The Lenten season is an ideal time to deepen the faith in your family. Deep, personal and mature faith is a necessity that is why every family needs to work at it. It is not something that comes naturally nor easily. It demands sincere commitment to make faith grow in the family and lots of hard work. The easy part of being parents is the physical creation of life. The hard part is the continuous creation of life in their children. This continuous re-creation of life includes the cultivation of a family spirituality that will help children grow up in an atmosphere of prayer and deep commitment to doing God’s will.
Allow me to offer a few suggestions on how to develop an atmosphere where faith and commitment can grow in your family this Lent. Let me also share a few points on how to make Lent a season to strengthen the closeness and intimacy in your home.
PRAY TOGETHER AT HOME
An ideal atmosphere for any family is one of togetherness and prayerfulness. One researcher asked 1500 children as to what they think makes a happy family. The results say it all. The children didn’t name money, cars, or mansions as necessary for family happiness. They all agreed that simply doing things together makes a happy family. My childhood experience confirms it – the happiest times of my life were the moments when we were all together as one happy family.
As much as possible do things together with your whole family. Prepare food together, eat together, wash the dishes together, recreate together, clean the house together, study together, sleep together. There is nothing more inspiring than parents and children having good time together. By being with their children, parents can express their love without even saying it. The natural fruits of spending time together are closeness and intimacy. Not even the most expensive presents can take the place of your simple presence.
One very important thing that should be done together regularly by the whole family is PRAYER. Lent is a season of prayer and penance, thus it is an opportune time for you to gather again at your family altar and make prayer a part of your daily family life. Read the bible and reflect on its message everyday as a family. Recite the rosary together. Say grace before and after meals together. Offer a prayer together to God before and after sleeping. Give thanks to God together before going to and after work. Lift your worries to God together. Whatever prayer you wish to offer God, just do it with the whole family. And it is the parents who should take the initiative for the whole family to spend lots of times together in prayer. For any child will learn to worship and adore God who lives his/her daily life with parents who worship and adore him.
GO TO MASS AS A FAMILY
The Lenten season of forty days is essentially a time to return to the Lord, to do penance for the wrongs we have committed and to undergo true conversion. Thus it presupposes a raging hunger for God and for new life in Christ. What else can satisfy our hunger for God’s intimacy and newness of life but the Holy Eucharist. For in the Eucharist we receive no less than Christ himself, who is the living bread of our spiritual life. The Catechism for Filipino Catholics states that “the Eucharist responds to the deepest human hungers, both personal and communal. Such are the basic human hungers for love and acceptance, understanding, purpose in life, and justice and peace” (# 1708).
These basic human hungers can be easily felt in our families. Thus the Eucharist’s importance in our family life is crystal-clear. It is precisely in regularly going to Mass as a family that we can gradually find satisfaction for our need for love and acceptance, understanding, purpose in life, and justice and peace. In the Eucharist we hear Christ’s words, receive his body (and blood) and experience his love. What we have received from Christ in the Eucharist is something which we must also give. The challenge is to make Jesus’ words and actions our own. When his words become our own and our actions reflect a life of self-giving service, then the Eucharist becomes extremely meaningful because it has now become a bold proclamation of our commitment to Christ and of our concern for each other.
The challenge therefore for families this Lent is to live Eucharistic lives. To live Eucharistic lives is to make everything we do flow from our experience in the Eucharist. It is to transform our everyday activities and works into meaningful service of God and our neighbor. It is to constantly strive at deepening our knowledge of God and bettering our response to him. What this means is that all of the family’s undertakings, values, plans and decisions, successes and worries, joys and pains should find its source and summit in the Eucharist. In this way, all you do as family then becomes a means of expressing your total dependence on God and your gratitude for his ever-present love.
DO THREE LOVING ACTS EACH DAY
Do three loving acts each day this Lent – one for God, one for your family, and one for yourself. It might be as simple as massaging the head of your Papa when he has headache or as commonplace as taking time to listen to your children or as modest as helping your manghod bandage a cut or as sublime as planting a tree in your backyard. Whatever you do, make it an act of love. Love is what matters and makes all the difference. For each loving act you do you communicate loud and clear – I love you. God loves you. I care. God cares.
There are three traditional Lenten practices – almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These could well serve as your three loving acts. Almsgiving means getting personally involved with the poor and compassionately helping them alleviate their plight. Prayer means reflecting on these questions – How’s my relationship with God? With others? How will I grow close to God during these forty days? Is there something I can’t give up which is hurting my relationship with God, with my family and friends? Are my values and priorities in proper order? Fasting is a symbolic expression of our self-offering to God and of our detachment from all the transitory material things in this world (like food) in order to become open for spiritual values and to see clearly what really counts in life. In a word, fasting means to thirst and hunger for God.
Do each loving act not for self-satisfaction but for the praise and glory of God. Imagine each of you doing at least three loving acts each day. What a happy, healthy, and holy family you’ll have. And you don’t have to do “great” things in order to achieve this at home. You only have to do the ordinary ones – like encouraging your children often, praying with and for your family habitually, being honest with your children – but with extraordinary love. When Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Prize, she was asked, “What can we do to promote peace?” She replied, “Go home and love your family.”
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