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These 40 Days of Lent

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are among the ways families take stock and renew themselves in preparation for the celebration of Easter.
by Mary Zurolo | Source:
As a child growing up in the 1940s near Abita Springs, La., Sandra Miesel viewed Lent as an extremely serious time.

Two weeks before Easter, statues of the saints in churches were covered with pruple cloth to demonstrate the solemnity of the season.

"Seeing the statues covered was a powerful symbol," Miesel says. "Your friends, the saints, were hidden from you. It was vaguely unsettling."

Since the Second Vatican Council, most Catholic churches no longer shroud saints´ statues during Lent. Nonetheless, many conspicuous and simple ways exist for Catholics to observe the Church´s call to repentance during this 40-day period of prayer, penance and spiritual endeavor in preparation for Easter.

Rosemary Bauer, a mother of four from Marion, Iowa, places a small glass filled with sand in the middle of her kitchen table. "It serves to remind us of Jesus being in the desert for 40 days," says Bauer. Her husband Kennethis amember of Joseph C. Carroll Council 5390 in Marion.

Some years, Bauer fills the glass with rice. "It reminds us that others go hungry," Bauer says. Her children appreciate Lenten meals more, she says, even if it´s just scrambled eggs and toast, when they consider that for some children, rice is all they have.

Take On and Give Up

Observing Lenten rituals and practices is important, according to Msgr. John C. Duncan, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Carmel, Ind., and a member of Father M. Joseph McDonnell Council 1044 in Carmel.

Lent has a twofold aim, according to Msgr. Duncan. "The purpose of Lent is, one, to renew one´s baptismal commitment and to remove from our lives those imperfections, failings or sins that prevent us from living out our baptismal commitment," he says. "And, number two, is to grow in virtue."

To live out these aims, Msgr. Duncan asks parishioners to prayerfully discern one sin that prevents them from living out their baptismal commitment and to develop the virtue which is contrary to that sin. For instance, if the sin is unkindness, brusqueness or lack of respect, a parishioner might be encouraged to develop the virtue of charity, he says.

Msgr. Duncan advises parishioners to develop virtues gradually.

"Instead of saying, ´OK, I´m going to be charitable toward everyone,´ choose one person each week whom you´ve been most unkind to and work on being charitable to that person to really develop kindness," Msgr. Duncan says. "This way one really develops a strategy to deepen this virtue."

Ginger Peterson´s family from Adel, Iowa, tries to achieve this kind of spiritual balance during Lent. Each year her family gives up something but also tries to add a charitable activity to its schedule, she says.

"One year we gave up chocolate and said an extra prayer each day for a person that we knew who really needed a lift," says Peterson, a mother of four. "Last year we spent one hour a day in [eucharistic] adoration and added spiritual reading to our daily list."

Dominican Father Angelo Henry Camacho also emphasizes the importance of practicing positive acts of charity as well as acts of self-denial

"The redemptive challenge is our own invitation to follow Christ ‹ not just giving up but taking on," says Father Camacho, an itinerant preacher who is also known widely for his marriage renewal programs. "Taking on is greater than simply giving up."

Read the Bible

Msgr. Duncan encourages his parishioners to deepen their prayer lives during Lent and to make reading one major book of the Bible a Lenten goal.

It is not always easy to fit time for spiritual reading into a busy schedule, however, without eliminating some other activity.

Teresa Zepeda´s family tries to turn off the radio and pray in the car. Family members also replace time spent watching television with spiritual reading.

"I make sure to have books that are appropriate spiritual reading for different age groups around the house so that they are readily handy," says Zepeda, a mother of seven from Jerome, Idaho. Her husband Thomas is a member of Jerome Council 8780.

In her self-published book The Forty Days of Lent for the Christian Family, Zepeda gives suggestions for spiritual reading. For adults, she recommends Pope John Paul II´s encyclical Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man), The Catholic Catechism by Jesuit Father John Hardon (Image Books), and The Lord by Romano Guardini (Regnery Publishing).

For young children, Zepeda suggests picture books on the lives of the saints or the life of Jesus. She sometimes obtains art books from the library with reproductions of masterpieces of Christ´s life or the Virgin Mary.

"Even young children, just by looking at them [the pictures], can get a lot out of it," Zepeda says.

For older children, she recommends A Child´s Rule of Life by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson (Neumann Press), as well as prayer books and religious poetry.

Offering It Up

Msgr. Duncan also urges parishioners to practice traditional penances, such as abstaining from something pleasurable. The aim of such sacrifices is to make up for past excesses and to develop willpower, he says.

"If you can say no to something good like chocolate, then it is going to be a little easier to say no to something really evil like lying," he says.

Indeed, penance which is from the Latin for a "change of heart," is never an end in itself. Penance is always considered in light of Easter.

For the Bauers, spiritual growth through a change of heart is necessary to reliving, not just commemorating, the mystery of Easter redemption.

"I think Lent is a really reflective time for us," Bauer says. "It prepares us to more fully enjoy and appreciate Holy Thursday, when we were given the Eucharist, and Good Friday, when Jesus died."

Charlene Addario has discovered a creative way to remind her family of how Lent´s sacrifice leads to Easter´s salvation.

One year, this mother of three from Milford, Conn., purchased a life-sized plastic rooster and placed it on the table during Lent. She asked her children its significance.

"My son came up with the right answer," Addario says. "He said it was there to remind us of our Lord´s prophecy of St. Peter´s denial: ´Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.´"

"That passage is so rich in meaning," Addario says. "Don´t we, too, deny our Lord at least three times a day by our thoughts, words or actions? Shouldn´t we ´weep bitterly´ over our sins?

"And what I find so amazing about all of this is that despite all our failings and weaknesses, our Lord still loves us," Addario says. "Lent is a time to become aware of our refusals to love God and repent."

Miesel sums up the reason why her family marks Lent: "To prepare your soul for Easter; no cross, no crown."

Lenten Activities For Your Family.
Activities for Children

The word "Alleluia" means "Praise the Lord" and is a word of rejoicing, notes Bernadette Snyder in Saintly Celebrations and Holy Holidays (Liguori Publications). During the somber season of Lent we do not say it. Talk to your children about Lent and how it will end with the "Alleluia," time of Easter. Use crayons, glue, sequins, poster board or felt to make a colorful poster and choose one family member to hide the word "Alleluia" somewhere in the artwork. On Easter morning, make a big deal out of finding the word. Bring out the poster and use it as an Easter decoration.

Of all the symbols Christians use to represent new life on Easter, the butterfly is one of the most well known. Throughout Christian history it has stood as a strong symbol of Christ´s resurrection, of new life where there seemed to be only death. In the language of Easter, the caterpillar represents life, and the cocoon, the tomb where Jesus lay for three days after he died.

In Catholic Family, Catholic Home (Twenty-Third Publications), Notre Dame Sister Mary Kathleen Glavich suggests the following activity designed to help children understand Lent and Easter. Put some branches loosely in a can or set them in plaster. Make caterpillars out of pipe cleaners and butterflies out of paper. Fasten the caterpillars to the branches. Each time a family member does a good deed, he or she may replace a caterpillar with a butterfly. By Easter, the tree should be full of colorful butterflies.

The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are charitable actions designed to help our neighbor in both his spiritual and physical needs. The spiritual works of mercy are: instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. Discuss in your family how you can increase your spiritual works of mercy and resolve to practice one work of mercy together during the week.

The corporal works of mercy are: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.

The Catholic Parent Book of Feasts (Our Sunday Visitor) suggests making a "works of mercy mobile." Either draw or cut from magazines pictures to fit the description of each work. Attach them to a hanger with tape and string. Hang your mobile in the kitchen to remind you to do these works during Lent.

Activities for Adults

Couples may want to consider reading together a section of the Bible or the day´s Scripture reading and then reflecting aloud on what it means.

Many Catholics try to deepen their prayer life during Lent. To help focus during this extra prayer time, Msgr. Duncan suggests visually concentrating on a symbol, such as a picture of Christ, a crucifix or a tabernacle.

Before beginning her prayers, Teresa Zepeda says she tries to spend a minute or two focusing on God´s presence.

"That´s a prayer in itself," she says. "It allows tim for the Holy Spirit to speak to you."

Guide to the Sacrament of Penance
The Knights of Columbus offers free of charge a pamphlet on the sacrament of reconciliation (#2075). The pamphlet explains Church teaching on the sacrament and offers questions to help guide one through an examination of conscience. The Act of Contrition and a prayer to Our Lady before confession are also included. To get a free copy, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Columbia, 1 Columbus Plaza, New Haven, 06510-3326. The text of the pamphlet is also available at the Order´s Web site(see below) Use this Internet address to get to the text:

Reprinted with permission from Columbia Magazine, the publication of the Knights of Columbus. All rights reserved.

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