A Mother’s Lenten Strategies

>> Tuesday, February 24, 2009

by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

At the start of the penitential season of Lent coming up, we may find ourselves scrambling to figure out what to “give up.” We have given up desserts, candy and possibly TV in the past. But maybe we’ve decided to switch our emphasis this year.
And just what is penance anyway? In Vatican II’s Apostolic Constitution on Penance, we read, “Penance therefore—already in the Old Testament—is a religious, personal act which has as its aim love and surrender to God: fasting for the sake of God, not for one’s own self.
“It {the Church} insists first of all that the virtue of penitence be exercised in persevering faithfulness to the duties of one’s state in life, in the acceptance of the difficulties arising from one’s work and from human coexistence, in a patient bearing of the trials of earthly life and of the utter insecurity which pervades it” {Chapter 3}.
For mothers, why not consider the obvious when contemplating the proper penance? As parents, we have heard our youngsters ask for our undivided attention. When my daughter Mary-Catherine was two-and-a half-years old, she used to put it this way, “Mommy, turn your face here!”
I remember on one occasion when she precociously explained to me the little game that she had been playing with her doll. I had been listening to her every word, as I busily folded my family’s laundry, trying to catch up with that never-ending chore before the next batch needed to be tackled. But to Mary-Catherine’s mind, I had just been folding towels. She wanted eye contact. She wanted my attention. Her persistence paid off because I eventually got the point and stopped what I was doing, left the mound of laundry for a short while, and put my daughter on my lap for a wonderful conversation.
Of course, we know our tasks in the home are never really complete and that we are on twenty-four hour call to our children’s needs. Yet, this Lenten season would be an ideal time to slow down. But how is this possible? There is so much to accomplish within the home and it’s difficult to slow down the pace for fear of getting behind.
In actuality, our children are happy to have us bustling about the house while they are at play. They are content knowing that we are in sight nearby. They feel secure in our presence, confident that they can call upon us at any time (usually when we are up to our elbows in a project!}.
Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if we stopped and took a break to enjoy our children and allowed them the time to be truly with us.
During a season of quiet, of prayer, fasting and reflection, we can please our Lord in a very natural way as mothers, by going about what we do each day and lovingly caring for our children in an ordinary yet extraordinary way.
So, although out of necessity, we have learned the art of preparing and cooking an entire family meal, changing a diaper, and folding a load of laundry, while engrossed in a telephone conversation with a close friend, we need to slow down and let go a bit to give our full attention to our children. Take the phone off the hook if necessary, at times, for a little peace and quiet in which to enjoy your family.
Playing a short game, watching a family show or movie together, or reading an uplifting story to our children are welcome changes. A brisk walk in the fresh, cold air, or a frolic in the snow are not only refreshing and fun, but will help to bring us all closer together. And these are teachable moments, too.
An important part of our schedule should be a slot for some individual time with each child. When things are busy, sometimes it may be only for ten or fifteen minutes each night, sitting on the bed, saying prayers, “good night” and talking briefly about the day and what’s coming up tomorrow. Children appreciate the expression of genuine interest in their school activities, social situations, and their life in general. When they are running in from school, be sure to grab them and sit them on your lap for a few minutes to exchange information about our days. Let’s be sure to make the time for them as much as possible.
Family meetings; held either weekly or from time to time, can offer each member the opportunity to express what’s on his or her mind. A prayer can begin your meeting with a chance for each member to offer a petition. This would also be an ideal time to discuss as a family what to do to help the less fortunate during Lent and throughout the year. There’s always the local soup kitchen; there may be elderly neighbors who could use a hand with shoveling snow for those of us who live in the colder areas. Perhaps one of the children can baby-sit for a single mother who needs a break. Depending on age, children can come up with some great ideas, too.
Taking the time to praise our children is important, too. As mothers, we responsibly correct and teach our little ones. We must not forget that they also need our compliments, praise and attention. And, without a doubt, they need our unconditional love, our hugs and our kisses.
Lent is also a time to remember the role prayer plays in our lives. Above all, we need to make our life a prayer. Our encounter with God is within our family, where He in His Divine providence has placed us.
Lent can help us to work at becoming better mothers if we offer God the sacrifice of generously giving of our time, our love and our very selves to be present to our families.
These are forty days of extra nurturing and love, forty days in which we can serve our Lord, present in little ones. He has told us, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink…” (Matt. 25:34-36). We are comforted knowing we are serving our dear Lord in our family.

(A version of this article appeared in The Catholic Transcript – March 11, 1994)

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, mother of five and Lay Missionary of Charity writes from Connecticut. She is the author of the Best-selling book, Catholic Prayer Book for Mothers, published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. Her book, The Heart of Motherhood: Finding Holiness in the Catholic Home, published by Crossroad Publishing. Her book, Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers-To-Be, bears a foreword by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta whom the author knew personally and was released in April 2007. These three books were encouraged and endorsed by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and given a blessing by Pope John Paul II. They are available through her website: www.donnacooperoboyle.com. Donna-Marie's latest books are: Catholic Saints Prayer Book , published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, The Domestic Church: Room by Room: A Mother's Study Guide, and Grace Cafe: Serving up Recipes for Faithful Mothering, both by Circle Press Publishing. Donna-Marie donates a portion of the proceeds to the Missionaries of Charity to help the poor, as well as parish organizations. Donna-Marie writes for a number of magazines, newspapers and Catholic websites. She has appeared on EWTN television, she has a regular radio segment called, "Mom's Corner" with Teresa Tomeo on "Catholic Connection," Ave Maria Radio. She is a regular contributor to Catholic Mom.com. Catholic Exchange, Catholic Online, and Catholic Outpost. She lectures on a number of topics and can be reached through her website or at DMCOBoyle@aol.com .


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