The Lenten devotionals started arriving in my mailbox before Advent was over. We keep a box in the office. On one side it says “Lent/Easter,” on the other, “Advent/ Christmas.” The box fills quickly. Churchy people like me delight in the selection and struggle to make just the right choice for helping families celebrate Lent with this year’s meditation and prayer. We think everyone should be as excited about this season as we are.
We spend hours planning activities and celebrations that we hope will impact the families we serve. The reality may be sobering. Sometimes we plan too much. Do families really care about the season of Lent, and all of its signs and symbols, all of its opportunity and potential? What can we do to help the families in our charge get the most out of this sacred time without overwhelming them with the choices?
Start with the basics.
Encourage families to focus on the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in their homes.
- Prayer—Provide simple, age-appropriate devotions for both children and adults. Parents need to nourish their own spirituality in order to nourish that of their children. Children like interactive devotions. Teens are not too old or too young for either.
- Fasting—Encourage not only “giving up” but “adding to.” In addition to giving up a favorite food or activity, invite families to consider adding an activity or habit. Practice complimenting others, expressing gratitude, and being helpful. Fast from bad habits; practice good habits.
- Almsgiving—Give families a reason for gathering those loose coins. Yes, we may have a rice bowl, but why? Make it tangible and visible.
Make it communal.
Assure families that other families are also struggling to make Catholic practices happen in their homes. Give them a venue for sharing their experiences.
- Begin the season with a communal Lent gathering that includes activities designed to encourage family faith formation. One year we reflected on Matthew 6:1–18, handed out purple prayer cloths, decorated glass jars for alms, and created personal family plans for celebrating Lent in our homes.
- Invite families to participate in (not just attend) a family Stations of the Cross service. Include a potluck meal.
- Promote a communal almsgiving project. Create a visual display in church. In one parish, we kept a large wooden salad bowl full of rice in front of the altar throughout Lent. (The servers loved to run their fingers through it after Mass!)
Keep it simple.
We know how busy family life can be any time of the year. Make sure families know our efforts respect their lifestyles without lowering the bar for faith formation.
- Teach families how to create a Lenten focus in their homes. Send visuals home.
- Give examples of ways to carve out small moments of grace in the middle of a busy day. Daily devotions don’t need to last a half of an hour. Take a 3-Minute Retreat together.
- Remind parents to select activities that fit their household. Lenten spirituality should never feel forced or imposed. At the same time, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Our task is to convince families that it can be fun and enriching to celebrate Catholic Lenten traditions at home. What else can we do to nurture family faith formation this Lent?
This article is by Kathy Olenik Henry. Now an Educational Consultant at Loyola Press, Kathy has been involved in the faith formation of children and adults for 20 years. She holds a Masters in Religious Education from Loyola University, New Orleans, and has served as a catechist, DRE, youth minister, and retreat director. She lives in Ohio with her husband and five sons.