Moms and dads and grandparents might find the following article I wrote helpful now that we are approaching Holy Week. Feel free to pass it on!
How should you speak to your child about Our Lord’s suffering and death? Convey this powerful story cautiously, sensitive to the impact it will have on your child. Impressions made during childhood are lasting. Here are seven principles:
- Present the cross as a symbol of love. Toddlers can learn to identify the cross with Jesus and God’s love for them. When blessing yourself or your child with the sign of the cross, explain that you are making the sign that stands for Jesus and showing love for God in return.
Adults are used to the crucifix. We may not realize how shocking this horrible means of execution may be for a child. Focus on how Jesus’ death showed God’s great love for us. Jesus’ arms are outstretched on the cross, as if giving a hug. On the cross Jesus hugged the whole world. Your child will learn about the mystery of redemption gradually. We don’t teach calculus to someone who is just learning to count!
- 2. Always link the cross with the resurrection. The cross was the means through which Jesus won us new life. Avoid dwelling on Jesus’ death without talking about his great victory. Nature helps children grasp the connection between death and life. Jesus used the example of a seed which has to die to its life as a seed before it brings forth new life. Likewise a caterpillar must die to its old life to become a gorgeous, flying butterfly. Jesus too had to die in order to live a new, glorious life and share his life with us.
- 3. Avoid making evil powerful. Children can become frightened by the idea that evil is more powerful than Jesus. Stress that Jesus chose to suffer and die for us. Evil would have no power over him unless he let it. Jesus suffered so that we could live forever with him. This shows how much Jesus loves us. Mention that even if your child was the only one in the world, Jesus would have died for him or her.
- 4. Shield children from graphic portrayals of Jesus’ suffering, which might cause nightmares. Children love Jesus. Hearing that he died is enough to make them sad. They do not need to know all the gruesome details. What mother would subject her child to a vivid account of the pain involved in giving birth to him or her?
- 5. Speak of forgiveness not guilt. Explain that God always forgives people who are sorry for doing wrong. When Jesus died, God forgave everyone’s sins. On the cross Jesus said, “Forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Don’t tell children that their sins made Jesus suffer—drove the nails in deeper or made the thorns hurt more. This might be traumatic.
- 6. Preserve the reputation of God the Father. Beware of creating the idea that God the Father was cruel to demand that his Son die for our sin. Speak of how God the Father sent his Son out of love for us, as Scripture says. The one God became a man to save us. God willingly died on the cross for us.
- 7.Preserve the reputation of the Jewish people. Avoid implying that they are to blame for Jesus’ death. Jesus was Jewish, as were his first followers. Historically, some of the Jewish leaders’ actions combined with those of the Romans led to his death. Certain lines in Scripture were misinterpreted to mean that all Jews were guilty. For centuries this led to their persecution, something we don’t want repeated. Ultimately, the sins of the world were the cause of Jesus’ death, a fact that makes us respond, “O happy fault!”
Hail Cross, our only Hope!