Today is a new day. Spring is in the air and I think I even see patches of grass beneath the snow. We are in Lent and are making our way through the darkness of winter into the sweet fragrance of spring. What opportunities does this time offer us and our families?
Begin with the End in Mind
I suppose the first place to start is at the end. You see, the victory has already been won and we are the recipients of marvelous grace. So, we can remember that while we walk sometimes very dark paths, we are also guaranteed help from above, through the merit of the Cross. The penitential part of our Lenten journey should be tough, it should be challenging, it should bring into question aspects of our lives that need to change. I need to evaluate honestly if I am selfish, if I am hurtful, if I am unjustly stubborn. All this introspection, while difficult to face, should be colored by the redeeming love that we are promised in the resurrection. We, too, want to be redeemed; we, too, want to receive new life.
Savor the Richness
Lent is one of the richest times in our Church calendar, in which we remember the moments and events that mark the fulfillment of the mission of Jesus on earth. We should savor this time with our kids and grandkids. We can help them taste this liturgical season by taking them to a church; to see how the decorations have changed; we can point out the crown of thorns; we can point out the stations of the cross; and all the other various statues, windows and decorations which bring alive the Lenten season.
Another way we can bring the season into our homes is to adopt some of the aspects of the season. At Christmas, we don’t have a problem putting up a Christmas tree and Christmas lights. Well, with a little creativity and perhaps a little investment of our money, we can prepare some appropriate decorations for Lent for our homes. It is not too difficult to make a crown of thorns from branches, or you can purchase a more authentic one. Most families have a crucifix on their wall, which can become the centerpiece of a Lenten “prayer corner” or “Lenten scene.” Safe candles can be found cheaply at the dollar store; these light and flicker like the real thing without the worry or danger of being knocked over and starting a fire.
Over the years, I kept my eye out at Catholic gift shops for little statues or pictures that I could use for our Lenten decorations. I have seen palms (Palm Sunday), statues of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles (Holy Thursday), the stations of the Cross (Good Friday), the Pieta (Good Friday), the empty tomb (Easter Sunday), the resurrected Jesus (Easter Sunday), the cross with a white fabric signifying that Jesus is no longer on the cross and also no longer in the tomb, and there are many more like these. The whole idea is to use the liturgical colors, purple for most of Lent, red on Good Friday and white on Easter Sunday together with our decorations to keep in the forefront of our kids’ minds that we are in a different time of year and our conversations can then surround these symbols and colors and scenes.
Light a Candle in the Darkness
Catholics have a wonderful tradition of lighting candles at churches, chapels and especially at shrines. We are blessed to have many beautiful churches in our state and several shrines, such as Holy Hill in Hubertus, the Shrine to Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, and the Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse. Visit a parish nearby or travel to one of our wonderful shrines and light a candle. Light it together with your children; they usually love to light candles. Use the opportunity to tell them that all candles represent Christ, who is the light of the world. Each candle is also an intention for a specific person or situation or need. Teach your children to turn to God in their needs. There will be very many needs and struggles in their lives, for which there will be no ready answers or solutions. Teach them to turn to Jesus.
While you are lighting the candles, have your children look up and look around. Very often the candles will be in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Teach them about the incredible brave girl who, as a 14- or 15-year-old teenager said yes to God’s plan; she said yes with all her heart. Teach them to pray for Mary’s intercession, teach them the Hail Mary, the rosary and the Memorare. Teach them to love Mary, who loves them so, so very much.
Finally, Wear Your Cape
You probably never thought of yourself as a cape-wearing hero, but that is what you are. I paraphrase St. John Paul II, who always said something like, “Be what you are.” What he meant was that you need to first recognize what you are in the eyes of God — that is your true identity. Then, once you figure that out, do everything in your power to live that in your daily life. We parents and grandparents are our kids’ and grandkids’ heroes. Especially when they are young, they think we know everything and that we can do everything. While this is not entirely accurate — we know well our failures and shortcomings — they often are oblivious to that side of us.
While they imagine us to be heroes, we should endeavor to act like it. And what does God see in us? He sees children, beautiful, quirky, unique, spunky, mundane, thoughtful, creative, impulsive children. We are the work of his hands and he sees in us the image of his perfections. He made us to reflect and show forth his own goodness and virtues. So, while none of us possesses all the virtues, each of us possesses some of them. So it is our jobs to live as closely united to God as possible and in that way reflect his goodness.
Lent is a perfect time to put on the cape. Do not be afraid of it; it is your birthright in baptism, it is your divine call and it is the path, not only for your own happiness and fulfillment, but also for the greatest benefit for our children and grandchildren. Do not be afraid to be the person God has called you to be, do not be afraid of the crosses he sends your way, do not be afraid to ask for help, do not be afraid to say yes. This Lent, wear your cape, light a candle, bring Lent home to savor its richness, and begin with the end in mind.