A Parent’s Perspective
I was chatting with my family about what we are all doing for Lent this year. My 10-year old son was adding more and more tough penances onto his list including daily cold showers, giving up all sweets and treats, saying more prayers and a schedule that even the most saintly would find challenging. Some people think that with all the hardships and losses we’ve endured in the last year, surely we’ve suffered enough and should go easy on ourselves this Lent. It might be tempting to view Lent as some sort of Catholic boot camp where those who are taking on the toughest mortifications are the winners in the spiritual Olympics. This isn’t what Lent is all about at all. Fr Mike Schmitz, Catholic speaker and author, says that the additional disciplines we embrace during Lent are primarily about deepening our faith, hope and love in preparation for our celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. The Covid-19 lockdown has imposed all sorts of difficulties on all of us but that’s an even greater reason to use this time to grow closer to Jesus.
Whatever we are trying to do for Lent, it should be centred on Jesus and striving to become more like him”
In the message of Pope Francis for Lent 2021, he reiterates that perennial message of Lent as a time of conversion when we “renew our faith, draw from the ‘living water’ of hope and receive with open hearts the love of God, who makes us brothers and sisters in Christ”. Whatever we are trying to do for Lent, it should be centred on Jesus and striving to become more like him. If we’re really honest, and do a sincere examination of conscience, we’ll probably find that there were lots of times in the past months when we didn’t use the sufferings of these unusual times to become better Christians. Who hasn’t had days when they were thoroughly fed up with some aspect of family life under the new arrangements? Every family is unique but one of the stresses in my own household is around the very differing requirements for social interaction. I’ve one child who would talk until the cows come home and another who really needs large amounts of quiet time and bemoans the fact that “No one is going anywhere anymore”. I have to admit that I miss those blissful hours of peace when my husband used to bring the children on day trips so I could get work done. Now, it’s snatched minutes early in the morning and I’ve become even more of a night owl cherishing the peace of everyone else finally being in bed. A big Lenten sacrifice this year would be to do anything that makes life easier for those we’re sharing our living space with and realising that our biggest Lenten challenge might be something as simple as saying the kind word or holding back on the harsh criticism.
Pope Francis points to Lent as the time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The various amusements we give up during Lent help us to remove obstacles to our relationship with God. One result of continuous lockdowns is a feeling that we deserve to treat ourselves more with no end to sweet snacks, binge watching of favourite programmes and an overdependence on social media. Routines are more lax and even logging on for an online Mass can start to feel like a big effort with parents struggling to make the sitting room seem remotely like a church on Sunday. Many churches are open for private prayer so we can use these weeks to commit to regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament, saying the family rosary and renewing our sense of hope in God. In his Lenten message, Pope Francis talks about how, in these times of trouble, “everything seems fragile and uncertain” and it may seem challenging to speak of hope but Lent is “precisely the season of hope when we turn back to God”. I’m sure priests will be making extra efforts during Lent to make sure people can avail of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Some parishes have Confession on request but, if you can’t get to Confession, it’s important not to delay in seeking God’s forgiveness. Night prayer with our children, especially during these tough times when it’s so hard to access the sacraments, should include an act of contrition for the times we have failed during the day. There are great online resources to help families-my children love Fr Mike Schmitz’s YouTube videos which cover every possible topic. They’re also quite short which makes them perfect even for the younger children depending on the topic.
A Lent filled with love means that we reach out to the suffering, the abandoned and the fearful”
I asked some of my siblings for Lenten suggestions and got some great ideas. Many focused on cutting down on phone usage, online games and apps and reducing time spent just scrolling. Less time online means more time for family and prayer and more effort devoted to what Pope Francis calls “the gift that gives meaning to our lives”, the gift of love. A Lent filled with love means that we reach out to the suffering, the abandoned and the fearful. A phone call, a letter, joining a charity initiative, donating to a good cause or joining a lonely person in prayer are all ways to infuse God’s love into these few weeks so we can all celebrate Easter in the knowledge that Lent was a time when we turned away from our old ways and united ourselves to the sufferings of Christ himself.