Having put in 24 years as a Director of Religious Education in my local Catholic parish, I certainly agree that in the Catholic tradition neither Lent nor the Stations of the Cross have ever really been meant to be easy. Lent serves as a time to pray, to engage in penitential acts, to reflect and in the end to be reconciled with God redirecting our lives to better love and serve God and neighbor. For kids and for many adults that really doesn’t sound easy at all. Still these practices are central to the Catholic faith and really shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. With a little planning parents can provide their children and themselves with a Lenten activity that will help share the message of the Stations of the Cross and not seem like sheer drudgery.
My experience has made it clear to me that one way to keep kids interested and improve their ability to focus is surprisingly enough to keep them moving. As a parent of three children the same message has come through to me time and again. That’s why this Lenten learning activity, centered around the Stations of the Cross works. It is built around motion.
With your kids set aside a half hour in their afterschool or weekend free time during each week of Lent. Explain to your children that this time is going to be given over to the Lenten practice known as The Stations of the Cross. During the first week of Lent use the half hour to take your children to your own parish church and orient them to where the Stations of the Cross are located ( often along the walls of the church ). Without much discussion, slowly walk them around the stations allowing them to look at what is portrayed in each. Let them pause as they see fit but make it a time of discovery for them not discussion by you. This should take only about 15-20 minutes. Then take the last 10 minutes to hear and respond to what they have seen. Allow them to retell the parts of the story they have seen protrayed and to ask questions related to the stations. Don’t be surprised if this conversation continues on the ride home.
In the weeks that follow plan to visit a different neighboring Catholic church within easy driving distance. Your children may even suggest a church. Each week as you visit a new church spend time at only 3 or 4 stations concentrating more on the meaning of each station. Pick up with the next 3 or 4 stations during the next week’s visit. On the ride home encourage the children to compare the way the stations were presented in each church you visit sharing what they like about each.
At the end of Lent, during Holy Week, take a half hour to return to your own parish church with your kids. Let them process around the stations there telling the story as they go. Help them to recall what they have seen along the way, clarifying points that may have been cloudy. On the way home see if they can reconstruct the story told by the Stations of the Cross without the visible stations in front of them .
Walking the Stations of the Cross is serious buisness for sure. But when you add travel, discovery and time spent togethe, viewing the Stations of the Cross can become less of a labor and more of a spiritual adventure for you and your family.