February 26, 2016

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Lenten spiritual practices gives new life to our souls

Sean GallagherOn a recent snowy Sunday afternoon, my 6-year-old son Philip gazed out the front window of our home on the nearly immaculate white landscape before us. As he took it in, he paused, turned to me and said, “It’s like God has placed a beautiful white blanket on the world.”

While I smiled at Philip’s spiritual insight into our everyday world, I also recognized another kind of beauty before us. As I noted above, our front yard home was not entirely “pure as the driven snow.” There were a set of footprints there. They belonged to my 13-year-old son Michael who had walked down the street to shovel off the sidewalk of some elderly neighbors.

He did this in part to complete some service hours for the preparation program in which he is participating for the sacrament of confirmation. But he and his brothers have long been in the habit of helping clear the sidewalks and driveways of our neighbors in need on snowy days.

A principal way to grow in our faith during this season of Lent is to give ourselves in service to those around us. Whenever we do this, God helps us with his grace to carry out these good works, and goes even further by renewing his divine image in us through them.

The Catholic Church has long taught that this renewal begins at baptism when God gives new life to the soul of the baptized person. It continues through the life of faith that began at baptism, and is strengthened through participation in other sacraments, especially the Eucharist and penance.

In giving our souls new life through grace, God takes away the eternal effects of sin. We are reconciled to him. The doors of heaven, closed by original sin, are open again.

But the effects of sin in this world still remain. I know this reality all too well from my often unsuccessful attempts at being a better husband and father that sin still has effects in this world. I want to change the bad habits I have built up over time, but they’re ingrained enough that tearing them down and building up virtues in their place is a constant struggle.

And though my sons are often quick to help our neighbors when the need arises, it’s easy to see the effects of sin in their lives as they often look first to their own desires in their relationship with each other than to putting their brothers first.

Thankfully, God’s grace is a constant in our family life. It’s there when we pray together at meals and before bedtime. It’s there when my school-age sons go to Mass during the week and Cindy and I often go with them. And it’s there when we learn together more about our faith and the shining example of the saints. Each of these and so many other moments of grace, especially those in Lent, can further God’s renewal of our souls.

For those of us in family life, each day brings moments when we can give of ourselves in often small and sometimes large ways in service to our spouse, children and extended family. God’s grace is there for us in those moments to put love of others over self-love.

During the rest of this Lenten season, may we cooperate more consistently with this grace as we strive to be of service to our families. As this becomes a good habit in our lives, the splendor that can be seen outside of our homes on a snowy day won’t compare to the beauty inside it. †

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