I don’t know about you but when I enter the Lenten season, I’m always transported back to my childhood experiences of Lent. I remember giving up sweets and keeping candy bars in one of my dresser drawers. One year the temptation was too great and a few candy bars were prematurely consumed. That one wasn’t easy for me to confess!
Friday night Lenten fare was either Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks or tuna casserole, neither of which overly enticed the palette. My Dad came up with “Kid of the Week” one year, so that whoever was the best behaved had his or her Friday Lenten dinner at Long John Silvers (before we knew that fried foods were bad for you). I made sure that my sister Laura, with whom I always fought, never won.
At St. Joe’s Grade School, I fell in love with “Everyone’s Way of the Cross” at the church on Friday afternoons. Stations of the Cross meant we got out of school early on Fridays and I loved the illustrations of Christ’s Passion in the booklet we used.
On Good Friday, we kids had to fast from 9:00am to 3:00pm. We could drink hot sweetened tea or drop cubes of beef bouillon in a mug of hot water, but no snacking. I just remember getting a headache from fasting but I knew it was important. It was also one of the few days that my sisters and I would sit down and look at the art in our huge family Bible.
I realize now that these simple Lenten traditions really did shape my life of faith as a boy. It allowed the sacred to enter my daily routine for a time. The Stations of the Cross invited me to meditate on the life of Christ. I learned that I could deny myself certain things for a higher principle. And while fasting gave me a slight headache, I knew intuitively that it was a powerful spiritual practice. Somehow I suspect that my vocation as a priest was born in that religious matrix so marked by these practices.
Our society is much more secular than when I was a kid, which is why Lenten practices are probably more necessary now than ever. I know that any practices we can do as a family have the power to shape our lives of faith and draw us closer to Christ and to one another. I am more convinced than ever that the family is a domestic church and that parents are the first teachers in the faith. And what Fr. Patrick Peyton wrote in the introduction to our family Bible still holds true: “The family that prays together, stays together!
Yours in Christ,