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Making Our Lenten Plans

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Feb 28, 2017

Ash Wednesday is right around the corner. This is another year with a later beginning to Lent. I should have used the extra weeks of Ordinary Time as an opportunity to be extra-prepared for Lent, but it seems the last days of Carnival or Mardi Gras are always full of extra activity, keeping me from finalizing those Lenten plans.

I don’t feel guilty or rushed, though. The Church provides the first few days of Lent (Ash Wednesday to Saturday) as guidelines to enter into the spirit of Lent. I usually have tentative plans, but I also wait to see what God suggests for me during Lent. Sometimes doesn’t unfold until Lent has begun. Lent isn’t about me “giving up” and overcoming faults and accomplishing good works on my own, but a time to cooperate with grace. I may fall on my face many times, but this is a good reminder that I need Christ. By myself I can do nothing!

With the last hours of Mardi Gras ticking away, this is the direction our family will take this Lent:

1. Same but Different

Just as the Church’s liturgy repeats every year, my family’s personal program for Lent will have a similar structure from year to year. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel each Lent. I follow our basic program, which includes prayer and reading, almsgiving and fasting. As I mentioned a few years’ ago, as guided by the Ash Wednesday liturgy:

Lent is turning away from sin, practicing almsgiving, prayer and fasting in secret. And these are not just external acts, but reflected as changes in the heart. And this needs to be done now, no procrastination. There is no other acceptable time then the present moment. To get to Easter we must carry our cross with Christ, enter into death with Christ, to rise again with Him.

All very easy to type, but not so easy to practice. And how to put this in a practical way for the family, especially for my children? As a mother, Lenten planning is not just about me. I have to consider:

  1. my personal plan
  2. areas together with my husband
  3. my children’s plans, to help guide them
  4. our plan as a family

Our family has been talking and planning together for a few weeks on how we are going to spend this season. For years I have used the Personal Program for Lent as a simple guideline. What areas do we need to make changes? What ways are we going to practice self-denial? What tweaks or changes or additions to our prayer life? What will be our main penance that we will work on during Lent?

Once we settle on a basic program for our family, I focus on ways to remember to stick to the plan. What can remind us about our Lenten resolutions? How to keep the momentum through the 40 days?”

What is different is us. We are a year older, and at different places in our spiritual lives. Some of us have experienced some backsliding, others have advanced. We need to take that into consideration when we decide on our Lenten plans.

2. Identifying our Weak Areas

I use Mardi Gras/Carnival time to say goodbye to our favorite treats, but also is a useful time to observe our family’s faults and bad habits. Overall our family is weak in these areas:

  • Unkind in words and tone of voice to family members
  • Laziness
  • Untidiness
  • Selfishness

For every little area that we are “giving up” we need to choose something to replace it with, otherwise the “vacuum” we create worse habits will develop

  • I choose to return to a stricter diet for my health, but replacing the unhealthy choices with whole foods. I’m also going to prepare more variety for dinner meals, and serve them with more love and cheerfulness.
  • My sons will try to stop speaking unkindly to each other, but in turn choose to do something nice for their brother.
  • The family members that are grumpy and slow to move in the morning will get up faster and with silence. I’m not sure if they can replace the grouchiness with a smile, though. That might be asking a little much.
  • There will be no TV and radio, and less Internet for me, but replaced with more reading, family game nights, and work with our hands such as making pysanky (see Lent: A Time of Contemplation for All).

3. Helping Older Children

My sons are 9 and 13. Gone are the days where Lenten activities are all planned by Mom and Dad. We are more of facilitators or guides now; we discuss and hopefully lead our sons to making decisions and choosing Lenten penances and work that fit their needs.

As our children get older, there is a shift in their focus. They want to connect with the larger community outside of the family. They are concerned about injustices in the world. They see pain and sickness and wars and have a new interest in politics. Their prayers are directed to all these concerns.

Older children also want to make a connection with the larger Church, learn about Her Roman roots, and the whole Mystical Body.

With this bigger picture comes new responsibilities and focus. Lent is an opportunity to examine not just family relations, but relationships with classmates, teammates, teachers and the bigger society. Practicing etiquette and gentlemanly manners is practicing charity for others. They can also use Lent to understand how to be more empathetic or find ways to be kind to those who can be annoying or prickly. They are also looking for opportunites for social work in our local community, like helping with the parish food pantry.

4. On the Road Again

Our family has gone through some changes this year. For the first time both sons are in school, which is a big change from our homeschooling. In their younger years Lent was a time to hunker down at home. That is changing as the boys grow older. We are part of a larger social circle with outside commitments. Basketball season ended this Saturday; baseball season begins. There are also school, parish and work commitments.

This all translates into less time at home. Family devotions and activities have to fit into the small amount of time we are together, and they are usually centered around meal times or times we are in the car.

5. Time of Contemplation

And finally, we still will make time to have our reading and contemplative work or our “Ora et Labora” as I mentioned in Lent: A Time of Contemplation for All. Our work will be calligraphy and Ukrainian eggs (pysanky). I have seen how this forces us to slow down, which is what we need especially during Lent.

And all of us will have our Lenten reading. I follow some of Maria Von Trapp’s guidelines for a Lenten Reading Program: something for the mind, for the heart, and for the soul. This is another area we will discuss together with our children instead of “assigning” certain books without consulting them.

In planning our Lent, we turn to the familiar structure we have set through the years, but adjust for our changing dynamics. The boys grow older and our social circle widens, but we still need to have that interior focus, prayer and quiet time and keep working on family relationships. Not everything will be accomplished or set in place from Ash Wednesday on, but we are setting up our process and working with Christ to remain with Him this Lent.

For Further Reading, see my previous posts on the Lenten season:

Lent:

Roman Stations:

Feasts of Lent:

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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