Growing up we gave up something each year for Lent – cookies, junk food, sweets, a particular candy. As soon as our children were old enough, we started each Lent discussing what each person would be giving up during Lent. We write them all down in order to keep ourselves accountable.
As they have gotten older, we have changed our focus and tried to teach about sacrifice in other aspects of our lives as well. Lent is a time of repentance, to help us grow in our faith, to grow closer to Jesus. We try to become better people, by giving up something that hinders our relationship with God – fighting with each other is one that comes up often. I still had a nagging desire to make the season of Lent more real, less about rules to follow and more about growing spiritually. I want my children to understand that aspect of Lent NOW, not just down the road. Let’s face it – for a child it is hard to connect, “I can’t have that cookie because I gave it up for Lent” to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, His 40 days in the desert or growing closer to Him by our sacrifices, physical, mental, spiritual or emotional.
As others begin decorating for Easter and spring as soon as Valentine’s Day is over, we look to simplify, purging our lives of bad habits, quieting the busyness at least a little to focus more on our relationship with our Lord, hopefully forming better prayer and faith habits that will carry into the rest of the year. The decorating for Easter happens during the Easter season, but not before we have refocus both as a family and individually. Our pastor often says during Advent that anyone can get to December 25th, but only those who prepare will make it to Christmas. Applying this thought to Easter, we want to DO Lent, not just arrive at Easter Sunday the same people who started at Ash Wednesday.
Last year at school they began to focus more on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. We wanted a way to make these works more real to all of us, so that we could see how they apply in our everyday lives. I came across an idea and decided to try something similar at home. It is called a “Mercy Cross.” Everyone liked the idea, and we have decided to make it a tradition. We will continue with our other traditions of sacrifice and family prayer and meditation. The Mercy Cross helps us to see how our actions unite us with Christ on the cross.
We make a cross out of construction paper on our front window. This way, it is a focal point of our home and family time, and it can be seen from outside so that others can see a sign of our faith. On either side we tape up the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Each time someone does something that is a sacrifice or one of the works of mercy, he or she puts a flower on the cross. The goal is to cover the cross in flowers by Easter.
By covering the cross with flowers, we can all see a physical representation of living the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. We can see how they apply in everyday life and how no sacrifice is too small, especially when done with love. Covering the cross with flowers is like sharing in Christ’s sacrifice for us. We can all make sacrifices in His love.
As Blessed Mother Theresa said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40