Educating Children: Lent/Easter

By Greg Craven

As we all know, Lent and Easter are times of renewal and commitment to new life. The Lenten Season calls all people to examine their lives and discern the areas that have been less than whole, how these might be restored or remedied and the areas where new energies are needed to achieve wholeness. This process of holding one’s own life up to the light and examining it is not self-pitying or self-indulgent – it is a necessary part of the whole journey of humanity and faith – to become increasingly whole. As St Irenaeus put it, the Glory of God is the human person fully alive. In the time of Lent we have an annual opportunity to consider how to be more fully alive – to give greater glory to God.

The fruits of this examination are celebrated in the Easter liturgies and the whole Easter season. We examine our lives, commit and re-commit to a journey of wholeness that reaches fulfillment in the new life of Easter.

These are annual and important messages for each parent to put into practise in their own lives but also to model for their children. I am certain that you have already heard that annual refrain, ‘what will I give up for Lent?’ Most likely the things ‘given up’ have already proven to be very easily managed or simply too difficult. As schools and parishes now try to emphasise, the giving up – linked with our tradition of Lent as penitential – is less important than taking up activities that will bring a positive outcome to the community. Simple exercises like taking part in Project Compassion or assisting in a charitable or community service organisation are significant parts of the commitment to live a life that is full, and gives glory to God.

Of course, it is not just during Lent that these things are important but it is through the Lenten discipline that we attempt to make small, but important, changes in the whole of our lives on an ongoing basis.

Lent and Easter are part of the yearly cycle of the Liturgical calendar which reflect the ebb and flow of each person’s life. This year we have an additional focus, which brings a particular lens to these seasons: the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Jubilees have a long theological history dating back to the first encounters between the People of Israel and the God who walked with them – that is a perspective best left to theologians rather than this column. However, Pope Francis in calling a Jubilee that focuses on Mercy has chosen a particular aspect of the Jubilee years – that of forgiveness. He is calling on the Church to engage in forgiveness through an embrace of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

These fourteen precepts seek to align our interior and exterior lives. Through the Spiritual Works of Mercy we develop dispositions that increasingly open us to the call of the God of Jesus Christ – our response to that call is manifested through the very real and very concrete actions of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Learning to listen and prepare ourselves to be the best person to serve our communities is at the heart of the Christian message and the call to be followers of Jesus.

What does this have to do with educating our children? It is one of the major keys: as people of faith, response to the call of Jesus is obviously important; but even as parents, ensuring that our children are well prepared for the tasks of life requires attention to the messages that Francis is drawing our attention to, in this Jubilee Year. Our children need to be interiorly prepared for the challenges of life – loving, confident, resilient and self-aware – in order to be ready for the important challenges of life – serving their community through their lives, whether in employment or social activities or participation in sporting clubs or, in the future, as parents themselves. In developing this interior preparation and learning the skills to live out our attitudes and values will necessarily require regular instances of forgiveness and mercy – to oneself and to others.

To be fully alive, at least in the Christian vision, is to be open to others and to serve others. The celebrations of Lent and Easter recall us to this message each year, in this Jubilee of Mercy, that call is more emphatic and more urgent. This is a message for parents and children in every age.