We are now in the second week of preparing ourselves to welcome the Risen Christ, and for many of us, our efforts to grow in holiness occur within our family. So as we move deeper into Lent, I encourage you to focus on renewing your family life, especially the spiritual aspects.
Perhaps you do not know his story, but Karol Wojtyla Jr., who later became Pope John Paul II, started on his path to holiness because of his father.
When he was only 9 years old, Karol, or “Lolek,” lost his mother Emilia to a weak heart and failing kidneys. Despite his deep grief, his father, Lt. Karol Wojtyla Sr., resolved that he would dedicate himself to raising his youngest son.
Lt. Karol suspected that “Lolek” would be a special child. And so, for 12 years, he committed himself to loving and forming his son with his whole being.
Friends of the family would see them together constantly. They ate together, went to the movies and for walks along the Sawa River. They also spent their time discussing and learning about Polish history, literature, sports, music and entertainment.
In “John Paul II: A Life of Grace,” author Renzo Allegri explains that Lt. Karol was “a very attentive, generous and selfless man” who knew how to adapt to the needs of his son.
He also led by example in the spiritual realm. The pair would attend Mass in the morning and then make a trip to pray at the church later in the afternoon. Lolek’s schoolmates would often see the two Wojtylas kneeling next to one another, absorbed in prayer.
This Lent, we all have the opportunity to recommit to our vocation, whether we are a mother or father, a son or daughter, a priest or sister. Lent is a time when we seek to purify our lives so that we are able to fully embrace our identity as sons or daughters of the Father.
Lent even contains a revelation of our identity as adopted children of the Father within the progression from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. If we live Lent well, we become purified of those things which keep us estranged from God, and then, when Jesus suffers death and rises from the dead on Easter, our true identity is revealed and our adoption is completed.
But you might ask, “What can I do?” Those of you who are fathers—physically or spiritually—already have excellent examples in Lt. Karol and St. Joseph. For those of you who are graced to have the role of mother, I urge you to look to our Mother Mary.
At the same time, all of us should seek to grow as sons and daughters of God the Father. We can do this by growing in love and familiarity with Jesus, and by asking for and fostering the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Just one week ago, Pope Francis wrote a letter to families everywhere, asking them to pray “intensely to the Holy Spirit” for the Synod on the Family, “because is dedicated in a special way to you.”
In these difficult times for the family, all of the Church should unite in supporting and raising-up holy families that are grounded in their love for God. This effort needs a solid foundation of prayer.
With God’s grace, we will see more men and women courageously answering the call to selflessly give their lives to their families. If we are generous, we will be blessed with more men like Lt. Karol, whom Blessed John Paul II paid tribute to in his 1996 book Gift and Mystery.
“By profession he was a soldier and, after my mother’s death, his life became one of constant prayer. Sometimes I would wake up during the night and find my father on his knees, just as I would see him kneeling in the parish church. We never spoke about a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary.”
Fathers and mothers form the hearts of their children by their example. May your homes this Lent be blessed through a deepened practice of our Catholic faith!