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It’s Lent – give up or take up?

By Sophie Barcant, BA (Psyc), B.ED. Trainer, Facilitator, Parenting Coach/Consultant.

Lent is here and the conversations in many families, even non-Catholic ones, are about who is giving up what. Will it be meat or alcohol, or chocolate or ice cream?

Some do talk about taking up doing good deeds that they do not normally do; acts of mercy, like giving more to charity than they do the rest of the year or visiting the elderly.

The pandemic has provided us with no end of opportunities to dig deep, give and serve. Many of us have given more than ever, from our heart, soul, and semi-empty pockets to the less fortunate since the pandemic began. We may ask, “What else is there for me to give?”

There is always more to give up and more to take up.

Hopefully, we all want to keep improving ourselves and have not given up on growing in virtue and becoming better faithful sons and daughters of God as we journey through this life.

Our children especially, certainly still need to develop their virtues, and we as parents, guardians, caregivers and even teachers are the ones to guide them to cultivate those.

With this in mind, what then can we give up and take up to grow in virtue, moral excellence or as the Buddhists say, adopt “sublime attitudes” (Brahmavihara)?

How well are we teaching our children to live out temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice— the four Cardinal virtues?

What about the theological virtues of faith, hope and love?

The Buddhist’s sublime attitudes are loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. Let’s take up growing in virtue and give up behaviours that prevent us from living them.

Let’s be creative and have the children write the virtues on pieces of paper along with behaviours that demonstrate how to live those virtues and put them in a basket.

Each Sunday in Lent, a different member of the family can pick one for the family to practice more intentionally for the week. Everyone can tap into their creativity to contribute different ways to implement such a project and how to track and measure everyone’s progress. Creativity abounds when families brainstorm.

For those who like friendly competition, that too can be set up.

Lent is a time for repentance and penance. We cannot repent if we are not aware of our shortcomings. The world has told us there is no evil and no sin. Sin is missing the mark, the mark of being Christlike.

We as parents are responsible for forming our children’s consciences. Examining our conscience takes a few seconds, and the more we do it, the easier it gets, and the sharper our conscience becomes.

These are simple questions we can pose to our children and ourselves as we develop this practice. Questions they answer only for themselves and their confessor, the priest:

  • Have I told lies, deceived anyone, twisted truth?
  • Have I gossiped, spread rumours or information about others I am not even certain about?
  • Have I been critical, judgmental, insulting, disrespectful or blaming?
  • Have I had hurtful outbursts of anger and impatience?
  • Have I stolen from others, not returned their things?
  • Have I been hoarding and selfish, not sharing?
  • Have I been honouring God and my parents?
  • Have I used God’s and Jesus’ name in vain?
  • Have I looked at inappropriate movies, books that may cause me to miss the mark?
  • Am I jealous, envious of others?
  • Have I been lazy, untidy, and not helpful?
  • Have I had empathy and compassion for those suffering?

This examination of conscience practice is very effective for developing the conscience of children. We can adjust the questions to be age-appropriate. We cannot ask teenagers the same questions we ask young children.

We are to teach them to say a simple act of contrition, an apology to Jesus, their loving Heavenly Father when they miss the mark and encourage them to be brave and humble to try to improve but not get downcast and self-criticise, as they will miss the mark again and again. Carrying heavy guilt feelings and self-condemnation is not God’s wish for us.

Some may say what’s the point if I am going to continue to miss the mark? Well, if we don’t keep our tools sharpened, we won’t do our work well. A good conscience must be kept sharpened so we can be Christlike.

When we stop examining our conscience, the difference between right and wrong gets blurred, and, as humans, our tendency is to subtly drift into weakness of will and miss the mark without even realising.

As St Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7, we want to say at the end of our life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. God appreciates our efforts. He reads our hearts and sees our intentions. That’s what counts. He is a God of mercy and rejoices in a repentant heart.


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