As we immerse ourselves in the penitential season of Lent I’m reminded of the challenges of Advent as well. These are the seasons when, as Catholics, we really must live in the world but be not of it. As St. Paul wrote: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 2:12) The conversion reminder that Lent encourages — “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” – is a clarion call. Yet, it can be hard to help our kids hear this, amidst the press of the world – it’s noises, lures and demands.
Prudence is our virtue as we work to prepare our kids for this Lenten journey. Prudence, the right ordering of our actions by principles, reminds us to look into the past, so we can inform our present actions, and plan for what lies ahead. You need to plan this as a family, and not just have mom do all the work “presenting” these renewal opportunities. Have a family meeting, and establish prayer practices, set dates for Confession, and plan on almsgiving.
As our children age, we as parents have to encourage more of their individual effort on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, rather them have them only do what they are required or pressured into by. Yet, we can’t pull back so far that we let them fall of that side of the horse.
My children range in age from 22 to 10, with two in college. I cringe to think of how the two in college spent Ash Wednesday, busy with midterm exams. I pray that if they did not get to Mass, then at least they noticed some Catholic witness with ashes on his forehead. A gentle reminder often works best. I sent them a prayer and a picture of a cross, as a subtle reminder — better than the nagging phone call I wanted to make.
For those at home, one child is in school this week, and two are home trying to fill their days with reorganizing, reconnecting with friends, sleep and comfort. It seems that Lent has snuck up on them, despite my efforts to prepare them. With yesterday’s ashes still a fresh imprint, today we will make our way to Confession, after a thorough examination of conscience.
Yet, the press of the day’s and season’s needs constantly endanger our Lenten focus. Bills to pay, taxes to calculate, FAFSA forms to fill out by the March 1st deadline – the list goes on.
This battle that we wage in Lent, through the dark press of the world’s demands to the light, is a microcosm of that ultimate battle. Strive to be transformed; resist the pressures to conform to the world. It is in this striving that we make pilgrimage to our Lord, whose sufferings free us.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3: 14-16)
Today’s Gospel states the challenge straight-up:
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself? (Luke 9:22-25)