We are blessed to live in an age with endless resources for Lent: hundreds of devotional books with a Lenten focus and countless blogs and video resources that offer activities and messages to be consumed throughout Lent. We can be tempted to signup for these or to purchase something and say: “this is what I am doing for Lent!” But this can become detached from the true aims of this penitential season. We also need to be sure that the penitential season of Lent is not just something we embark on as an individual but as a family, as a Domestic Church. First, let us review what the Church says about the penitential nature of Lent:
again strives to make each of us seriously consider our misery, so that we may be urged to a practical emendation of our lives, detest our sins heartily and expiate them by prayer and penance. For constant prayer and penance done for past sins obtain for us divine help, without which every work of ours is useless and unavailing.-Mediator Dei 157
The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.-Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 109
As we can see from these select passages, Lent is not simply about doing something or signing up for something or consuming resources. Lent gets at the heart of what penance truly is, both with regard to sin and the challenge to turn toward the Lord more fully. The universal Catechism states:
Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).-CCC 1431
By the end of Lent, we should have had opportunities to uproot vice and to grow in holiness, to become closer to Jesus Christ! So, what should we do for Lent? With these three quotes above, call a family meeting in the next few days. Each person should make a plan for their own sacrifices (less screen time, no social media, taking a break from a favorite hobby) and take up opportunities to grow in Christ through prayer and meditation, going to Mass more frequently, fasting on days besides those required by the Church (and offering them up for the good of others!), and carrying out acts of Christian charity for the good of others and the glory of God.
Start the family meeting with prayer. Share your ideas for your individual penances this Lent. It is easier to hold each other accountable, and to help each other when we fall, if we share our plans. Then discuss what you as a family can do to pray more together, to read the bible together more, to go to weekday Mass together or Eucharistic Adoration, to get everyone to the Sacrament of Penance/Confession, etc. Allow Lent to be a time to not only turn from sin and become closer to Christ as individuals but also for the family to become closer in Christ. Then conclude your meeting with prayer.
Our family will write it down. Then we will place it in a bag or two to be buried. Why do we bury it? We also include a large written “Alleluia” to go with our penance notes. We will bury them the day before Lent because during Lent we no longer say “Alleluia” (humorously: our kids call it…”The A word”). We then will dig it back up on Holy Saturday since that night’s Easter Vigil will have the Great Alleluia and we can also review our notes as a family on Holy Saturday: How did Lent go? Did we grow? Did we fall? Did we fall and get back up (by God’s grace!)? What fruits of the Holy Spirit have we seen growing in us? How are we closer to Jesus Christ? How are we closer as a family and as a family in Christ?
Whatever you do, be intentional as a family. Intentionally choose Christ as a family.