4 Tips to Teach Your Children The Passion of the Christ
On Good Friday, my parish put together a children-focused Stations of the Cross event at beautiful Marywood, a retreat center filled with nature paths along the river, with countless activities hosted there throughout the year.
This was our first time doing the stations with our toddler Sue and infant Heidi, and what an experience it was. We led a group of ~15 families, which included many children running alongside us as we marched through the Passion.
Amidst leading the group, keeping Sue contained (it was a Tula-backpack day), and focusing on the Passion, four key lessons stuck out to me that made me proud to be a Catholic Dad:
You CAN blend Catholicism with modern society’s traditions gracefully
Let’s face it, kids love hunting for easter eggs. But what do peanut butter cups and Hershey Kisses have to do with the passion of the Christ? I say you can have your cake and eat it too!
At each station, the group before us hid a few eggs in the area. Inside each egg was an appropriate icon of that station of the cross. For example, there were bandaids in the eggs when Jesus falls the first and second times. There was a little cloth when Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. And there were Red Jelly beans at the station when Jesus dies to signify the blood of Christ (and a little comfort food never hurts when you reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice).
The kids loved looking for the eggs, and when they opened them, we would ask them why that symbol was placed inside. It makes you proud to see the little ones connecting the dots!
Kids need to know the Jesus story
The stations of the cross was something I never experienced as a Protestant. Much of my memories were of happy Gospel passages and praise and worship music.
Reliving the Passion is painful. Taking the time to fully appreciate what our Lord went through for us needs to be done at LEAST once a year. I did it first as an adult (and saw it through a living stations of the cross, which is phenomenal), and I cried. It was too much for me. So when should we subject our children to it?
It is better to start when the children are young. Get them used to the motions and the images before they can grasp the full concept of the story. At first it will be a fun hike through the woods. Then it will be a story that they only understand a couple of words to. Over time, they will understand more and more of the story, but they will slowly be immersed in it, so it will not hit them like a sack of bricks on the first reading.
The Passion of the Christ is part of our history, part of our faith, part of us. Do not withhold it from your children.
Kids need to learn it WITH you, not FROM you
As we passed from station to station, I would ask if anyone would like to read the passage. Sometimes a mother would read for her toddler, sometimes a 5 year old would read for her mother. We were all learning it together, and the children felt proud and important reading the passage to so many adults.
We thanked them for their courage and wonderful reading. We gave them a sticker (it’s not official without a sticker!), and we moved to the next station.
This was not just a one-way lecture from parent to child, nor a long homily from a priest at the pulpit. We were all in this as one, to learn the story of our God.
The children responded very well to this. The ones who were outgoing jumped and raised their hands to be picked on. The ones who would normally cause trouble were strangely quiet – they didn’t want to cause attention to themselves as they knew they would have to read next!
Make it Engaging, Make it Stick
Between each station, we would sing a verse of “Were you There,” that was appropriate to the station. The woods would come alive with the sound, as there were multiple groups at various stages of the journey. You could see the younger children swivelling their heads around to focus intently on each adult singing. Well before they understood the words, they knew they were a part of something special.
At the end of the stations, all the families gathered up and had a picnic on the grounds. The kids ran around doing kid things; the parents chatted and ate (or fasted, while staring lustfully at sandwiches)…
By the end of the day, I could hear around the park families discussing how much fun they had, and the kids would ask when they could come back again.
They were part of the experience. They could touch, see, and hear the Gospel. And they could run and celebrate and share in their Christian Community afterwards. This is what it is all about.
Have you ever walked through the stations of the cross with your children? If they struggled to stay with it till the end, I hope some of these tips above help you out the next time you try it. And I urge you to stick with it – the rewards are amazing!