Friday, February 26, 2016

What makes lent, lent?

Saint Benedict, by Herman Nieg (1849-1928) Source:Wikimedia
I have been thinking over what makes lent, lent for our family.  Wondering what is it that keeps in our hearts and minds, that constant little whisper, 'it is lent!'.  I think that I am finally coming to understand the elements.  It is nothing new.  It is the very same things as always: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, penance.  But now I am coming to see the purpose, application and goal of them and how to help my family live the season of lent more fruitfully by them.  

What is the goal of lent?  It is an intensive school of Christ Crucified, with the aim not of just being spectators of Christ's Passion, sufferings and death on the Cross, and the glory of His Resurrection, but to encourage us to follow this same path that we may come to to everlasting life.  It is also an annual check-up, to see how we are going spiritually, a time to take stock and ask some hard questions of ourselves.  Am I living for God?  What have I done since the last year to advance in my faith?  How can I start doing God's will better?  And when we are a mother or father we ask ourselves, how to bring my children to love God?  

There are the visual things that help us 'see' it is lent.  We see when we go to Mass we see that it is lent.  The liturgy, the vestments and church decor.  But what about at home?  Despite my 'plans' that I put up here on my blog, when Ash Wednesday did arrive and the beginning of lent, I didn't put up too much around the home at all.   I decided to try a little experiment instead.  What makes lent, lent for my children I wondered?  

I did put up our lenten calendars.  Very important to see where we are visually for lent.  Where we are in our journey.   I did set our home altar up for lent.  Very important that our place of prayer helps us to enter into the season.  But I did not put up anything else around the home.  We did have our lenten practices written up.  Lenten practices not written down become moveable.  

For the first week not much was said.  There were some requests for the 'merciful cross'.  I let them accumulate until they became insistent (I made up our merciful cross finally last night).  Some form of measurable penance obviously is helpful to them and something that means it's lent.  But mostly I was left feeling that our lent did not have enough substance to it.  Or rather perhaps that it needed to be very simple but obvious.  
I read a few posts by the Transalpine Redemptorists and was struck at how easy, in some senses, we need let lent be.  

Good old fashioned fasting from food!  Very simple.  Can't forget it's lent if your tummy says so.  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.  (Edit.  A friend asked for greater detail which I have written about here.)

'Prayer is made easier and more agreeable with some fasting, and fasting is made bearable with the support of prayer.'  (by a Transalpine Redemptorist monk.)

Our lenten prayers also bring us into awareness of lent.  They are our lenten food.  Little prayers that can be said throughout the day can help encourage a prayerful life.  The hunger we feel by fasting is meant to help us see our dependance on God for all things and to turn us to loving conversation with him.  How to help children with this?  Here is where the Lent for Children, A Thought a Day is useful.  It has a little food for though for that day, for prayer.  And it has a short prayer for each day for saying throughout the day.  I wonder though if just one short prayer for the season or the week would be better though.  It is easier to remember, and that memorisation sinks that prayer and it's meaning into the mind of that child.  

There is something very important we must do when on a journey.  We must constantly assess where we are so we do not stray from our destination.  This lent I am concentrating particularly on getting them to do a good nightly examination of conscience.  

And then there is this from the Rule of St. Benedict, one of the instruments of good works is, 'to love fasting'.  St. Benedict (RB Chap IV)

And here I will link to a sermon by a Benedictine monk of Silverstream: Lord, it is good for us to be here because I don't think I can explain 'to love fasting' as well as he, except to say that in loving fasting we understand that it is a way to bring us back to the source of love, to our dear Lord, and that is a joy!

For almsgiving we are also doing something simple, something that is the same for each day to allow for a mastery.  I hope that it teaches them the steps of success on a small level.  Plus each child has a focus on doing their good deeds so they can put seeds (later to be flowers at Easter) on the merciful cross.

We also have a few motto's or sayings that we meditate on through the whole of lent.  This year, one of those is:

"The sacrifice required of every person is the fulfilment of his duties in life and the observance of My Law.  This is the penance that I now seek and and require."  Our Lord to St. Lucia

What makes lent, lent?  There are many elements, yet only one.  Seeking the Face of Christ!  
Who comes to the Lord as a saint who has not acknowledged himself first as a sinner (excepting of course Our Blessed Mother who was conceived without stain of sin).  'For with thee there is merciful forgiveness' Psalm 129:4  Let us take up the fight this lent.  Do what we can by God's grace asking forgiveness for the lack.  And have no fear to look upon His face at Easter with joy in our poorness, if we have sought after Him.  


  1. '...and fasting is made bearable with the support of prayer.' Such a helpful thought! Thank you for sharing your reflections. Lent is something that I need to grow into as a Catholic.

  2. You're welcome Elisa! I'm still growing into lent too :) How deep is our Catholic faith!