March 29, 2019

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Family members can encourage each other in their Lenten journey

Sean GallagherWe’ve been in Lent for a good three weeks now and have a good three weeks yet to go before we joyfully celebrate the resurrection of Christ at Easter.

At this point in our Lenten journey, the added spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we started on Ash Wednesday might have begun to be challenging.

We might be tempted to give up on them, at least here and there. I’ll admit that this has been the case with me at times in the past. At this point in our Lenten journey, the enthusiasm we might have felt at the start of this penitential season has probably faded, while the joy to be known at its completion can still seem far away.

For me, this midway point in Lent can be an image for me of my life as a father of five growing boys. I’ve been a father now for 16 years, which at times seems like a long time.

And with my youngest son being only 5, I know I have many more years to go before he turns 18 and, theoretically, goes off on his own.

(I know well, of course, that one continues being a parent after one’s children become adults according to the law.)

My wife Cindy and I have experienced many great joys in the life we share together as parents. They range from once-in-a-lifetime events like births, baptisms and first Communions to seeing the unique personalities of our boys blossom before our eyes in the everyday life we share together. And we know in faith that many more are to come.

Yet, in this life marked by the effects of original sin, parenting—as with any walk of life—is a sharing in the cross of Christ: in moments of sickness and squabbles, disobedience and disrespect. Then there’s the countless ways we sacrifice ourselves to serve the needs and desires of our boys that are hidden from them, let alone the rest of the world.

All of these challenges might easily overshadow the moments of joy and triumph in parenting were it not for the grace that God poured into our hearts when Cindy and I exchanged our wedding vows on June 9, 2001.

Like the loving Father of us all that he is, God encourages each of us during Lent—and during the Lenten aspects of each of our vocations—to continue on the path to the joy of Easter.

In our home, we’ve put up a chart on the refrigerator that lists the spiritual disciples that each person in our family has chosen to take up during Lent. We don’t use it as a way to check up on each other and wag our finger when someone stumbles in a Lenten discipline. Instead, it’s intended to motivate us to encourage each other.

To further that worthy goal, we have a jar on the mantle of our fireplace where we can place beans when we see someone else in the family making a sacrifice for others during the Lenten season. It’s been good to see the level of beans in the jar slowing growing higher since Ash Wednesday.

None of this changes the fact that we’ve gone through a good bit of Lent and still have a good part to go. Lent, like life itself, is hard. There’s no avoiding that.

Never forget, though, that grace makes it possible for us not only to endure the crosses of life and of Lent, but to, at the very least, look forward while carrying them to the sure joy God has in store for us in our own personal Easter. †

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