Friday, April 06, 2012

A Family Retreat for Good Friday

A grown-up retreat for parents is difficult on Good Friday. But there are still things you can do with your children, small and large, to make Good Friday into a real retreat day for them, a quiet day to think of what Christ has done for you and for them.

Here is what you can do.

First off, prepare yourself interiorly.

1. Surrender your expectations. A family retreat may not necessarily involve long stretches of silence, uninterrupted meditations, or even a great degree of solemnity. Children are children, after all. A family retreat will look different and feel different from a retreat for adults.

2. Serve the weakest members. Anticipate that the smallest children (and older ones) will be hungry, grumpy, irate by an unexpected routine, or hyperactive. Bring along bottles of water and a bag of pretzels for snacking. Figure out a way to accommodate naps for smaller and older kids. Realize that you might also be grumpy from fasting. Scale down large expectations: settle for less. Serve the youngest children and encourage your teens to have the same attitude. Chances are, if your youngest children are engaged, you will be as well.

When you have prepared yourself to surrender and serve, here are a few activities, which you might want to try.

General activities:

1. Whatever you decide to do, bring along your Bible or a booklet of the Stations of the Cross (with pictures is best). Decide as a family to read all four Passion Narratives, but not all at once, and maybe not all together. Remember how children love stories. In the car or while waiting for something else (ie: bread to rise, Mass to start), dip into each of the Four Gospels. Maybe in the morning, at lunch, at dinner, and before going to bed. You decide. Return to the Gospels over and again during the day. They are short.

2. Sing. Sing "Glory be to Jesus" or "O Sacred Head Surrounded." Or sing the responses from Mass: "Lamb of God," "Holy, Holy, Holy" or the "Our Father." Chant the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Sing to fill up the gaps or to remind the family what this is all about. Sing before naps, in the car, before a meal. Singing makes it sacred. It's okay to sing the same thing over and over again, especially for younger children, who will like it more.

3. Rest. Let your teens sleep in late: it will be easier for them to fast. Make an early bedtime. If you are retreating at home, naps should be optional for all kids. Probably not for you, though.

4. Don't do stuff. No catching up on big housework. Wash the dishes, wipe the counters, pick up bedrooms, but that's it. Don't run the vacuum. Cancel appointments. Keep kids home from school. If Dad can take the day off, cool. If not, that's okay. Do what you can. Don't do what you don't really need to do. Don't shop. The stores are full of Easter things: shop on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Don't watch TV or listen to the radio. Fast from electronics.

5. Stay outside as much as possible. There are fewer distractions of the electronic and recreational kind. Pick flowers. Sit and watch bugs. Take a family hike. Go to a retreat house or religious institution and just walk around the grounds. If you know of someplace that has a Stations of the Cross outside, go and visit. You and the older kids can pay attention to the Stations: involve the younger children as the moments allow.

With younger children (3-6 years)

1. Make a moss garden. Go outside with a bucket and gather moss, gravel, small flowers, branches from boxwood bushes, and rocks. When you come inside, plant a moss garden in a old baking tray and build a tomb. Meditate (ie: keep it in your mind and speak to the children about it at opportune times) the Garden of Gethsemane, how Christ's friends were too tired to pray with Him. Remember how Christ was buried in the tomb. Above is the tomb my older daughter created this Holy Thursday.

2. Read stories. The Gospels are best, but there are other books that are also good. Avoid those with too much Easter in them. Read the story of Jonah and remember how Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days.

3. Gather four of the biggest nails you can find and hold them and talk about them with your children. Notice the sharp points. Discern how much detail you should go into with your younger children about Christ's sufferings, but let them know that Christ was nailed to the Cross. All young children can relate to getting hurt and experiencing bleeding. Meditate on how Christ got hurt, on purpose, to save us. Hold the nails gently. Kiss them to thank Jesus for getting hurt for our sake. If you go on a family hike, bring the nails along, wrapped in a cloth. Take turns carrying them.

4. Cover the statues and pictures in your house. Get a bunch of cloth napkins in a dark color, or cut up pieces of dark cloth (we have used a black cape from a Halloween costume). Go around the house and carefully cover up statues of Mary and the saints and holy pictures. (If you don't have cloths, you can turn some pictures to the wall). Use dark garbage bags to cover up outdoor statues. Talk about why we do this at home and at church. We do it to help us focus most of all on Christ, and to remind ourselves that without Christ, there would be no saints!

5. Have a funeral procession for Christ. Leave your family crucifix uncovered until 3 PM. Then take it down from the wall. Have some small wet cloths and gently wipe it and clean it. (Crucifixes can get dusty.) Take turns kissing Christ's hands and feet and face. Say thank you to Jesus for dying for us. Wrap the crucifix in white cloth (napkins or tea towels work). Then have a procession to the dining table or other place of repose. Family members can carry palm branches from Palm Sunday, lighted candles, flowers. Sing or chant as you process slowly to the place of repose. When you reach the place, place the flat palm branches criss-cross to make a sunburst and place the crucifix gently on top of them. Arrange candles and flowers around him. Say a prayer together. Keep the place of repose as a place where family members can until Easter.

With older children (6-12 years)

1. Go fishing. Find a quiet spot. Suggest to your children that they try to keep silence together as much as possible. Bring a Bible or book of the stations of the Cross so someone can read. Meditate on how the apostles were fishermen, what it means to be a Fisher of Men. Christ could have appeared anywhere on earth: why was He born in a place where fishing was such a large part of life? Does this mean anything? If you catch anything, have it for dinner.

2. Make pretzels out of salt dough in the morning. Recall that the pretzel shape is meant to recall arms crossed in prayer over the heart. (Hold a pretzel "upside down" to get the idea.) Discuss your Lenten resolutions. Was prayer really a part of your Lent? Let them rise and then bake them and have them for lunch with or without soup.

3. Carry the cross-beam together. While on a hike, look for a log or a heavy piece of wood that would be about the same weight as Christ's cross-beam. When you find the beam, take it with you on the hike. Take turns carrying it, or carry it together. Decide how far you can carry it. While you do, meditate on Christ's carrying His Cross and the Stations of the Cross. Think of how we can help carry one another's crosses.

4. Make a cross from a Christmas tree. This requires some additional planning, but if you know where you Christmas tree is (ie: on a burn pile in the back yard), find it and cut off the branches. Then cut it in two to make a cross. Fasten the cross-beam on the cross with rope or wire or nails. Set it up in your yard by digging a hole or piling stones around it. Pick flowers and put them around the base. Meditate on how the Christmas tree symbolizes the Tree of Life that was left in the Garden of Eden, and how the same Christ Child who gave us gifts at Christmas gave us Himself at Easter.

5. Have personal prayer times. At an opportune time (during the baby's nap?) let everyone go into a secret corner of the house with a Bible or prayer book and spent at least fifteen minutes praying any way they want. Give them notebooks or paper to write letters to Christ.

6. Pray and draw the Sorrowful Mysteries. If your kids are artistic, let them drawn pictures of the Passion as the family prays the Sorrowful Mysteries. They can draw anything from Christ Himself or Mary weeping over Christ or just them implements of the Passion -- the crown of thorns, the nails, the cross. Or they can copy a verse from the Passion narrative and illuminate it in calligraphy or with decorations. Post the artwork on the fridge or the family bulletin board or on the doors until Easter.

With teens (age 12-18)

1. Make a crown of thorns. While you're out in the wild, bring along a brown paper bag and a tough pair of work gloves. Gather thorn branches from brambles. When you have a rest, sit down and try weaving a crown of thorns, with gloves on or not. (Gloves are always an option.) To avoid unnecessary scratches, take your time: it's easiest to make the crown without gloves. In other countries, this is a traditional devotion. Meditate on Christ's crown of thorns and what it means for you. When you're finished, take turns carrying the crown as you walk. Place it on a cloth in the center of the dinner table.

2. If your teen is a reader, read or have them read the Dolorous Passion of our Lord by Anne Catherine Emmerich. Many teens have seen the movie The Passion but don't know the devotional work that inspired it.

3. If you have all teens, try spending the entire day outside. Practice "making silence" together. That means all agreeing to be as quiet as possible so that you and others can pray. Be aware that boys naturally make more noise than girls and let the girls know they have to be patient. :)

4. . Before bed, pray Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours as a family. During the time of examination of conscience, ask your children's forgiveness for specific faults and failings that you have committed during the day. Invite (but don't require) your children to do the same.

5. In evening, watch The Passion of the Christ or the final part of Jesus of Nazareth or another movie about Christ's life. No snacks.

For dinner:

1. Make matzo bread. This can be an activity for the whole family. Use one cup of flour per person (or 3/4 white and 1/4 wheat), add a bit of sea salt or blessed salt, mix in about 1/4 cup of pure olive oil or vegetable oil, and then add just enough water to make a mixture of the consistency of play-dough. Let the children help. Meditate (ie: keep it in your mind and speak to the children about it at opportune times) on how Christ became our Bread of Life. Think about the unleavened bread of the Passover the Jews ate, the manna in the desert, the bread Christ consecrated at the Last Supper. Knead and pound the bread to develop the gluten, and think of how Christ was bruised for our sakes. Heat the oven to 400 degrees and remember how He willingly suffered in the crucible for us. Divide the bread into one-cup rounds (you can mix it one cup at a time) and cover with a white cloth. Think of how Joseph of Arimethea wrapped Christ's body in a linen shroud. After about fifteen minutes, let the children roll out the balls of dough into flat rounds like pita bread. Gently put the flat breads onto a greased baking sheet and brush them with olive oil and spices. Think of how Joseph anointed Christ's body. Put them in the oven. Meditate on Christ's rest in the tomb. Bake for about 10-20 minutes or till golden brown.

2. Eat matzo for dinner with fish sticks and rice. Remember that you are fasting but that the children can have as much as they want. No dessert.

On Easter night, after the Vigil or before bed:

You can decorate the Moss Garden with new flowers and little white banners saying, "Alleluia" and "He is Risen!" Roll away the stone so that your children can see the empty tomb.

Uncover all the statues (dust them with the cloths!) and replace all the holy pictures. Drape the crucifix in white cloth or white ribbons, decorate with palm branches and flowers, and hang it up again with all the statues grouped on a table beneath to celebrate. Don't forget to uncover your garden statues! Or have the children uncover them before the Easter Egg hunt.

If you made your Christmas tree into a crucifix, decorate it with flowers and a white sheet draped over its arms. Put it in a place where it can welcome visitors to your home during the Easter season.