Can you believe that we are having a conversation about Lent already? Weren’t we just swaddling the infant Jesus and celebrating His birth? I feel as though I really haven’t had time to prepare myself for the sacrificial season of Lent. Although it’s no longer my responsibility to keep my kids engaged throughout Lent, when they were small I always had a game plan to engage them in the season and promote conversation around our faith story. We were blessed to belong to a church where there were plenty of activities for both adults and children to participate in, which made for a great support system for us. I thought I’d share a few of the ideas we used with our kids for those that may not have the same kind of support system or just want to supplement what their church may be doing; perhaps even begin something new themselves.
For as long as I can remember, our church provided Friday evening Soup to Stations. We’d pack up our pot of meatless soup to share, along with our kids and head to the church where we shared a meal with our faith community, followed by Stations of the Cross. It was a fun way for adults and kids to socialize, share an array of meatless soups, swap recipes, and forge new friendships. Because everyone had their kids with them, our kids never felt like they were the only ones at a church event. They saw that other families prayed together, making it a comfortable place for them, even into their teen years. There were different formats to the weekly Stations of the Cross. One week the prayers might be through the eyes of Mary, another week it might be scriptural, then the traditional, and when I was a Youth Minister, I organized a Teen Stations of the Cross. This included a PowerPoint with visuals, contemporary music and the best part, the teens created the prayers with a contemporary and relevant script for each station.
The Seder meal is commonly celebrated the same way by Jews all over the world. It is a fulfillment of the biblical command from Psalms 145:4, “Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts.” It is an orderly retelling of the Exodus from Egypt leading God’s people from slavery to freedom and has a growing interest for Christians. The Seder is a wonderful teaching experience that tells the story of God’s grace in history and calls us to share in the experience as our own. It broadens our awareness of the importance of the Old Testament as our history and the sacredness of our liturgy and sacraments. Although there are slight variations to the Seder meal, the custom includes telling the story of the Exodus, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate, drinking four cups of wine, eating matzo, and sharing in a celebratory meal.
I found two websites that elaborate on this celebration. The Voice describes the event and meaning in great detail, while Jennifer Dukes Lee site lists step by step instructions for a Christian Seder that incorporates the elements of the Last Supper Jesus celebrated with his disciples. There is a printable copy and link to recipes, etc. I also found, in the comments, information that we Catholics don’t always hear too much about or are even aware of – the explanation of the fourth cup of wine and its absence at the Last Supper.
If you have younger children and are trying to teach them about charity, alms giving or penance, a simple idea that also engages dinner conversation is the Good-Deed Jar. Draw the outline of a cross on a large piece of poster board and hang where all can see it. Place a jar filled with something like ripped scraps of paper, lima beans, flower petals, etc. on the center of the table. Discuss what “Good Deed” they did that day to help Jesus carry His cross. After dinner, take whatever item you chose to fill the jar and glue it inside the poster board cross and watch the progress in filling the cross.
If you don’t already have one, creating space for a Family Altar is a beautiful addition to your home. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Psalm 78:4 remind us that WE, the parents, are our children’s first teachers and it is OUR responsibility to pass on the faith, our history, our story, to them. Our home is the Domestic Church and where most of our time is spent. A family altar is a visual reminder of our faith offering comfort during difficult times and reminders to offer thanksgiving for the simple, tender moments of family life. A place to stop and pray with our children for a bit or simply to gaze upon offering a quick thank you. An altar can be as simple as a corner shelf, your dining room hutch or a cabinet; placed in a central location that you pass everyday or a quiet corner within your home. Some items to include:
- Statue of the Blessed Mother
- Holy Water
- Pictures of Saints
Other people include linens that change with the liturgical season, books, incense, etc. If you like to do crafts with your children, some of these items can be homemade as well. I found two great websites that offer various suggestions for family altars – Catholic Icing and Catholic Mom.
My kids love their father’s Italian heritage, especially when they could sneak a sweet treat (St. Joseph Sfinge) on the Feast of St. Joseph in the middle of Lent – March 19th. I recently saw another Italian tradition that could be lots of fun with the kids called the St. Joseph Table. This ancient tradition, celebrated more fervently in the southern region, goes back to the Middle Ages. It is a day to pray to St. Joseph for his intercession, but it cannot be for personal gain, it must be for the benefit of someone else.
The stepped table includes the statue of St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus with candles and flowers surrounding him. Many Italians also place homemade wood crafts on the table in memory of St. Joseph. The foods surrounding him are foods that grow wild in the field, those of vegetables and wheat – no meat. Breads and sweets are also displayed. An added element for kids is performing small acts of work as an offering. St. Joseph took great care of Mary and Jesus and did so with a loving, giving heart. He provided food, shelter, and protection for them faithfully and lovingly. Doing small tasks for another person, in secret, not expecting it can be offered up to St. Joseph, for his intercession, as he presents it to God as a gift of love. For more in-depth information and step by step instructions on setting up your own St. Joseph’s table, I found this website chock full of information.
I loved to cook with my kids when they were small. It’s a great way to keep their hands and minds busy while enjoying simple conversation. It was also a great time to share stories with them about our faith, using the food and ingredients in front of us. Over on my blog, I share a few of my favorites over the years in Cooking Through Lent With Your Kids.
Whatever the tradition you and your family choose to partake in this Lent, be sure to keep our story alive and well for generations to come. Many blessings to you and yours.