January 29, 2016
“Bring prayer to your family, bring it to your little children. Teach them to pray. For a child that prays is a happy child. A family that prays is a united family.”
– Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Let's face it, the Lenten season is just plain extraordinary!
It is, if we let it, one of the most beautiful, soul-lifting and breathtaking times in our lives as Catholics, and in the lives of each of our family members. That is, if we would just let Him enter our lives
What exactly can we do to make this year's Lent the best ever for ourselves and for our families?
Family prayer into practice
Residents of Killdeer, Don and Jeanie Dukart, who have 12 children and four grandchildren (including one son, Anthony, in seminary), give a unique example of what it means to drive home the spirit of Lent amidst the hustle and bustle of family life.
“During Lent, we give up playing electronic games and watching non-Catholic movies,” Jeanie says. “With the extra time we have, we read books about the saints, and spend more time outside, or playing board games with family members. Each individual family member also chooses different things they would like to sacrifice as well, such as candy. We also try to attend daily Mass a couple of times a week, and I usually make a weekly Holy Hour. We normally pray the family Rosary every day, but during Lent we approach it more solemnly, and try to kneel during it.”
As the father of many, Don tries to be open to the call to lead his family to God's love the best that he can, especially during seasons of grace like Lent.
“During Lent, Don reads a good Catholic book to the family aloud, and we talk about it together,” Jeanie says. “In recent years, we have covered
Christ the King: Lord of History, which talks about the history of the Church, and how it fits into world history.”
Impact on their children
Don and Jeanie's daughter Marie, who currently serves as a missionary with Christ in the City, a homeless outreach program in Denver, carries fond memories in her heart of what Lent was like growing up.
“Some years, we would go to the Stations of the Cross every Friday at our local parish,” Marie says. “This devotion touched me deeply. Meditating on the Passion really brought me to realize what Lent is all about. Looking back, I see that our family Lenten devotions definitely helped me grow in my faith, and I am grateful my parents did them with us.”
Interestingly, Marie not only feels that their family Lenten practice made more room for God, but she also thinks they made more room for a healthy family life.
“Not listening to a lot of music or watching movies, especially during the coldest time of the year, was hard, but it brought us closer together as a family,” she says.
Our faith teaches that the family is the “domestic church,” the source of innumerable gifts to the Church at large. What better way to keep our identity as authentic Catholic families alive than by bringing the beauty of the liturgical year into our homes?
Priest encourage the faithful
“We begin our Lenten journey each year by being encouraged to 'repent, and believe in the Gospel,' ” says Fr. Shannon Lucht, Pastor of Queen of Peace in Dickinson. “The Church doesn't just give us this special liturgical season to get us to pray more or to fast more strenuously or to be more generous—as good as all those things are for us. No, the Church gives us the special season of Lent to help us prepare to receive the grace of Easter.”
He adds, that it’s like the Church is telling us that what is coming is so awesome; you need some time to really get ready! “We cannot fully receive what the Lord wants to give us if we aren't open to or desiring of His gift. Therefore, we need to redirect our hearts and our desires away from ourselves and back to God. The Lenten disciplines of increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the ways to do just that.”
This being said, how can we apply this call to action to family life? We all know the busy-ness of family life can be overwhelming at times, but that is all the more reason to make room for the serene, contemplative and penitential spirit of Lent.
“I am amazed—in a sad way—just how many families do not take time to pray together,” Fr. Shannon continues. “And so, the first thing I would recommend is to simply set aside some time to pray together as a family. The rosary, the Stations of the Cross and the Divine Mercy Chaplet are three wonderful devotions that are very conducive to be prayed as a family. Each person in the family can take turns praying the decades or Stations.”
In order to help families live the Lenten season to the fullest, Fr. Roger Synek, Pastor of St. Anthony in Mandaree and St. Anthony in New Town and his parish staff give out packets to all of those who come to Mass on Ash Wednesday. The packets include spiritual goods such as: pamphlets explaining various Catholic teachings, information on how to return to the Catholic Church, Lighthouse Media CD's, articles explaining aspects of the sacrament of confession, and suggestions of helpful activities to do at home during Lent.
“This practice is unique to our parish, and I believe it is a great thing,” Fr. Synek says. “Parishioners take these packets home, and use them with their families. We give them out on Ash Wednesday because it is such a well attended Mass. We see parishioners come to church on this day that do not usually come all year long. By giving them the packet, we can reach out to them in a way that will stick with them.”
Fr. Synek also has a concrete plan of action to help his parishioners grow in their friendship with God during Lent.
“I encourage my parishioners to focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but I also tell them to choose, within these disciplines, specific things that are very easy, moderately easy, and difficult,” Fr. Synek says. “Then I challenge them to try to continue to fulfill one of the disciplines they have chosen for the rest of their lives. If they do this every year, they will really grow in their faith over time.”
The graces we gain will carry us throughout this Year of Mercy in an amazing way. Make it extraordinary!