February 28, 2014

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Lenten disciplines can be like doing chores around the house

Sean GallagherMy wife, Cindy, and I have for years tried to teach our sons how to do various chores around the house.

Some of them have gotten to the age where they help out a good bit. Our 11-year-old son Michael regularly washes the dishes after supper.

And all but the youngest of our children (Colin, who is 5 months old) have after-meal chores to do in addition to taking their plates, silverware and cup to the sink. Some sweep up around the table. Others put away dishes that had been washed and set out to dry from the previous meal. Still others take recyclables to boxes we keep for them in our basement.

On Saturdays, the boys have such regular chores as folding and putting away their clothes, vacuuming various rooms in the house and picking up the sometimes vast amount of toys that get strewn on the family room floor in the basement.

All in all, I think we’ve developed a good system that both teaches our boys responsibility and takes some of the load off of our already often heavily laden shoulders.

But teaching the boys how to do these and other chores and helping them to be disciplined about doing them is hard work in and of itself.

There have been many occasions where Cindy and I have both said that it would be easier and quicker for us to do the chores ourselves than to have the boys do them.

But we know that, in both the short and long term, this would only hurt our boys and us and not help them or the family in general.

This approach we’ve taken to household chores reminds me of the Lenten practices that Catholics the world over will take up next week.

These spiritual practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are often referred to as our Lenten penance. A penance is something that we do to show sorrow for our sins.

It often involves us doing something that has relative degrees of difficulty, perhaps kneeling on the floor instead of using a kneeler. A penance can also include refraining from enjoying something we like, such as desserts or watching TV.

Obviously, these practices apply directly to the Lenten practice of fasting.

But prayer and almsgiving can also be penitential. When we take extra time for prayer, we are taking it away from other things that we might prefer to do.

The same applies to almsgiving. We might give away money, clothing or other possessions to help people in need that we would otherwise have control over.

The Church has encouraged the faithful to take up such penitential practices over the centuries, both within and beyond Lent, because they are ways in which we can participate in Christ’s saving suffering, death and resurrection.

Just as the chores around our house could be done better and more quickly if Cindy or I just did them ourselves rather than having our boys help out with them, Christ’s suffering was more than sufficient to achieve our salvation.

Yet we know from Scripture and the Church’s tradition that Christ desires us to join him in his suffering, not in some morbid way to have us feel the pain that he experienced (which would be impossible in any case), but instead for us to grow in our communion with him.

So even if we fumble through our various Lenten disciplines like our boys have done as they’ve learned to do chores around the house, know that Christ is right there with us, drawing us closer to himself in love as we seek to offer up our prayers and sacrifices. †

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