Tomorrow we begin the Season of Lent, a 40-day journey in which Catholic Christians embark to reflect on their daily practices and strengthen their relationship with Christ. It recalls the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert while he was tempted by Satan. The three constructs of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In recent years, I have begun to appreciate the Lenten season much more and actually look forward to it because we are called to not only challenge ourselves by giving up a luxury, but also to reach out to others through acts of service.
Turn on the nightly news or pick up a local paper and prepare to be overwhelmed by stories of hate, anger, violence, and insanity. Just this past weekend, Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was murdered in his home. In addition to the rise in violence, we see countless articles about teen sadness, depression, anxiety, and suicide. People do not seem to be able to handle the everyday pressures life doles out, and, as a result, they respond and react in extraordinary ways.
The Public School System has tried to ameliorate these trends by incorporating SEL (Social Emotional Learning) into the curriculum. This is all well and good, and to be fair, we include some of this instruction as well. However, teaching lessons in a classroom without any practical and regular application is likely not going to be effective. In order for students to really embrace the values of self-worth, kindness, hope, and love, they have to experience the messages every day, both in school and at home. Last Friday at our school liturgy, Fr. David demonstrated this most profoundly. During the homily, he called four first graders up to the steps in front of the altar. To the first student, he handed a very small cross, which represented little temptations in our life – Fr. David used candy for this analogy. To the second student he handed a larger cross, and the third an even larger cross, each representing bigger temptations. He then went behind the altar and pulled out a seven-foot cross made of wood and placed it on the shoulder of the last student. This cross represented our biggest struggles. But, he said, during these times, we are not expected to bear the burdens of life on our own, because God puts other people on our paths to help us. He then called the other students over to assist in holding the cross. WOW! What a perfect lesson for students of all ages, as well as adults, and a message that will hopefully be remembered far into the future for those who may need to recall it one day.
I’m not sure if the trials we face in 2023 are so exorbitantly different that the challenges people faced 25 or 50 years ago, but one thing is for certain – there has been a marked decrease in people who attend church services or practice their faith regularly. So, when the going gets tough, there is nowhere to turn. And, when the going gets tough, we cannot just assume that our children will be okay if we have not given them the tools to work through their struggles. These tools have to include developing a relationship with Christ, which comes through practice. I encourage you to make this “the best Lent ever” by intentionally changing your routine a bit: make daily prayer a practice, attend Mass each weekend as a family, deny yourself (kids too) some luxury, and finally, do something kind for someone else. Students will be experiencing Lenten activities in school, but it would be wonderful if those same messages could be experienced at home as well.