My friends, I have missed writing to you these past few weeks. Sometimes the demands of my family life – the heart of all my work – precludes writing about it.
We’ve been occupied with various household activities: patching winter gear, fighting off colds, moving in a free piano, preparing reasonable disciplines for Lent. As my attention focuses on overseeing everything from chores, homework, and music practice to sore throats and worn-out uniform shirts, the private recesses of my mind have taken a great deal of time adjusting to the fact that my role is changing. I still serve, but not as I did when all my children were all very small.
And now it is Lent. We did prepare carefully, even if I was distracted by my own thoughts and a little one’s fever (to say nothing of the easy chair that has been sitting in the middle of the floor since the piano arrived). Now it is time to set aside our earthly cares – even the good and valid ones – and reorient ourselves toward heaven.
Like all good families with a little Polish heritage, we celebrated Shrove Tuesday with paczki for breakfast. For supper, I tried a friend’s recipe for traditional English pancakes (they are thinner than the American version, and served with lemon and sugar). While I worked the griddle, the children clustered around the table to decorate their Alleluias. These elaborate renderings of the forbidden word will be “buried” – laid away in a drawer – until we can rejoice again at Easter.
We have selected our disciplines and penances, as individuals and as a family. We write them down and put them in a box, which we place before the Image of the Sacred Heart. It serves to remind us of our intentions – and the grace needed to fulfill them – when the realities of denying ourselves settle in. After all, we don’t quite realize how attached we have become to our own comforts until we begin to strip them away.
Why do we do all this? Why suffer this disruption in a routine that is already slightly chaotic with the joys of family life? Doesn’t it actually reinforce our worldly bonds to adhere to a stricter regimen?
Well, call me crazy, but I love Lent. It is a very great gift.
Lent reminds us that we ought to live and die for Christ as He lived and died for us. We fill ourselves with so many distractions, when really we are here to serve God and one another. Surely there is no better place to learn this – to really feel it with all our senses – than in the bosom of a family.
Helping a younger sister pour her milk, and forgiving her when she colors on your homework. Reading the writings of the saints together, and delving deeply into the Scriptures. The smell of fresh bread baking, and the savory taste of minestrone on a Friday. This is the school of simplicity and service; and, as in all the best schools, we learn our faith by doing it.
Our observance of Lent, like my vocation, has changed as we have become a family with school-age children. With three readers and two communicants among the ranks, they are beginning to take what we have taught them and make it their own. My task, as ever, is to help them where they are. My household duties are not in tension with the embrace of sacrifice, but rather serve to support it. My Lent is largely helping them with theirs.
I wish you all a holy Lent as, free from distractions, we strive to live like Christ. May your homes become a little heaven on earth.