Magnum Opus: A Lenten Observation

“Mommy,” my six-year-old daughter asks me, her face shining with enthusiasm. “Can I clean up my room so I can offer up a sacrifice with Jesus?”

She hangs on my answer as if she’s asking for a Twizzler. Once again, I’m struck by the generosity of spirit that can come from someone still so new to the world. Of course, putting a bean into our sacrifice jar helps motivate her to want to sacrifice, to make little offerings, but that motivation doesn’t take away from her intention to unite a voluntary suffering with Our Lord’s.

Lent teaches us a lesson in being generous of spirit, not only in what we give, but in what we give up. It’s a hard lesson that few are willing to learn. When a friend of mine offered up condiments for Lent, I was so impressed. Think about how hard that would be. No salt and pepper on the table, no salad dressing on salad, no syrup on French toast. He was digging deep into reserves I don’t think I have.

But when I start thinking about why we are supposed to be brave and generous, and above all, the example we set for our children, I realize my children are my sacrifice jar. My children are what help motivate me to be a better Catholic. I want them to save their souls, to become saints, and my spouse and I are their first and most concrete examples of how to do it. It’s a tall order and an immense responsibility.

What I find amazing is that in teaching them, I learn the lesson as well: to be brave and generous in sacrifice not just because we have to, but because we want to. Because we want to take advantage of this special time, this invitation, to walk the way of the cross with Our Lord. In light of that, sacrificing sweets, movies, and meat seems like meager offerings.

The purity of my child’s sacrifices remind me to trust in God with childlike simplicity and to practice my faith without artifice. We sometimes forget Our Lord taught that very lesson. “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew XVIII:iii)

Because of our pride, it can be surprisingly hard. I don’t want to “suffer” through not having jelly on my toast, or sleeping without my favorite pillow. It’s a sad testament to human fickleness and weakness that we often do whatever it takes to make those measly sacrifices more palatable. Nothing says penance like buttered lobster.

We "hate" Lent, because it's hard. but for those of us who are parents, there is a burden of responsibility there that can result in a deeper commitment to suffering. It makes us want to do things we’re not going to like. In one sense, it’s harder because we are responsible for someone else’s soul, in another it’s easier because that same responsibility compels us to want to be closer to God. Being a parent has provided me with new ways to implement old lessons. It’s an experience I’ll never stop learning from. I’ll never be able to feel like I’m a pro, like I’ve seen everything and I have all the answers – even if I sometimes fall to the temptation to act like I do.

It’s not every moment of everyday that I remember how important our role and example as parents is, but in the quiet moments, it hits me. And I realize parenting will be the single most important accomplishment of my life. This is my Magnum Opus, and for the sake of their, and my, Eternal Salvation, it had better be the best performance I can give.

 M.R. Zapp is the Editor in Chief for Altar and Hearth Magazine, artist, published writer, and poet. She blogs at

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