Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent Plans and Activities

I've spent the last few weeks mulling over what my family would be doing for Lent this year.  I tend to over-plan these things, and try to do too much!  So hopefully I can keep it simple this year and keep the focus where it needs to be...

Lenten Spiral
Before Advent, I purchased the "Advent to Lent" spiral from Ann Voskamp's son Caleb. It is such a beautiful piece!  My daughter and son really enjoyed using it, so we will take it out again and replace the wooden Mary (on the donkey) with the Jesus (carrying the cross) figure and add the extra pieces to make it a 40-day path.   I am really looking forward to continuing this new tradition that we began last Advent!  I especially like the way that using the spiral ties in the two "preparation" seasons in the liturgical year.

Friday Soup and Stations/Taize Prayer
Creative Commons licensed image
When my son switched Catholic schools last fall, we also switched parishes.  It's been fun discovering the traditions and customs of our new parish!  I discovered that every Friday, our new parish has a "Soup and Prayer Event."  They serve a simple meatless soup and bread dinner beginning at 5:45 p.m., then invite the parishioners to stay for Stations of the Cross or Taize prayer.  (They alternate; one week they pray the stations, the next week they do a Taize prayer.)  I hope to participate in this every week.  I'm especially excited about the Taize prayer nights; I've wanted to try that for many years.

Spiritual Reading
During school time, my daughter and I will be reading Amon's Adventure: A Family Story for Easter by Arnold Ytreeide.  During past Advent seasons, we read and enjoyed two of Ytreeide's other books:  Bartholomew's Passage and Jotham's Journey. 

I love the way these books mix history, geography and the story of Jesus' life from the eyes of a adolescent living during that time.  It almost feels like you are there, sharing the experiences.

As a family, we will be reading A Family Journey with Jesus through Lent: Prayers and Activities for Each Day by Angela M. Burrin.  This book is somewhat similar as fictional children from Nazareth, Capernaum, Cana and Jerusalem describe their lives and tell what it was like to live during Jesus' time.  Each daily reading is about four pages long and includes a child's narrative story (based on an actual Bible passage), a scripture memory verse, a prayer, and a section where Jesus "speaks" to the reader about that day's reading. Each reading is built around a theme, which is indexed in the back of the book.  (The themes could be a wonderful way to add even more meaning to Lent!)

The back of the book also includes suggestions for possible Lent activities like having a "family Saturday service day" or being a "secret Simon of Cyrene" and offering a kind gesture to another family member. 

This looks like a great book that we will be re-using every year!

Stations of the Cross
For those Fridays when we aren't able to attend our parish's Soup/Stations event, I plan to use our "Stations of the Cross" prayer gems which I created last year. 

I also plan to occasionally use the "Stations of the Cross" app on my Kindle Fire, just to try something new!

Operation Rice Bowl
Catholic Relief Services offers a wonderful family project for Lent called "Operation Rice Bowl."  If you aren't familiar with it, it's a great way to mix a bit of geography with Catholic social teaching while following the three goals of Lent (prayer, fasting and almsgiving).

Every year they focus on six different countries they serve.  This year, the focus is on Madagascar, Vietnam, El Salvador, Zambia, India and the U.S. Diocese of Arlington.  Each week, your family can read a story about a family in one of the countries, then make a simple themed meatless meal from that country.  There are also a variety of activities that can be done at home like making Lenten Prayer Eggs or watching an online slide show about the designated country.  Families can also use CRS' Lenten calendar to inspire daily prayers or set Lenten goals for your family.

I know that one of the reasons my son loves studying geography is because we participated in Operation Rice Bowl when he was younger.  I'm glad our new parish is involved with the program and look forward to doing country projects and lenten activities designed around this year's featured countries. 

Making a Prayer Space
We had a designated "prayer corner" in our home when my son was younger, but it was a corner with a tiny shelf that we outgrew and eventually re-purposed for something else. I want to take some time this Lent to create an inviting new prayer space in our home.  I've been eyeing a corner in our carpeted basement family room that would be perfect because we don't have a TV or any electronic devices downstairs.  Now I just need to do some thrift store shopping for a comfy chair and a small table to hold our Bible, crucifix and an electronic candle.  I'm looking forward to having a quiet place to read because one of my own personal Lenten goals is to relax with an inspirational/religious book instead of the TV each night!

During our morning prayer time, I hope to teach my daughter some of the Lenten songs I learned as a kid, like O Sacred Head Surrounded, Were You There?, All Glory Laud and Honor, and the Stabat Mater Dolorosa in English.  My personal goal will be to learn the Stabat Mater Dolorosa in Latin.  (Or more realistically, at least one verse of it in Latin!)

Hope your Lent is filled with prayer!

Would you like more ideas on how to observe Lent?  Check out these Link-ups, which are filled with inspiring ideas! 

Catholic Icing's Lenten Link-up

Explore and Express' Celebrating Lent Link-up

 Equipping Catholic Families  Festival of Lent Links

Sunday, February 5, 2012

An activity to teach kindness and love based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

I'm not sure if it was brought on by the dreary, cloudy days we had in January, but patience and kindness seem to be in short supply around our house lately.   I was wondering how I could encourage my children to show more generosity toward each other when I stumbled upon the "love" passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
  (from The USCCB website)

My first inclination was to require encourage my nine and twelve year old to to memorize this Bible passage, but they would probably balk and argue about it, which would defeat the purpose!

Instead, I wondered how I could make a "game" out of learning the passage and encouraging kindness in our everyday actions. At the same time, I thought it would be a perfect activity for the days surrounding St. Valentine's Day.

I ran across this free printable subway art from The Girl Creative and suddenly, I knew what to do!

I printed it out twice.  I framed one of the copies in a plain white frame that I had embellished with red and silver paint pens, red glitter and glitter hearts.   I cut apart the second copy into phrase pieces and then decoupaged them with Mod Podge onto a clear glass vase that wasn't being used.  Here are the results:

Then I picked up some acrylic hearts in pink, red and purple.  I originally found small packages at Michael's for $2.99, but later found larger boxes of them for $2 at Target's dollar spot:

I put a bunch of acrylic hearts in a bowl, then placed the frame, vase and bowl on a sideboard near my dining room table.

At supper, my family discussed 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and what it means to be patient, kind, not envious and the other virtues in the Bible passage.  I told the kids I was going to give them a challenge.  Every time they performed one of the virtues, they could take an acrylic heart from the white bowl and put it in the vase.  If the vase is filled by February 14, I will buy all the ingredients to make banana splits and we will have a "Banana Split Sundae" on the Sunday before Lent begins.

We started on February 1.  The house has been a bit more peaceful, as the kids look for ways to be kind to each other and do little errands for my husband and I (without asking).  I realize the kids might go back to their old ways after the challenge is over, but I'm also praying that they begin to like the feeling they get when they do kind things for each other! 

Linking up to these blogs -- check them out for St. Valentine Day inspiration!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Creating your own materials for "The Presentation in the Temple"

After I finished my last blog post, it occurred to me that I should share some additional information on making figures and a temple  for those who might like to have these materials for their children.

Most of the inspiration for my materials came from my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training and the Materials Manual provided by the National Association for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  However, if you search a bit on the internet you can find directions for making wood peg dolls, which are very similar (and perhaps even easier) than the figures I made from wooden dowels and porcelain clay.

The temple was my own creation, inspired by the plastic cake pillars I found at a garage sale.  However, the Faith Expressions website has helpful instructions on how to make a temple diorama using a plain cardboard photo box and a few other materials.    These dioramas are designed to fit their beautiful clay figurines but would may also work with wood peg people, depending on the size of your wood pegs.  I purchased their "Year After Year We Tell the Stories" booklet, which was also very helpful.

If you make something, please let me know.  I would love to see photos and will share them on this blog if you would like.

Feast of the Presentation/Candlemas

Although most of the world knows February 2 as Groundhog's Day, I like to remember another holiday on this day.  February 2 is also the Feast of the Presentation, which has also been called Candlemas.  This feast day remembers the day when Joseph and the Blessed Mother took Jesus to the temple to be presented.  There, they met Simeon and Anna, two elderly people who had been patiently waiting and praying for the promised Messiah.

In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, we share this story with the students by reading its passage in the Bible (Luke 2:22-39), then meditating on the passage, then using some handmade materials to re-tell the story.  When I took my first CGS training nine years ago,  I made a set of wooden dowel people and a temple so my children could re-tell the story at home.  These are very humble little items and far from perfect, yet my kids seem entranced by them.   Here are a few photos of my handmade materials:

The people are made with wooden dowels and small wooden balls. I used a porcelain clay to form the veils on the women. Joseph is holding a basket of two turtle doves made from the same porcelain clay, and Mary has a porcelain clay Baby Jesus wrapped in "swaddling clothes"  (a piece of cheesecloth.) 

My daughter is working with the materials. The temple is super easy to make! It consists of wooden plaques which have been spray painted with paint that replicates a stone/pebbly surface. The floor is made up of two plaques.  One is slightly smaller so when they are stacked on top of each other, steps are created.  The pillars are plastic cake pillars used for wedding cakes and picked up for pennies at a garage sale.  They were hot glued to the base and roof of the temple.
As I write this, my daughter is behind me, working with the materials and humming "Immaculate Mary."  Ahhh, such a wonderful gift for my heart!

Tonight, our church will have a special Mass for the Feast of the Presentation.  Everyone is invited to bring a candle to be blessed and used throughout the year for birthdays, Lent, prayer times, Advent and other special days.  Afterwards, we'll have a small "cookie and hot cocoa" reception where everyone is invited to bring any leftover Christmas goodies to share.  What a wonderful way to close the Christmas season!

Happy Feast of the Presentation!  How are you celebrating this final day of the Christmas season?