There is much to be said for the traditional customs and disciplines of our faith. But that doesn’t stop our family from actively avoiding the forty-ONE days of Lent. When the practice of using up the shortening in the house, to prepare for reduced eating during Lent, prompted the making of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, it might have made historical sense. Today, as a man who likes protein, pancakes on the day before required fasting and abstinence seems like a poor way to fortify myself. So, in our house, we have modified the yearly last hurrah into ‘Steak’ Tuesday.
It makes sense that each Lent offers an opportunity to take another step on the stairway to heaven, advancing in holiness by disciplining the temptations to think primarily of ourselves. Hearing the call to fast, pray, and give alms should prompt us to re-examine the many ways we choose our comfort over God and neighbour. Seeing one’s own unfiltered selfishness is not a pretty picture.
There is lots of wisdom in the liturgical cycle of the Church – times of fast and feast, recalling the stories from our family of faith. But the living out of our faith does not take place for the most part in the sanctuary and meeting rooms at the parish. Where the rubber really meets the road is in our interactions away from the consolations and encouragements of our common worship at Mass. It’s with friends, at work, and in the home that a more accurate picture of our dedication to sanctity emerges.
Sometimes family life seems like its own ongoing Lent. Each of us is continuously confronted with the needs and desires of the others: siblings, parents, children, spouse. Neither we nor they are entirely reasonable. And yet, we are still supposed to love one another – as we love ourselves (cf. Matthew 22:39b), as we love God (cf. Matthew 25:40b), and finally even as God loves us (cf. John 13:34). That’s a tough row to hoe, as the saying goes.
But the confines of a shared life together are not only a type of temptation in the desert; they can also be little Gethsemanes with not-my-will-but-thines. Last night, I overheard one of our daughters apologize to a younger sister for her excessive anger earlier in the day. There are many stumbles during a family’s day, but those are also always chances to stand up again renewed. We are proud of our daughters very often, yes, but more so we are thankful for the grace of God present in them as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
It has been said that not only do parents raise children, but children are able to help parents grow up too. The requirement to put another before self is constantly in front of mothers and fathers, starting when they are young, cute, and helpless, and when they are adolescent, awkward, and oppositional. This is the domestic Church in her sanctified fruitfulness. The same opportunity exists in the union of two-become-one, who in spite of the sacramental reality of marriage, remain two individuals. How often do we really seek to put the other first by understanding, by serving, by loving? Perhaps it starts easier in the exciting honeymoon phase of early life together, but it needs to continue as the nuptial years advance.
Scripture and faith more generally use much family language to describe heavenly realities. God is Father; the Church is mother; we are brothers and sisters. And we live together now in anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb, readying ourselves for that celebration as best we can!
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers