This February, we celebrate Valentine’s Day, the day of love and friendship. February 14 is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. At first glance, many will think that we will not be able to celebrate with our partners, but there are interesting parallels between true love as a couple and Lent. During Lent, we focus mainly on three important things: prayer, fasting and charity. Likewise, to have a successful and holy marriage, it is also required to have a prayer life with Christ at the center, make many sacrifices and be generous in giving ourselves to our family as Christ offered up himself for the church.
Prayer is essential for a Catholic home and a couple’s relationship to last and bear much fruit. When we look at the lives of the saints, many were the fruit of their parents’ lives of prayer.
We have the example of St. Therese of Lisieux, whose parents were known for a deep life of prayer and devotion.
Also well-known is the testimony of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, who persevered in prayer for many years for the conversion of her son, who, despite having had a non-exemplary life, decided at one point to embrace the faith, becoming a doctor of the church.
My in-laws, Paul and Barbara, are examples of prayer, sacrifices and charity. I have always admired their great faith and commitment to serving others. They were always involved in pro-life ministry. They adopted a child from the foster care system and, over the years, helped many single mothers financially. From them, I learned what it means to live the faith, not just in the parish, but Monday through Sunday. I remember that, at every family gathering, they would begin with a family prayer. They always led by example and never missed going to church. When we went on vacation together and were away for the weekend, finding a church where we could attend Mass on Sunday was very important.
One suggestion during this Lent would be to take on (or pick back up) the practice of praying the rosary as a family, giving the children the opportunity to lead a decade. In our home, we offer intentions for someone who needs our prayers at the beginning of each decade. Let us remember that “The family that prays together, stays together.”
For Catholics, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence. Likewise, the Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence; on those days, we abstain from eating meat. That may not be a sacrifice for you so there are many other ways in which we can practice sacrifice and fasting. For example, we can fast by limiting or eliminating social media and technology use during the 40 days of Lent.
Sacrifice is also very important for a couple. Spouses should love and make sacrifices for each other as Christ sacrificed himself for the church. This concept goes against the modern culture of instant gratification, where the “I” comes first.
At the beginning of a marriage, we go through the honeymoon or infatuation stage, where everything is rose-colored. Then comes the maturity stage, where every day we make the decision to love the person God has placed in our lives. That implies making sacrifices for the sake of our partner and family, putting them ahead of our needs.
I remember recently, the night after a very exhausting weekend, I was very tired on my way to bed when I received a call from my son at 10:30 p.m. He was at the gym and had no way to get home. Even though my body was telling me to go to bed, without a moment’s hesitation, I answered, “I will be there in 15 minutes.” As parents, we may have countless examples of how we have sacrificed for our children, including our time and income.
Another important way to make sacrifices and an excellent investment is, for example, to enroll our children in a Catholic school, where they can receive an excellent education and formation in the faith. I sometimes joke that I could be driving a luxury car with what I pay for my daughter in high school. But the truth is that as parents we know that any material sacrifice is not enough to give the best to our children.
Finally, Lent is a time to practice charity more intensely.
Many of our parishes participate in Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl campaign to support the efforts of the U.S. bishops’ international relief agency, which helps the world’s most disadvantaged with development programs and emergency assistance. Diocesan Catholic Charities’ campaigns also help fund diocesan ministries and local relief. Let us be generous with these opportunities and offer our generosity in our parish community.
In married life, we can focus on giving more of our time this Lent, seeking to strengthen the relationship between spouses and with our children by being more present in their lives and activities.
We can also make time to reconnect with family members with whom we have not spoken for a long time, call them to reconcile, ask forgiveness if we have offended them, give them a word of support and offer to pray for them.
This Lent, let us seek to focus on habits of prayer, fasting and charity, using our resources, time, treasure and talents to volunteer in ministries that serve and help others.
Silvio Cuéllar is a writer, liturgical music composer and journalist. He is a former coordinator of the Hispanic Ministry office and editor of El Católico de Rhode Island newspaper in the Diocese of Providence.