When my niece Lisa was baptized, I gave her a cross necklace. It was a lovely cloisonné cross with a pink rose in the center, but it was still a cross. How curious that an instrument of execution is now a worn as jewelry! (Can you imagine wearing a guillotine or an electric chair?) Moreover, many Christian houses have a cross displayed somewhere, with the body of a nearly naked man nailed to it. The cross is so common around necks, atop church steeples, and in cemeteries that we have become immune to the shocking horror of it as well as the glory associated with it. That is why Lent is so important. During Lent we have six weeks to ponder and pray over the mystery and the message of the cross. As we eat our hot cross buns, pray the stations of the cross, and venerate the cross on Good Friday, we realize once more what it symbolizes.
From Death to Life
On Calvary Christ transformed the cross into a sign of life. Ash Wednesday’s ashes confront us with the hard truth that we will die. However, these ashes are placed on our foreheads in the form of a cross. Because of the cross, we can laugh at death and recognize, like St. Paul, that is has no sting for us. Yes, we know we will die, but we also know that we will live forever because Jesus redeemed us on the cross. Since Christ’s death, dying and rising are inseparable. At the Easter Vigil the priest carves a cross into the paschal candle. The cross has become a symbol of victory.
The cross is also a sign of love. Some pictures show a crucifix (a cross with the body of Christ) with the words, “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?” ‘This much,’ he answered, and he stretched out his arms and died.” Jesus loved us so much that he died for us. Read that sentence again, substituting “me” for “us.” Isn’t that incredible? Only the unfathomable depths of God’s goodness and love make the statement believable. Every cross reminds us of God’s love revealed in Christ. This includes our physical crosses as well as the sign of the cross made over us in blessings. We are wrapped in God’s love from the time we are sealed with the cross at baptism the day we are sent into eternity sealed with a cross.
We ourselves are to be living crosses: signs of life and love. The very structure of our bodies is cruciform. Lent and the cross call us to conversion: to become better signs than we are.
You can use the image of the cross during Lent to spur your children toward a conversion of heart. Invite them to reflect on it by discussing:
- Where cross shapes are seen (including the northern sky)
- Its shape (encompassing all directions, north, south, east, and west), its resemblance to a plus sign
- Its significance
- Its use in the liturgy and in art.
Your children might like to make simple crosses out of wire, wood, clay, or foil. Older children can make a more complicated cross by gluing burnt wooden matches to a cardboard or wood base and varnishing them. (Search “matchstick cross” in the Internet.) Have children become familiar with the various kinds of crosses by cutting them out of black paper and backing them on colored paper.
Is there a cross or crucifix that has special meaning for you?