18 Ways Your Family Can Walk Together During Lent
The family that prays together, stays together.
Many Lenten practices are, by their nature, private and individual. But this doesn’t mean that Lent is essentially a centered upon the self. Everything we do as Christians is as a community, and as one’s family is a community, we can share our Lent with them just as we can share practically anything else that is beautiful, important and profound.
The following are activities meant to be shared with your family. Feel free to explore them and add your own family religious traditions:
1. Dinnertime is family time. There’s hardly a psychologist alive who would recommend family members eat their meals in their own rooms apart from each other. Treat meals as sacred time that must be respected and honored. There will always be emergencies, and conflicting times schedules will always be difficult to work around, but the effort has to be made to spend real facetime together as a family.
2. Say grace before meals, both in restaurants and at home. Generally speaking, I take seriously Christ’s admonition about praying away from prying eyes (Matthew 6:6) but when one does so for the sake of others rather than for oneself, it seems like a gentle and efficacious means by which to evangelize. Like other overt public displays of piety, this can be a bit humbling but it is a magnificent opportunity to give to God that which is his (Matthew 22:16-22).
3. A family that prays together, stays together. Many of the world’s problems are a direct result of not bringing God into our lives. Prayer can unite, heal, clarify, elucidate and motivate. Start off with grace at meals and work your way up to the Rosary. In this world, it can only help.
4. House blessings. It’s a warm and comforting feeling to have one’s home blessed and dedicated. If your family doesn’t have a priest friend to do the honors, your parish can arrange for one to visit you. I prefer to have my home blessed twice a year — once during Advent and again at Lent. It allows me and my family to be mindful of the change of liturgical seasons and the sanctity of family life.
5. Incorporate liturgical decorations in the home. Families who keep a wreath on their door year-round can augment it with a simple ribbon whose color mirrors the current liturgical season. Simply wrap the ribbon around wreath and allow the excess to hang freely. It’s a great family project, a wonderful evangelization tool and an interesting conversation starter, all for the cost of 10 feet of ribbon.
6. Pray a family Rosary. Father Patrick Peyton, a Holy Cross Father who was very active in family ministry, often repeated his expression: “The family that prays together, stays together.” A more beautiful way to bring prayer and the Light of Christ to one’s family could scarcely be thought of. It creates intimacy, humility, spirituality and a profound introspection — all things sorely missing in our lives and in society in general.
7. Catechize your children. Your primary duty to your children is to love them and keep them safe. A function of this is to teach them the faith that preserved you and your ancestors. Take your Lents together as opportunities for your family to learn and grow together in the faith.
8. Celebrate the sacraments as a family. There is no greater community activity in the Church than the celebration of the sacraments — the Holy Eucharist chief among them. Share the sacraments with your family and you will find yourselves growing closer to each other, to the Church and to God. There are those are believe that it should be the child’s decision as to whether he wants to join you at Mass but this is shortsighted. We never give children choices as to other important things in their lives and God must be the most important thing in his life. Further, if you can credit your own moral development and faith to your parents’ decision that you attend Mass as a family, then why would you now deny that very same important formative experience to your own children?
9. Set up a lawn shrine. Now, before you balk, I will admit there are tacky lawn shrines — but there are tasteful ones too. I’ve come across some badly conceived and poorly executed shrines, but there are some that are quite inspirational. Lawn shrines can serve as a symbol and focus of one’s faith and as a witness to those who do not share our faith.
10. Retreat as a family. As our lives become busier, time taken to recollect becomes all the more important. By taking time away from our busy schedules, we can reconnect with ourselves, our families and our Creator.
11. Volunteer at your parish as a family. There are no parishes in Christendom that have sufficient volunteers to run all of their outreach programs — they can always use a hand. Talk to your pastor or meet with the parish’s lay minister program leader. There are dozens of opportunities for your family to lend a hand in spreading the Kingdom of God on earth.
12. Visit shut-ins. Imagine the loneliness and despair experienced by the forgotten of this world. If we hope to live in God, we must reach out to the infirmed, the elderly and the disenfranchised and demonstrate God’s love for them.
13. Put up Christian mezuzuhim. My observant Jewish friends are proud of their religion. One outward sign of their faith is the use of the mezuzah (Hebrew, “doorpost”), a small piece of parchment inscribed with several biblical passages (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21) and marked with the word Shaddai, an ancient name of God. The parchment is rolled up in the mezuzah and affixed to their doorposts. In imitation of their declaration of their faith, many Christians similarly fashion their own Christian mezuzah. It can be as simple as an actual cross or crucifix or one fashioned from blessed palms. The point is to make a bold, anti-secular statement about one’s faith and one’s family and home.
14. Attend the Easter vigil together as a family. It’s always a good idea for families to celebrate the sacraments together but attending the Easter Vigil is a unique opportunity to share Mass together. Being in a darkened church that gradually becomes full of light as the readings progress is a thrill you and your children will remember for many months.
15. Prepare Easter food baskets. Prepare two baskets of food and ask your parish priest to bless them. Keep one for your Sunday feast and offer the other to a family in need. Ask your pastor if your entire parish can participate in this annual giving.
16. Contribute to a food pantry. When you go grocery shopping for your family, pick up a few extra items to help stock your parish’s food pantry. Solicit your kids’ opinions as to what to buy. Ask them what they think you should do to help others in need.
17. Live a life of good example. We can yell at the top of our voices in the tongues of angels in the marketplace about our love of Jesus but if we are unwilling or incapable of love, our speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell (1 Corinthians 13:1). Remember that the most perfect example you can give of God’s love in your family’s life is to love and honor your spouse. This is the foundation of any child’s moral education and spiritual development.
18. Put God first. How exactly does one put God first in one’s life? It would seem to me that one would use the same means by which anything else could be used to supplant and override him. How does one’s career come first in one’s life? By trading things of value for things that have no lasting value. The same goes for God, our Lover and Creator, the most worthwhile and valuable person in the universe and the One who calls us to be his. Put him first and love and joy will always be yours.