Go ahead, make my Lent

popecorn morguefile0001496984376 (1)While driving last week I flipped on the radio to hear two film reviewers debating whether It’s a Wonderful Life qualified as a redemption movie—did George Bailey really change enough? The duo on our local public radio station’s Filmspotting program were pronouncing their top five movies about redemption. These included some creative choices, including the 1938 Angels with Dirty Faces (starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, as a gangster and a priest) and On the Waterfront (1954, Marlon Brando at his best).

Also on the list—surprise—was the animated Beauty and the Beast, which caused me to smile goofily all by myself in the car, time-machining me back to a period when our 3-year-old son would listen to that soundtrack two and often three times daily. (You know it’s good music when you don’t secretly throw the CD out of the window and tell the kid it’s “lost.”) The Beast, of course, was saved from his angry Beast-hood and ultimately from death by the love of the beautiful Belle, who looked beyond his hairy, scary exterior to the young man within. She saw, you might say, with the eyes of God.

Since Lent begins with Ash Wednesday this week, why not host your own redemption film festival as part of your Lenten observance? Depending on the age of your kids, you could try a few of the Filmspotting flicks, along with your own picks. Since you’re probably going to be watching TV anyway—unless you give it up for Lent, as some families do—you might as well enlist the movies you watch in the service of the season

As for redemption, we hardly need much convincing that as humans we have what Star Wars’ Darth Vader famously called “the dark side” (in yet another redemption story). “We are members of the dysfunctional family of humanity,” writes Father Robert Barron in U.S. Catholic, “and egotism, fear, violence, and pride have crept into all of our institutions and into our blood and bones.” Yet here comes Jesus, who goes down into the worst of the human experience—ridicule, torture, death—and in this redeems us, offering us a new path of nonviolence and love.

Lent offers a time to do something, not to just promise ourselves (often futilely) to think more about our spiritual lives. From ancient times we‘ve had three to-dos in Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. How we do these is limited only by our imaginations. You could:

• Try a different practice each week of Lent if 40 days is too daunting. A week without TV. A week of not gossiping. A week without chocolate. A week in which you do not begin reading text messages or email while your child is speaking to you. What’s distracting you from being the person you could be? Try giving that up.

• Use the Lenten Rice Bowl calendar from Catholic Relief Services, an agency that assists the poor and hungry worldwide. Each week there’s a simple recipe and a story about a family CRS has helped, with prompts such as, “How many water faucets do you have in your home? Give 24 cents to your Rice Bowl for each one.”

• Try a weekly family work of charity. Visit a sick or elderly relative or neighbor. Give away 5 or 10 percent of your paycheck. Cook for your local homeless shelter. Extend an olive branch to someone you’ve been feuding with.

• Go to the parish reconciliation service together as a family.

• And finally, screen your weekly redemption film. Ask the kids, “Who is the Christ figure in this movie?” Their good Christ-radar might surprise you.

—by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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