It’s hard to believe, but Lent begins this Wednesday, February 22nd.
Lent is a time to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter, and the Church recommends prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as a way to focus our preparation. These are “the 3 pillars of Lent.” While we (hopefully? sometimes? more or less?) practice these all year round, we intensify our devotion to these pillars during Lent as we pause and reflect on our relationship with God.
Here are some ideas for practicing the 3 pillars with your children. If your family is new to these Lenten practices, just pick a few ideas to get started!
Setting aside more time for family prayer during Lent draws us closer to one another and to God. Through family prayer, we begin to recognize ourselves as a family rooted in Christ’s mission, set aside for good works.
Make a plan. When you have kids, it’s easier to plan to pray than to follow through on it! Still, making a plan can help us work toward our hope of praying more as a family. In religious communities, members gather regularly throughout the day to pray together, and we can create similar rituals in our homes. Decide before Lent when you will have family devotions and post the schedule. Depending on your family’s daily routine and work commitments, you might pray in the morning before you all go your own way, then again at dinner, and/or perhaps before bed. You can adjust your prayer schedule as needed.
Choose prayers. I find it helpful to use a dedicated devotional during Lent. Sarah Reinhard’s family Lenten devotional looks wonderful if your children are small. I tend to try something new every year for our Lenten devotions. One year, I purchased all my children their own Shorter Christian Prayer, and I taught them how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This year, we’re trying Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Lent. I’m also intrigued by The Word Became Flesh by Faye Maynard, which has daily reflections along with instructions for making a Lenten ornament wreath similar to an Advent Jesse tree.
Stations of the Cross
Here is a short Stations of the Cross Meditation. Facing the Crucifix and realizing the pain Jesus endured in each station.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless You, because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.
Say the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be to the Father, and “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.”
1) Jesus is condemned to death.
2) Jesus bears his cross.
3) Jesus falls the first time.
4) Jesus meets his mother.
5) Jesus is helped by Simon.
6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
7) Jesus falls a second time.
8) Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem.
9) Jesus falls a third time.
10) Jesus is stripped of his garments.
11) Jesus is nailed to the cross.
12 Jesus dies on the cross.
13) Jesus is taken down from the cross.
14) Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Heavenly Father, You delivered your Son to the death on the cross to save us from evil. Grant us the grace of the resurrection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
During Lent, we “give things up” not to torture ourselves, but to free ourselves! By sacrificing food (including meat on Fridays for family members 14 and older) and other things we find pleasurable during Lent, we are eliminating any stumbling blocks between ourselves and God’s love. It’s a way of paying attention to unhealthy attachments; usually the thing I most need to sacrifice for Lent is the thing I least want to sacrifice! Some children are too young to understand this spiritual battle, but we can still lead them in making their little sacrifices.
Sacrifice beans. Lacy over at Catholic Icing has a very do-able idea for using a box of beans to keep track of sacrifices and good deeds with your kids.
Family sacrifice. Every year my family chooses something to give up for Lent together in addition to our individual sacrifices. The last few years, we gave up screens on Fridays. We receive many graces because of this sacrifice, and it makes our Friday Stations of the Cross all the more reverent.
Offer acts of faith. If your faith life is stale or stagnant, instead of giving up something tangible (like food), commit to praying every day instead. Our sacrifices should come from love, not a sense of guilt or obligation. I think it’s critical to teach this to our children.
Social media. I have another challenge for the modern family: don’t announce your sacrifices on social media. (This tip is most relevant for parents and teenagers.) While posting your sacrifices is a great way to offer a little insight into the richness of our Catholic Faith during Lent, it can also become an end in itself. You can start feeling like your sacrifice isn’t complete unless you’ve posted about it on social media. By making your sacrifices privately and without recognition, you are practicing many virtues: generosity, self-control, love, and humility.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
As a sign of gratitude for all God has given us, and as an act of love to those in need, Christians give generously to the poor and needy, especially during Lent.
Donate toys and clothing. We can guide our children in choosing some of their toys and games to donate to charity, in addition to clothing they no longer wear. They can help us pack up these items and deliver them to charity shops. It’s easier to do it without our children’s help, but then they would miss the lesson in letting go of objects that can bless others.
Money jar. Many families keep a jar (or something similar) on the dinner table during Lent where they collect loose change, allowances, and money saved from abstaining from expensive foods and hobbies. Toward the end of Lent, we take this money and donate it to a charity that we choose together. If you need help finding a decent charity, Pope Francis launched the Missio app, which allows you to choose a charity to donate to with confidence that your money is going where it’s needed.
Alms of the heart. A lovely insight from Catherine Doherty: We can also offer alms of the heart in our families: little acts of kindness, words of encouragement, and hidden acts of service. These lessons are very powerful for children.
A simple act of kindness can go viral. Steve Hartman, of CBS News, every year airs an episode on the Secret Santa, who gives away $100 + bills to total strangers. He also showers the recipients with great comments.
According to Steve, this all started when a homeless man went into a cafe with the intention of ordering the most expensive meal on the menu and then walking out without paying. The alert cafe owner saw what was about to happen and slipped up behind the man and gave a twenty dollar bill, which he said he must have dropped on the floor.
The man had his meal, paid for it and walked out. Upon thinking about what had happened, he vowed that if he ever became rich he would do the same. He did become rich and started his Secret Santa routine of giving away one hundred bills to total strangers.
He has long since passed, but someone else has taken up the baton and the practice continues, all because a very alert cafe owner gave a homeless man a twenty dollar bill.
The above shows that kindness can go viral and it can be as little as a smile, a kind word, an uplifting gesture. Remember everything is a blessing to ourselves and those we encounter.
May God Bless all as we all get closer to God this lenten season,