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Entering Into Holy Week—About Those Teen Years

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 08, 2022 | In The Liturgical Year

As we enter Holy Week, I find I am in a repeating pattern of God providing Lenten opportunities that weren’t exactly what I had personally planned. Sickness, extra time commitments, family issues, etc. all were “interfering” with my Lent. Which is actually “funny” to write, because, while those extra crosses didn’t fit into MY Lenten program I had planned, they actually were the Lent that God planned for me. This IS my Lent; these are the hand-crafted personalized crosses God sent to me. How *I* react and respond to these crosses during this liturgical season is where my spiritual growth happens. Not my will, but His be done.

It can feel discouraging to look at my Lent and wonder if I again wasted this opportunity. And Friday morning’s reading from Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C. in her A Time of Renewal was speaking of this very thing, of looking back at our Lent as we look forward to celebrate this holiest of weeks. “It is necessary and important that we look back, even as we look forward into Holy Week and the Resurrection” (p. 244). We must have the right attitude, though. We have time, and hope. It is never too late to pick up again and return to the Loving Father. “What we want is a right vision, and a full sweep of vision that there is yet time, that love mends, that shame is a healthy thing, and that invincible hope is found in Christ” (p. 246).

This reminds me of how it doesn’t matter how little time there is before Easter. Remember the second reading from Ash Wednesday? “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (1 Cor 6:2). The urgent reminder still applies, now more than ever. Now is the most important moment. I am called to be the Prodigal Son, to pick myself up, turn and run to the Loving Father for love and forgiveness. As St. Josemaría Escrivá says, I am “to play the role of the prodigal son every day, and even repeatedly during the twenty-four hours of the same day” (Friends of God, 214). I am to be discouraged by nothing, and always run back, even if I have to turn back at the last hour before the Holy Triduum.

Liturgical Living with Teenagers

Lent doesn’t “wind down” but it actually gets more intense as we get closer to Easter. We have to walk through our Lord’s footsteps during Holy Week to get to the Resurrection. Over the years my husband and I have tried to have reminders of the liturgy in our home, to help our family enter more deeply during the Triduum. I’ve written it in detail at Celebrating Holy Week in the Home 2022. But my thoughts today are the emphasizing liturgical living, particularly Holy Week with teenagers.

The past few years it’s obvious that living the Liturgical Year at home looks different from the past. It seems to be more of a private time. What we do at home isn’t something to blog about or post on Instagram with lots of photos. In a time when “Liturgical Living” seems to be becoming so commercialized, our family is “downsizing” and actually has less for “show and tell” on social media. It reminds me of the Hidden Life of Jesus, which is actually during his teenage and adult years. From Luke, chapter two, right after the Finding in the Temple, when Jesus was twelve years old, we read:

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

And nothing else is described about that time with Jesus’ home life. This is that time with our own sons!

Beginning in Lent

My husband and I have been dwelling on how things are different simply because they have more outside commitments. There has been a shift in our approach to living the Liturgical Year at home, and it’s been particularly noticeable in Lent. On Ash Wednesday the Gospel of Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 exhorts us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving: Jesus said to his disciples:

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

It is precisely this Gospel passage that has been the guideline for us helping our sons during Lent. Our work as parents has been guiding them in developing a personal relationship with Christ. I have used the philosophies of Maria Montessori and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd through their childhood, trying to give them tools of independence, to respect them as individuals with free will. They are now close to being adults and need some privacy and room to nurture their relationship without adult “interference.”

Providing Framework

When Lent began we came together as a family and discussed what we would do together—extra spiritual activities and mortifications, such as extra daily Masses, Stations of the Cross on Fridays, and daily rosary after dinner. We encouraged them to take on extra activities and penance during Lent. And as one is 14 and the other 18, we discussed the Church’s rules on abstinence and fasting. We suggested a few book titles for spiritual reading.

We are blessed that our sons attend a Catholic school that provides spiritual opportunities such as Mass two times a week, weekly confession, holy hours, a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament on campus, and a Lenten retreat. This provided continual spiritual nourishment during Lent. Plus, when attending school with other Catholics, there will always be “helpful” reminders from teachers and peers.

When our sons were younger, there was much more parental involvement. We never “made” a child do something, but there was more conversation and concrete ways to lead them to enter and remain in the spirit of Lent. Now, we provide the framework and give them the freedom of choice. We asked some leading but not probing questions to make sure they are on the right path. They were making their prayer, almsgiving and fasting choices more privately, just as Jesus directed. Since as an adult we don’t tell all our personal penances and struggles, we realized that this was giving them respect as they are growing into adults.

We asked each son if they had made some Lenten resolutions. Both replied yes, and as parents we could see the efforts they were making throughout Lent. At different times they revealed some of the areas they were working on, but at their pace and choosing. We didn’t force the matter. We were following their signs and only stepped in when it seemed they needed some small reminders. Giving them privacy in this area was probably the biggest shift we made since our sons became teens.

We personally recognize that as an adult resolutions start off strong and often wane as Lent continues (see my opening paragraphs to bring home this reality). Of course this is battling our weak human nature, so as parents we try to provide some support to help with perseverance, without nagging. This Lent in particular was a great help in recognizing this new stage of development, and honoring their growth into men.

There still are the opportunities we provide at home, with family prayer and activities. We also give different spiritual opportunities, such as asking them to help a neighbor spread her mulch, and give them a ride for the Parish Lenten Penance Service, etc. Providing more opportunities with different mentors helps them transition into the larger society.

Giving physical challenges is also key for this age. The adolescent is coming into his own body, and loves to have challenges on feats of strength. Being able to incorporate body, mind and spirit is just the perfect fit, especially for the boys.

Entering Holy Week

We still follow the framework of my post, Celebrating Holy Week in the Home 2022. Priority is attending the liturgy of the Triduum, and we hope to attend the extra Liturgy of Hours that our parish will be offering. Our sons are altar servers through the Triduum. Our oldest is a senior in high school, and has the privilege of serving at the Easter Vigil. Over the years we have tried to provide an appreciation of the richness of the Church’s liturgy, particularly the Triduum. Their enthusiasm is no longer coming from the parents, but part of their own opinions.

They don’t get out of school until Wednesday afternoon, so there isn’t much time for them to help with preparations. Since some of our traditions date back to when they were little, I want to give them room to choose their favorites and the ones they want to do. I usually have a conversation to get their feedback on priority activities and foods. (Almost always, their number one favorite thing to do is the Ukrainian eggs or pysanky, which is even more special with the current conflict.) Our sons love our family traditions. I don’t always decorate for Holy Week anymore. I don’t have to—they love doing it. My dining room gets transformed with reminders of Good Friday and Easter.

Liturgy, Always Liturgy

The main reason our family has done any living of the Liturgical Year at home is to have our domestic church united with Mother Church. We can enter more deeply into the liturgy when we bring parts of it into the home to examine and explore.

So far our teens still love the liturgy of the Triduum. They look forward to this Holy Week. All the music, all the candles, vestments, smells and bells—they aren’t lost on them. Of course there is typical grumbling about the dress clothes, how early we leave, how long the liturgy can take and how tired they are—we are not expecting them to be perfect angels! But we also overhear conversations later about their favorite hymn, their favorite moment and just a general sigh of contentment afterwards.

And Yes, Don’t Forget the Food

It is a priority to keep the boys fed. Food is so much on their mind. So of course, liturgically-themed foods and recipes are still something they want to have, especially if it’s been an established tradition. Holy Week is one of those weeks when we have all those extra foods. But we are also seeing our sons add their creativity and personal choices to influence our Holy Week menus. More often than before they want be part of the menu planning (so voice their likes and dislikes), to know more on how it’s made, and sometimes even want to help. There is a passing of knowledge and know-how at this age!

Truly, the main shift is that this time becomes more hidden and personal. We are imitating Jesus in His “Hidden Life” at Nazareth. The adolescent is more private, and we want to give him/her that space to let their personal relationship with Christ develop. They are learning to be independent members of society, and that includes being members of the Mystical Body. They are learning to live their faith independently. Applying Jesus’ exhortation to pray, fast and give alms in private is important for all of us. We continue our living the Liturgical Year, but follow their leads to how many or how much traditions we will continue. Our gift as parents is to give our own teenagers that privacy to walk with Jesus on their own, especially through Holy Week.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year, or liturgical living. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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