During Lent help children “glory in the cross of Jesus Christ” through reflections, activities, and prayers.
When my niece Lisa was baptized last month, 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. A popular pictures shows a crucifix 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 believeable. Every cross reminds us of God’s love revealed in Christ. This includes our physical crosses as well as the sign of the cross mad 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.
Living Signs of Love
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 sing
• its significance
•its use in the liturgy and in art.
Your class 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.
You may want to try the following prayer activity:
Letting Go for Love
(Have a slip of paper, a pen or pencil, and a small pink or red heart for each participant. Distribute the paper and pens or pencils.)
We are constantly called to conversion, to turn to the Lord, to become better persons. Often this means letting go of something. In this reflection you will experience how God’s love helps us to do this.
On the paper write something that is very precious to you that you would find hard to give away or lose. It could be something good like a friend, a special place, or an activity. It could be something harmful that you’re attached to, like a fear, a worry, a bad habit, or the dislike of a certain person. . . . Now clench your fist around this paper and close your eyes.
Imagine you are sitting alone in your bedroom, or in church, or in your favorite spot. You are reflecting quietly. The door opens and Jesus walks in. He sits down and talks to you a little while. Then he looks down at your hands. “What is that you have?” he asks. “Nothing,” you reply, “I can’t show you.” The two of you talk some more. Then he looks at his hands and clenches them. He ponders, “What is there I can let go of so that she will let go?”
He thinks of his mother, the most beautiful, wonderful, and loving person he knows. “But I can let go of her,” he thinks, and his hands begin to open. So he leaves his mother when he begins his public life, when he dies, and again when he ascends into heaven.
He thinks of his friends, those likable men he chose for his constant companions. “That’s all right,” he decides. “I can let go of them.” So Judas betrays him, Peter denies him, and all but one desert him when he needs them most.
He thinks of his good reputation. He was famous, popular. Crowds gathered wherever he was, hailing him as their king. “But I can let go of that too,” he thinks. So people turn against him. They mock him, spit upon him, and tell lies about him.
He thinks of his life, how he enjoys sunsets, the boats on the Sea of Galilee, the hills and green fields, walking in the early morning, breathing the fresh air, laughing with people. “Yes, I can give all that up. I love this person that much,” he decides. So, he is scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified, and he dies.
By now his hands are open wide. You can see the scars in them that the nails left. You think, “If he can open his hands for me like that, I can open mine.” And you do, slowly. As you open yours, nothing happens at first. Life isn’t too different. But little by little it changes; you change. The Lord says to you once more, “May I see that?” You say, “Oh, yes!” “May I have it?” he asks. “Certainly,” you respond. “May I give you something in return?” Jesus says. And he gives you a priceless gift, the gift of his love flowing into you.
(Assistants take papers from the hands of the participants and replace them with hearts.)
Jesus changes your stony heart into a natural heart to make you more fully human. He fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy in you: “I will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them. I will remove the story heart from within them and replace it with a natural heart” (Ezekiel 11:19).