Lent is a rich time in our church calendar because it affords us a little over six weeks to try something new or to remind us what we might have forgotten. Clearly, as a family, you already have so many things to do, but it would be of great benefit to put a little extra effort into this Lent.
First, work on some externals and then work on some internals. Especially if you have small children, you have to make it physical and tangible, then you can link your explanations to the external sign.
Each of the sacraments has an external portion and an internal reality. In baptism, for example, we have the external use of water but internally we have the reality of the cleansing of all sin.
In a similar way, the church uses this sacramental principle for its rituals and celebrations. Make some external changes in your home to let your family know that something is different for the next six weeks.
One simple idea would be to put some purple on your dining room table or some other table in your home. If you really want to get your kids thinking, cover your crucifixes in purple fabric or cover your saint statues in purple.
Now that you have your family’s attention, it is time to move on to the inner work.
All the external signs need to point to the meaning and the internal reality. During Lent, it would be great to read, as a family, the various passages in the Gospels referring to the Passion and death of our Lord. You then have the opportunity to explain the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us: What tremendous love would have moved God to give us even his beloved Son?
Once you finish the Gospels about the Passion you could also pray the “Litany of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” (tinyurl.com/zzy7how), which also reminds us of the price of our salvation.
Another external sign would be to fast from something. For kids you might think that fasting from soda or candy would be the most difficult, but I have seen kids give up their favorite doll for all of Lent. That is a great reminder that this time of the year is different than the rest of the year.
At this point, it would be great to teach your kids a simple examination of conscience. Choose one that uses examples appropriate to your kids’ lives. This will bring home the point that Jesus’ sacrifice was not just for people 2,000 years ago but for us today who need his mercy just as much as those millennia ago.
Once you do an examination of conscience a few times, you will naturally be led to seek out the sacrament of reconciliation. Thankfully, many churches in the archdiocese expand opportunities for reconciliation significantly during Lent so that you should be able to find a convenient time when you and your children can receive the sacrament of forgiveness.
The final step is to finalize the internal work with signs of conversion.
After learning the story of our salvation, after examining our conscience and after receiving the forgiveness of God, we need to offer thanksgiving to God through service to our neighbor.
In families, this is easy to accomplish. There are dozens of opportunities to be of service in the home on a daily basis, such as doing someone else’s chore or doing a chore that has long been neglected or just helping out when you normally do not.
Additionally, all families know someone who is sick or hospitalized or homebound who might need a friendly visit. There are also family members who are isolated through distance who would love to receive a handwritten letter or a phone call.
Finally, there are usually countless collections and activities in churches and schools for the benefit of the poor and those in need.
Follow the church’s lead in using external signs that can lead us to internal change and this Lent will bring new graces to us and our families.
(Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Reyes wears many hats as a business owner, doctoral student and candidate in the deacon formation program for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but he says his most important hat is building his domestic church as a stay-at-home dad and homeschooling his three oldest children.)