Our Families Fast for this Lent
After reading my post, What makes lent, lent a friend has asked for more details of what our children's fasting looks like. I had planned a small edit but then it grew too large and so I thought a new post better.
Firstly here is the part of that post about which she had a question (it has been edited both here and in the original post for further clarity):
"I read a few posts by the Transalpine Redemptorists and was struck at how easy, in some senses, we need let lent be.
Idea's For Lent / Ancient Doorway to a Lovely Lent / The Fast of Lent / And All Things go to One Place
Good old fashioned fasting from food! Very simple. Can't forget it's lent if your tummy says so. (the next few sentences are part of the edit) Now, the fasting which is required of Catholic adults is not required for children by Church law, but according to canon law 1252, 'Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.'
So, the roots of fasting are to be put in place during childhood if it is to flower in a fuller sense in adulthood. And so we went for something simple, something that I hope is formative, something that is enough to plant those seeds, enough to remind us that we are doing something different to the ordinary, by experiencing just a little bit of fasting. And that constant sameness of what we do day after day of lent, is sort of a stillness too that helps free the mind from a differing list of 'lenten tasks', and failures, that we may find prayer. "
So, what kind of fasting am I talking about?
For each of the 40 days of lent, Monday-Saturday (Sundays are not days of lent):
- No eating between meals
- Very slightly, smaller meal portions
My youngest three, 6 years old and under are not doing any of this fasting but having their usual midmorning and afternoon piece of fruit or other healthy snack. The four older children 10 and up are trying to go without snacking but only if they feel that they can. If they really, really need to eat something they can. These older four are also trying to reduce how much they put on their plate by a small amount. The aim is that they eat a meal that is sufficient, and that they are careful not to eat more than they should, because it's lent and we're fasting. The watching of how much you eat, for a period of time, is interpreted in the mind of a child as fasting, even though they are eating all they need. And we all, even children, need from time to time, to consider whether we are putting on our plates more than we really should. We are inclined to eat more than we should by virtue of our fallen nature and from our living in an affluent society.
They are also abstaining for each of the 40 days of lent from:
- dessert after dinner
- meat (just Wednesdays and Fridays)
- sugar (reducing the amount used)
- junk food
I'm just not one of those types of mums who can execute a 40 day list of differing things. Goals like 'be good to your brother or sister today' are hard to keep track of. You all sit round in the morning and they hear the days goal and maybe one or two of them think about it for the rest of the day but the better majority with nothing to remind them of the season forget somewhere between 5 minutes after you said it and morning playtime. And what about the goals like 'write a letter to someone special today'? Great goals but just as some mothers are 'craft mums' and some (a.k.a. me) are not, the days flow by and it doesn't get done. Maybe one or two things, but mostly not. And so lent goes by and then it's Holy week and I think 'what have we done?' , 'what impact has this season had on us?'
If it's simple, if it's the same each day I can do it. We can do it. That little bit of fasting is marking out the season. It feels like lent. And maybe the amount of 'good deed seeds' that will go up on the 'merciful cross' will be the same as usual, but we will, just by the simple fact of our participation with our fasting and prayer have undergone a steady lenten discipline in preparation for Easter.
For me the simplicity of our lenten fast and abstinence will allow me to focus the children and myself on prayer rather than trying to get done something which I'm not good at. Because what we do is the same each day and sort of, happening in the background as it were, we don't have the distraction of trying to master/get done something new each day. We constantly work at the same discipline having 40 days of it to acquire the one and the same skill. When new tasks are presented each day it can even be fun, just because it's different. Doing the same thing day after day is challenging. It requires fortitude, perseverance. Don't be afraid to ask your children to do hard things. It builds character, it lays the fertile ground for grace.
What would I like people reading this to remember?
We all have to work with what with got. Think about what your family needs. Your family! It's going to look different from what works for others. Remember, God can work with a mustard seed size of faith. Plant those mustard seeds!
Sometimes things don't look so good from where we are standing. Despair does no good! Never give up!! Trust in God, Who died on the Cross for you, and who would have come to this earth to die on that Cross, even if only just for you! That's a love we can hardly even begin to understand! Ask for the help of your Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the best of all mothers! She loves you with the love of a tigeress for her cubs and her prayer is mighty.
Remember moderation, do 'nothing harsh nor burdensome'. God forces no one, neither should we. Above all seek to deepen your own faith. In doing so you are obeying God's will for you and your example is a powerful witness, which lies not so much in your perfection, but in your desire to be perfected by Christ.
Remember prayer and fasting go together, they cannot be separated. If you do some small fasting with your children get them to say their lenten prayer in the morning, see if you can encourage them to say a small prayer throughout the day such as 'Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love you, save souls'. Try to pray a family rosary. You could try a children's way of the Cross on Fridays, and then there are the penitential psalms which you could pray, a different one for each Friday in lent.
Don't over think. Just set your hand to the plow and pray, pray, pray!
'The cross is steady while the world is turning'.