by Mary Reed Newland
The Year & Our Children: Catholic Family Celebrations for Every Season
If we feel that it is unnatural to ask penances of children while they are still very young – penances within their reach – we forget that self-denial must be learned very young, that it is the forming of character, that the very grace of their Baptism flows from the Cross.
The end of the penitential seasons imposed by the Church is not mere performance.
The Church is a wise mother, who knows that the cutting away of self-will frees our souls for a more radiant love affair with Christ.
If we think of the penance without pondering its effect, we misunderstand it.
It is not over and done with the doing but will bear fruit, if it is done with the right spirit; not alone by the piling up of “treasure in Heaven” but by an increase in our taste for God, a change in the habits of our souls.
Our Lord tells us how to behave during Lent when He speaks to us in the Ash Wednesday Gospel (Matt. 6:16-21): When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee.
Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in Heaven, where. neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
So let us remember, when we choose something to give up: no moaning and groaning! Hypocrites (our Lord was talking about the Pharisees) make much of their performances because they want attention.
That being their motive, He says, they already have their reward: attention.
There will be opportunities, before Lent is over, for us to attract attention; but so long as this is not our motive, we can accept and use whatever God permits to come to us.
A father will be asked by business associates why he, too, doesn’t order steak for lunch. One mother will be asked by fellow club-members why she doesn’t eat sandwiches and cake after their evening business meeting.
Some children will be asked why they say “No, thank you,” to proffered candies at school, to decline an invitation to a movie during Lent, or do not join with others to watch a television show.
These are the opportunities, with many more, to give reasons “for the faith that is in you.” It is as necessary to give an honest explanation if one is asked, as it is to keep quiet about it if one is not.
God chooses His own time and place to teach the lesson of good example; our part is merely the good example.
“Anoint thy head; wash thy face….” Be cheerful!
The Pharisees wore gloomy looks and long faces to indicate the great anguish their interior purifications cost them.
Not for us.
Our Lord suggests that we “anoint” our heads – that is, prepare ourselves as though we were going to a banquet.
Look cheery and bright even if it is Lent and we miss the between-meal snacks.
Our Father in Heaven sees what it is costing us.
One of the Lenten resolves in our family was to omit from all conversation the familiar groan “I’m starving.”