“No one should stay at home….”  was the headline that caught my attention when the ACI Catholic newsletter for Africa arrived in my inbox. “Oh no, I don’t agree” was my immediate reaction, as after all this was the weekend before Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day on 14 February.  Were the bishops encouraging everyone to go out and celebrate Valentine’s Day as has become the norm, in spite of the fact that it coincides with Ash Wednesday this year?  But I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw this was the bishops’ pastoral letter on Voter Education. Of course every eligible person young and old, here or overseas, healthy or disabled should go out and do their civic duty.  Unless as is done in retirement villages like ours, the IEC comes to us.   Quite a lesson in making quick unconsidered judgements that can cause misunderstanding.   

But look at this statement from a different angle. to how I reacted. With Ash Wednesday at the start of Lent, parishes appear to be falling over themselves to provide opportunities for people, family people to leave home and go to church for an extra Mass, a lecture, stations of the Cross or another spiritual activity. Of course these have merit but is it good to load busy family people to go out, away from their family to some church-based activities a couple of times a week?  Every year there seem to be more programmes, lectures, reflections or retreats to keep the average adult Catholic on the go. But no one has to do everything, we should become selective in choosing what is appropriate or suits us.

For years I have tried to promote  Lenten programme for families at home, for any age group, from simple faith sharing  and prayer to an activity with children.  I was pleased to hear more about the Synod on Synodality process, Conversation in the Spirit, essentially a faith sharing format. Together choose a topic, share thoughts and feelings, with honesty from the heart, listen attentively to others followed by further sharing and listening to reach some form of consensus of understanding or action. Some moments of prayer in the process bring the Holy Spirit on board.  Another document I received was a report by Cardinal Paglia, former head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, acknowledging that families in general, and not marriage only, have not received the support from the Church that should have been theirs.  

The Lenten THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY posted daily by MARFAM use something like this type of format, built on the scripture reading of the day and including information from the documents of Pope Francis on family life, and with an ecological focus.  BECOMING ECO-FRIENDLY FAMILIES with prayer, fasting and almsgiving is our 2024 programme.  This could be done alone or once a week with others, for its own benefit, but also because communication in families, with all the distractions of cell phones and time, is at a very low ebb. Practising that skill can be a valuable Lenten act of love and sacrifice.

On the website are suggestions and prayers that can be included, together with our own spontaneous prayer from the heart.      

Relationships between couples, parents and children, siblings, across generations and social and cultural realities are the stuff of life. In addition there are very many serious issues in the world to which families are exposed constantly, some of which have a bearing on our decision-making when it comes to voting. Care for creation, peace in different parts of the world, corruption, economic matters and many social ills face us. This Lent we can and should take time to ask “Where is God in all this?  What is God saying to me and to us and how can I listen and act on his message which essentially is “Love one another as I have loved you., which was the slogan for World Marriage Day on 11th Feb while the Pope’s message for the Day for the Sick was “Healing the sick through healing relationships.”   And all that is not done by leaving home and rushing off somewhere, but maybe by sitting quietly and making conscious efforts at home with our loved ones for their and the common good.  I pray that Lent 2024 will be a process of growth in BECOMING ECO-FRIENDLY FAMILIES through using the Conversation with the Spirit faith sharing format with one another.  TR 14 FEBRUARY 2024

God of Mercy, we praise and thank you for your love. Forgive us our failures as we learn to forgive others, so that your Kingdom of love, joy, peace, justice and freedom may come to fulfillment. Holy Spirit by your light guide us on our way, teach us to guard the earth and care for the poor of all families of creation with the love, integrity and care they deserve. May our family always have the strength and commitment to follow Jesus’ way. Mary, Mother and Queen of all Creation pray with us and for us. Amen


February 14. Ash Wednesday. The Morgans had made a commitment to meet as a family to practice the “Conversation in the Spirit” form of dialogue, that Pope Francis introduced into the Synod on Synodality in 2023.  They thought it would be helpful to practice the listening and sharing and to pray and talk about what Lent could mean for them. Starting on Ash Wednesday they shared their thoughts: “Why do so many people go to church on Ash Wednesday to get a blessing with ashes on their foreheads?  What does it really mean for them or is it to show off to others or some kind of superstition?”   “You do see people walking in the street with their ash cross.  One time someone tried to wipe my forehead thinking I had picked up a bit of dirt”.  Jay said,  “I was wondering how we could celebrate Valentine’s Day combined with Ash Wednesday. It’s lovely that we’re doing it together as a family even though fasting and eating a simple meal is quite a sacrifice.” “Let’s also remember those people who are alone at this time and for much of their lives.”                                 

Reflect, share, Scripture:  “The beginning of Lent is marked with the blessing and imposition of ashes.  The act of doing so symbolises our fragility and mortality as well as our need to be redeemed by the mercy of God.” From the Missal.  “Harden not your hearts but listen to the voice of the Lord. (Verse before the Gospel)   Ps95:7.  Pope Francis:  Lent is a time of mercy because no sinner can ever tire of asking forgiveness and all can feel the welcoming embrace of the Father.  MM 21        Pray one of the Lenten prayers.: for the season  ahead that we may be open to one another and the needs of the greater world of families.  Choose appropriate action.  LSAP goal 4.  Sustainable lifestyles.