Lent can be a somber time. It requires some serious work for us to slow down, understand its significance, mark the season with service and sacrifice, and prayerfully prepare for Christ’s resurrection. With so many everyday distractions and obligations, how can Catholic parents help their children focus their minds, hearts and spirits during the Lenten season?
One of the best ways, agree religious educators, is to set a good example. “Parents need to model what it means to prepare during Lent,” says Ruth Bradley, director of youth faith formation for St. Irenaeus Church in Cypress. “We think of Lent as a time to give things up, but we can also do things we haven’t done before, like taking hand-made cards to patients at a senior center.”
Giving up a bad habit or forgoing a special treat are traditional ways to sacrifice during Lent, notes Cindy Hurley, director of children’s religious education at St. Kilian Church in Mission Viejo. “But what can we do to be closer to Jesus? We can use this time to find the gifts we have for others and to be a light for them in the dark times.”
Parents can model what it means to be in prayer both at home and at church. Taking children to church on Fridays to pray the Stations of the Cross is an important way to celebrate Lent with their parish community. “We need to show children what it means to prepare for this tremendous event,” Bradley explains. “We know that Jesus has to die before he can rise. Lent is an important celebration for who we are as Catholics and Christians.”
Ash Wednesday prayer services and parish-driven family service projects are often part of the Lenten calendar of events. Parishes distribute rice bowls to prompt families to think about others, collect donations for the less fortunate, and pray for people throughout the world during Lent.
At home, parents can show children the importance of Lent by setting aside special times in their busy schedules to pray and meditate. A place of prayer is important, too; many Catholic families position a prayer table in a quiet corner of their homes, furnishing it with items such as a Bible, candle and crucifix. The prayer table becomes the family’s Lenten place of worship, separately and together. Each person can contribute written offerings and put them into a basket placed there, filling it with the ways each of them have tried to share the light of Christ with others, the sacrifices they’ve made to help others, or their prayers for the season.
“Lent provides a great opportunity for families to undertake service projects for the community or to strengthen family bonds with prayer time,” agrees Hurley. “It’s a time for family members to share what they are grateful for, how they intent to improve their lives, and the ways they will serve others.”
Incorporating service to others reminds family members to positively express their Christianity in new ways, such as volunteering at a local food bank or collecting food for the hungry. “What we do during Lent makes a difference in our lives afterwards,” Hurley notes. “It’s not an easy thing for us; it’s a challenge.”
The Lenten season can be a time for parents to reinforce the faith for their children, Bradley says. “Children need to know, and be reminded about, who they are as Catholics.”