This week, while giving the parish mission, which ended last evening, I was thinking about the ways that I was formed in my Lenten practices growing up. This, of course, was before the catechumenate was restored, so there was no real baptismal focus; everything was penitential.
In our Catholic School, right before the beginning of Lent, we were all given this flat piece of cardboard, with instructions on how to fold it and turn it into our Lenten "mite box." It didn't dawn on me until recently that the word "mite" referred to the widow's mite in the Gospel story . . . duh! I did a search for an image of a mite box and found this one, which is sponsored by the Lutheran Women's Missionary League.
Anyone else given these "mite boxes" when you were younger? Seems that Operation Rice Bowl is pretty much what Catholics use today.
Of course, I remember that each of us in our family had to give up something for Lent. I remember giving up candy most of the time, and popcorn (a family favorite, popped in a pan on the stove) one Lent.
And Fridays were always interesting, food-wise. I remember my mom sending me down to "Hatfield's Fish Market" on Main Street, to buy a few pounds of haddock for supper. And I remember that the price was 69 cents per pound. I will never forget the smell of that place!
I remember that one Lent my parents tried to get us to pray the rosary every Friday night as a family, on our knees, in our living room. As Lent wore on and the days became longer and warmer, I remember looking out the living room window into the street, where my friends in the neighborhood were playing outside. I remember trying to speed up the "Hail Mary's" so that I could get outside with them as quickly as possible!
And then there was Good Friday (I know, technically outside of Lent, but we didn't know that back then). We always attended the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord's Passion as a family at three o'clock at Saint Charles in Woburn, Massachusetts.
Frankly, I loved this liturgy, with all its kneeling and standing, its long Passion Gospel, the veneration of the cross and, at my parish, the veneration of a relic of the true cross after the service was completed. It was all so wrapped in mystery for me, even as a little kid. But on that day, every year, at 12:00 noon, my mother would let us kids know that "for the next three hours there will be no talking in this house. If Jesus could hang on the cross for three hours for you kids, then the least you can do is remain quiet." I believe those three hours, from noon until three, were the most peaceful three hours my mom had the entire year.
Now, of course, I experience Lent in different ways, primarily be preparing for the renewal of my baptism at Easter. The penitential aspect is still alive and well, but I like to look at the season as a time to think about and be grateful for my baptism. At the conclusion of the parish mission last night, I asked the parishioners to talk about what they gleaned from the mission; what new insight they might have discovered. One woman raised her hand and it took her quite awhile to speak because she was overcome with emotion. Finally, she said, "I learned how truly grateful I am that my parents had me baptized. I never thought about how important that was in my life."
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.