MARY ELIZABETH SPERRY
“’Tis a gift to be simple.”
This is the opening line of an old Shaker hymn. It is also an underlying theme of our Lenten observances—seeking the simplicity and poverty of spirit to which we are called (cf. Matthew 5:3).
Simplicity calls us to focus on the essentials of Christian living, the key elements of our faith: creed, sacrament, moral life, and prayer. We don’t need to create grandiose plans and programs in these areas. We need to do the simple, basic things well.
During the 40 days of Lent, we prepare to renew our baptismal promises, a simple summation of what we believe. It is most appropriate for our catechetical sessions at all age levels to focus on the content of these promises.
* In the first session, reflect on the reality of sin and its effects on the individual and society, culminating in a celebration of the Sacrament of Penance.
* In later weeks, study the promises based on the Apostles’ Creed. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults and its Reader’s Journal offer useful content and reflection questions.
* Encourage parents to pray the Apostles’ Creed with their children.
Celebration of the Sacraments, especially Eucharist and Penance, should be a Lenten priority.
* Make sure that penance schedules are easily available. It might be helpful to work with neighboring parishes to create a flyer and webpage listing confession times and Penance services for all parishes in the area.
* Encourage families to be more faithful in celebrating the Sunday (and even daily) Eucharistic Liturgy together.
Fasting and Almsgiving
One of the ways we express our love for God is by caring for our brothers and sisters. Through our Lenten fasting and almsgiving, we live more simply so that we can help those in need.
* Encourage children and families to participate in a charitable effort such as Operation Rice Bowl, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services. (Free resources for parishes, religious educators, and families are available at orb.crs.org.) As we live more simply, doing without some extras, we can make sure that others have the necessities of life.
* Establish a parish bulletin board (online and/or in the back of the church) listing volunteer opportunities in the area. Focus especially on those agencies that aid the poor and vulnerable (e.g., mentoring for at-risk children, crisis pregnancy centers, homeless shelters, and food pantries).
* Hold a parish day of service. End the day by sharing a simple supper of soup and bread and celebrating the Stations of the Cross.
At the heart of our Lenten endeavors is prayer, the “vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC, n. 2558).
* Begin every catechetical session and parish meeting with prayer and a period of silence.
* Introduce various forms of prayer in the parish, including lectio divina, Morning and/or Evening Prayer, the Rosary, and Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament (usccb.org/liturgy/prayerseucharist.shtml).
* Encourage families to pray together each day, at least before meals or before going to bed. Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers offers a variety of prayer resources for families.
Attention to these essentials during the 40 days of Lent will bring us a fruitful and faith-filled Easter season.
Mary Elizabeth Sperry is the Associate Director for USCCB Permissions and NAB Utilization at USCCB Publishing. She serves as staff to the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine which is responsible for the development, publication, and distribution of the New American Bible and the promotion of biblical literacy.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, December 2009.
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