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Catholic Activity: Teaching Self-Denial

Teaching children self-denial during Lent is crucial.


Our culture is filled with a variety of innocent pleasures and activities, all good in themselves. Giving up some of these legitimate pleasures is a very strong tradition in our American Catholic observance of Lent, and it has much to commend it. The list of possible things to forego is endless. The virtue comes in each family member picking one of his favorite items. And while one likes to test his will-power to see if he can really persevere in abstention of this good thing, our deepest intention should be more noble: it is a process of purification; it is a way of associating ourselves with the spirit of penance shown by Christ in His forty days; it is a chance for reparation for offenses against the whole Mystical Body of Christ. Throughout all the Mass prayers of Lent, it is evident that we are not to pray for ourselves alone, nor to sacrifice for our own benefit alone, but for the whole Church.

Father Parsch warns us that we "have become such individualists that we are ashamed to hold religious observances in common" and he asks that the "communal approach to religion . . . be revived" (op. cit., p. 78). The family is the normal and natural place for communal acts, and the intentions of family members can reach out and include all in the community.

But in keeping with the admonitions of Christ, we may also decide to give up something in secret. The children might decide to say nothing if their favorite radio or TV program is passed by. The father may give up some of his deserved leisure in his easy chair to play with the children. The mother may forego some secular reading or a card game and perform some special service for a family member instead. The children will need some quiet instruction and aid in how to develop the virtue of self-denial in secret, but they readily respond to such chances for sacrifice.

Activity Source: Lent and Holy Week in the Home by Emerson and Arlene Hynes, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1977

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