Preparing for penance this Lenten season

As I write, it is hard to believe that St Brigid brought the spring this year as the wind howls, the rain beats against the windows, and many thousands of people across the country struggle with flood water damage. But for us, February 1 is traditionally the first day of spring and with it, visible even in the current bad weather, comes the lengthening of days, a new quality of light that chases away the shadows and allows us to see the places that perhaps need attention in our homes, on our desks and maybe, even, in our lives. With spring comes the inevitable task of spring cleaning and this need not be just the physical work of decluttering and tidying the house but also that of spiritual work looking again at our own personal relationship with God, our membership of the faith community and how our family is a place where we come to know and love God.

The season of Lent comes as the days grow longer and the light brighter. Lent will begin between the next two Sundays of the Do This in Memory programme and people will, hopefully, flock to our churches on Ash Wednesday to be marked with a sign of our mortality and also of our willingness to enter into the spirit of these 40 days. Lent is the time when we are all given the opportunity to reconnect with our God and this is true in a very particular way for the children preparing for their First Holy Communion. It is during the season of Lent that they will first participate in the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation as it is also called.

First Penance

On the next Sunday of the programme, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Gospel that you will hear at Mass will probably be considerably longer than the one printed in the Grapevine that you received in January. The Gospel in the Grapevine is a shortened version more suitable for the children and contains the core message that in order to come to the altar we must first be at peace with ourselves and one another. Only then will we be at peace with God and be able to come before the altar. In a sense this is what First Penance is about. It encourages the children to explore the need to be in right relationship with themselves and with each other, so that they can be closer to God. They begin their preparation for this sacrament by being affirmed in their own goodness. They are made in the image and likeness of God and so are good. They are loved always by God and God sees only their potential for good, to be the best that they can possibly be.

However, there are times when we all fail to live out of our goodness; times when we are not who we are called to be; times, to paraphrase Pope Francis, when we allow the door to life in all its fullness that opened to us in Baptism to close a little. When this happens we need to acknowledge what we have done, say sorry and ask God’s forgiveness. In school the children explore the kinds of behaviour that they need to say sorry for, the kinds of behaviour that can distance them from those they love, from themselves and from God. You can read more about this in the Grapevine that you will receive after Mass on Sunday. Encourage them to talk about these kinds of behaviour at home over the coming weeks. Consider using your prayertime at night to remember times when they have not been as good as they ought to have been. Include yourself in this exploration. It is important that children know that adults need to say sorry too. Conclude your prayer time by praying the Act of Sorrow together. 

Lenten Journey

The activity section of THUMB this month includes a Lenten Journey with something to do each of the 40 days. Help your child to fill this in and encourage them to attempt the activity. If your Trócaire Box is not delivered make the time to collect it from your local church and then place it in your Family Prayer Space. Decide as a family what you will do in order that you can give to the Trócaire Box this Lent. This can then become a visble sign of your family’s journey through Lent and your commitment to help those who are not as lucky as we are.

On a final note this Lenten season might be an opportune time to explore your own attitude to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many adults no longer celebrate this sacrament and may even have less than happy memories of previous experiences. Resolve to look at it anew this Lent.

There will very likely be an invitation to the adults present at your child’s First Penance to partcipate with their child. One of the fundamental reasons for this invitation is to let your child know that this sacrament is for everybody not just for children. The other reason is that God is always waiting with open arms for us. His forgiveness is assured – all we have to do is walk towards those arms and want to be forgiven.