to be the ones my children make themselves. These artistic treasures, often saved for posterity on our refrigerator or my office’s walls, serve absolutely no practical purpose. What makes them valuable to me is that they represent a loving sacrifice on the part of my children, which means infinitely more than any monetary value other gifts might have.

When it comes to tithing today, the Church doesn’t require that we give 10%, but we are required to support the Church through the generous use of our own time, talent, and treasure. The exact amount isn’t as important as the priority and generosity that accompany the giving. The traditional 10% is a helpful, biblical measuring rod, but there’s nothing preventing us from giving 15 or 20%!

Speaking for myself, I wasn’t raised in a tithing home. We really valued a buck. It has taken me a while to really soak in the Church’s teaching in this area, and I am far from where I need to be in this area. Still, I can say from personal experience, despite many financial obligations and the fact that over twenty years ago I left my law practice to work for Church-related entities, that the more our family has given, the more Our Lord has provided for our every need. I shouldn’t be surprised at this, because He pretty much tells us that this would be the case (cf. Mt. 6:33). Yet, I still truly marvel at this reality.

Perhaps God multiplies our offerings like Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. Maybe generosity instills a right order that shapes all of our spending. Perhaps tithing encourages us to do without things that really aren’t necessary. Or, more likely, it’s a combination of all of the above.

I know Christian financial advisors whose first advice to clients who are heavily in debt is to begin to tithe, and if they won’t do it, then they can’t help them. Tithing is part of the solution even on a most pragmatic, worldly level.

As the saying goes, Our Lord will not be outdone in generosity. Ordinarily, we are commanded not to put the Lord to the test. But when it comes to supporting the Church, Scripture invites us to put the Lord to the test (cf. Mal 3:10). Those who do are amazed at what happens.

Generosity involves much more than writing a check–but Maureen and I long ago decided that that’s not a bad place to start. I guess we’re just putting our money where our hearts are.

Family Suggestions for Lent

17 Feb

Lent can be a hard season to get excited about.  Whereas it’s easy for us to get excited for Advent, Lent not only lack the jingle and sparkle of the season, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and more to the point: it involves sacrifice.  Further, it’s hard 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 (ie 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!