When our foster daughter came to live with us for the third time, at age 6, we took her, along with our other children, to the stations of the cross during Lent. We went from station to station on the perimeter of the church, having the kids take turns reading the stations. “Jesus fall the third time,” she read at station nine. I paused before going on to read the prayer for that station, struck by the irony that a child who was now in her third round of foster care was reading about Jesus’ third fall. At age 6, T knew all about the weight of a cross.
The 14 stations of the cross (also known as “the way of the cross”) are the story of Jesus’ passion and death. Traditionally, the stations of the cross are prayed during Lent, often on Friday evenings or on Good Friday afternoon. The step-by-step story told through the stations of the cross makes the prayer a strong one for a family. The physical movement from station to station as the group walks around the church makes it a good choice for a child with a case of the wiggles. While some parishes hold an organized stations of the cross, others simply keep the church open on Fridays during Lent to allow parishioners to pray on their own.
A reason the stations of the cross can be a powerful prayer is that Jesus’ story of struggle and death is the story of every human being—child or adult. Who hasn’t been condemned or blamed unjustly for something, as Jesus was in the first station? Who hasn’t been helped by the kindness of another, as Jesus was when Veronica wiped his face or Simon carried his cross? We all have fallen, and we all have gotten up—sometimes stronger for the fall, and sometimes more hurt and tired because of it. Most important, though, the stations of the cross offer us the finale of Jesus’ story when we’re still in the middle of our own. The stations bring us to Jesus’ resurrection—a reminder that we are moving toward new life as well.
Praying the stations of the cross alone: As with all types of prayer, the whole family benefits when parents spend time in prayer. If taking the whole gang to the stations isn’t possible this Lent, duck into a church and spend some time in reflection yourself.
“I do two things at once when I go to stations of the cross,” says Beth, mother of three. “First I reflect on what Jesus actually went through, but then I relate each station to a piece of my own life. The stations are a way of forcing me to slow down and see how God is present in my life—especially in whatever I’m struggling with at the time.”
Praying the stations with very young children: Children under 7 do not have the ability to think metaphorically. For young children, the stations are a “storybook” way to explain key elements of Jesus’ passion. Just as the retelling of the story of the stable, star, and kings becomes part of a child’s understanding of Jesus’ birth, the stations can help children understand the events of Jesus’ death. “My 5-year-old son was really fixated on the station that shows the Romans nailing Jesus to the cross,” says Shelly. “He wouldn’t move on. At first I wanted to tug him past that station to the next one, but then I thought how terrible this really was, and we shouldn’t be dismissive about it. So we stayed at that station for a while.”
Praying the stations with older children: By the time children are in the middle school years, they are able to be more reflective about the stations. “As we do each station, we ask the kids what pops to mind about it, what they’d like to pray for,” says John, father of two teens and two older elementary-aged kids. “Last year they prayed for their own mom when they got to the station about Jesus meeting his mother. Jesus dying on the cross reminded our son of the death of his grandfather earlier that year, so he prayed for that.”
—by Annemarie Scobey from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 and 2011 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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