ROMAN-PAVAJEAU: Family - What to learn during Lent?

April 9, 2019

In one of these Lent season’s Gospel readings, Jn. 8:21-30, Jesus was clear to say: “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.”

This is plain and clear! We are made of flesh, and we need the assistance of His divine aid. Lent is an excellent opportunity to receive divine aid. 

Many Catholics, as soon as they know that Lent is approaching, immediately think of giving things up, mainly food. Perhaps, one of the most frequently “give up” items are candy and chocolate. Perhaps it just resonates with me most because I love chocolate and giving it up rings a loud bell more often, although in general, it is common practice. That is what Lent means for a vast majority. Most of us think of Lent simply as days of fasting and abstinence.

Fasting is obligatory for those who have completed their 18th year and have not yet reached their 60th year. Abstinence is mandatory for everyone who has entered their 14th year. Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence. The extent of most Catholic families’ Lenten practice is an uncomfortable five-week practice of abstinence and fasting, as well as maybe some other voluntary penance. They will do this until they find themselves free again after Easter and return to their more comfortable and usual way of life.

We follow well the rules of the liturgical calendar and what the Church says about this season as it is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 540 “…the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” The Church sets before us this example so we can purify our hearts by taking our responsibilities as Christians more seriously to make Lent more personal and transforming for us.

This divine aid during Lent does not consist of a simple process of imposing obligatory traditions. Rather it is a personal call to prepare us for a genuine and deep conversion, and this is just an initial call.

We live in a society where we see so much violence, solitude and unkindness amid our personal relationships: Friendships, love relationships, marital relationship, sibling relationships, parent-child relationships, work relationships, etc. Our families are suffering very much! Our society falls ill in the midst of all these happening within the context of family life! We need to take this seriously. Lent is indeed a great occasion to receive divine help, to practice our faith seriously and with total reliance on God’s promise of salvation. Many of you will probably ask me,“…and how?”

Well, let me tell you. Although there is nothing wrong with the penitential approach to Lent (the giving up and sacrificing), Scriptures and the Church tell us that God also wishes for us to take upon the attitude and actions outlined in the readings and Gospels of this liturgical season.
For some of us, these things might involve a more significant effort on our part than sacrifice and penance. It might require a life-changing accomplishment, contemplating the mystery of the desert, but those are just tasks of a moment. Living your way to the cross and getting crucified is the work of a lifetime because it involves the call to be saints amid daily life.

The Lord’s divine aid spreads divine seeds, and these divine seeds are seeds of conversion; a conversion that reconciles us with God and with others, turning away from evil and re-establishing a loving relationship with our creator. It means, first of all, genuine repentance and confession, from the most insignificant of sins to the mortal ones. Conversion is not just human work but also requires the power of a contrite heart and the free acceptance to respond to the merciful love of God.

As His followers, we are encouraged to seek justice and do acts of kindness, avoiding judging, criticizing and demeaning people in our own daily lives.

In our domestic churches — our homes, which is the natural setting to practice prayer, service and joy among many other human and supernatural virtues, our role as disciples of Jesus is not just to teach or provide, but to live out a real charity with our spouses and our children. To give up screams, curses, insults, laziness, selfishness, rudeness, envy, unfaithfulness, disrespect, etc.; this includes a ready answer to a “good morning” or a simple “hello” when someone approaches us. To say “thank you,” “please” and “you are welcome,” and to just smile. It also means refraining from talking behind someone’s back, doing a much-needed fraternal correction with love and prudence, etc. This is the true essence of fasting.

Lent then becomes a time that creates a change in our hearts, in our relationships with the closest ones in our homes, and then in our own corner of the world. This also enables us to continue seeking change in this world by exhibiting a love that fosters a real Catholic family atmosphere and attitude.

I hope that we can realize that by taking advantage of this divine aid, we continue to do what is best in our lives. How great would the world be if the ideal of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is practiced and lived out not only during Lent but always during our daily life? 

Maritza C. Roman-Pavajeau is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Family Life Ministry.