Friday, February 17, 2012

Lenten Centerpiece: Meditations Week One

The Crucifixion, Andrea Mantega

Soon Lent will begin. To begin our interactive Lenten activity, we will  place a black tray in the center of our dining room table.  It can be any shape, but it is important that it be black or very dark.  My tray is just a black tray that came with a deli salad I ordered back in January.  Other basically free ideas might be a piece of black cloth (you could even fold up a black skirt), a mat of black construction paper, or a piece of wood the children have painted black.  

 In the center of the tray, place a black or dark bowl with either ashes from last year's palms (this is what we use) or some dirt in it. In place of the bowl, a piece of black paper folded into a box-like container would work.  

A few notes on burning palms.  Put last year's palms in a large, preferably old, pot:

Drop a burning match in the center and cover immediately with some kind of metal mesh (such as a colander).  This is essential even if you burn the palms outside.  They are very light and easily blow away--on fire!

I burnt my palms inside because it was cold, but really you should do this outside.  The flames flare up quite high, so I think if your ceiling is a standard height (mine is 12'), you definitely don't want to do this on your kitchen counter as I did!  Besides, it sets off the smoke detectors.  Being Catholic is seriously exciting! I'm sure my boys will remember this part of getting ready for Lent!

About two or three times a week, beginning right after Ash Wednesday,  I will read one of the meditations below to my children.  I myself will probably read the meditations on Sunday evening, Tuesday evening, and Thursday evenings to my children, as that will work best with my schedule (except, of course, for the first short week).  Use whatever schedule works best for you.  Be flexible!  I have tried to make the meditations accessible to younger children and also interesting to older ones.  Pick and choose the parts of the meditations that work best for your family, or write your own!  The Scripture quotations are from the Douay-Rheims version.  They and the Baltimore Catechism questions are included if you wish to use them for copywork, catechesis, or just to read aloud and discuss.  Do what works best for your family, and don't make it too complicated.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Meditation #1:  In the center of our Lenten table, we have placed a black tray and a bowl of ashes (or dirt).  The black color reminds us of the ashes the priest placed on our foreheads today (or on Ash Wednesday).  As he traced the Sign of the Cross on us, he said the words, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."  
When God created the world, everything was very good.  But, sadly, our first parents Adam and Eve decided to turn away from God.  We read in the Book of Genesis:  

      Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman: Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise? And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die. And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death.  For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.
     And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.  And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons.  And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise.   And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou?  And he said: I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.~Genesis 3:1-10

 So, when Adam and Eve sinned, one of the results of that sin was that death entered the world.  As we look at our centerpiece with its black colors and ashes (or dirt, depending on which you used), we remember that we are all going to die one day. We can look around at the world we live in and see the sad consequences of Adam's sin.  Today there are wars and disasters and accidents in which many people are hurt.  People are not always kind to one another; sometimes people don't have all the food they need or even homes to live in.  Sometimes we even do things we know are bad and hurtful.  All of these sad things happen today because of Adam and Eve's first sin.

From the Baltimore Catechism #3: 

Q. 243. Did God give any command to Adam and Eve?
A. To try their obedience, God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of a certain fruit which grew in the garden of Paradise.

Q. 248. Which were the chief blessings intended for Adam and Eve had they remained faithful to God?
A. The chief blessings intended for Adam and Eve, had they remained faithful to God, were a constant state of happiness in this life and everlasting glory in the next.

Q. 249. Did Adam and Eve remain faithful to God?
A. Adam and Eve did not remain faithful to God, but broke His command by eating the forbidden fruit.

Q. 250. Who was the first to disobey God?
A. Eve was the first to disobey God, and she induced Adam to do likewise.

Q. 251. How was Eve tempted to sin?
A. Eve was tempted to sin by the devil, who came in the form of a serpent and persuaded her to break God's command.

Q. 252. Which were the chief causes that led Eve into sin?
A. The chief causes that led Eve into sin were: (1) She went into the danger of sinning by admiring what was forbidden, instead of avoiding it. (2) She did not fly from the temptation at once, but debated about yielding to it. Similar conduct on our part will lead us also into sin.

Q. 253. What befell Adam and Eve on account of their sin?
A. Adam and Eve, on account of their sin, lost innocence and holiness, and were doomed to sickness and death.

Q. 254. What other evils befell Adam and Eve on account of their sin?
A. Many other evils befell Adam and Eve on account of their sin. They were driven out of Paradise and condemned to toil. God also ordained that henceforth the earth should yield no crops without cultivation, and that the beasts, man's former friends, should become his savage enemies.

Meditation #2:  Thinking about the ashes (dirt) and black color of our centerpiece, we remember that because of Adam's sin, we are all going to die one day and the world is in a sad state.  How does God feel about this?  The Bible tells us:

Therefore will I judge every man according to his ways, O house of Israel, saith the Lord God. Be converted, and do penance for all your iniquities: and iniquity shall not be your ruin.
Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed, and  make to yourselves a new heart, and a new spirit: and why will you die, O house of Israel?
      For I desire not the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, return ye and live.~Ezekiel 18:30-32
God doesn't want us to have to die.  In fact, He made our souls to be immortal--that means they will live forever. He wants us to turn away from sin, to be converted, and to live with Him and for Him both here and in Heaven. In order to save us from death, He planned to send a Savior.  God first told Adam and Eve about His plan right after they had sinned:

And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.  I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.~Genesis 3:14-15

The "seed" of the woman who would crush the evil one's head would be Jesus Christ.  The woman is our mother, Mary.  It would take many thousands of years before the time would be right for the Savior to come, but God promised He would come.  

Meditation #3:  As we look at the centerpiece today, let's take a moment and think about our own sins.  We all sin and wouldn't it be terrible if we could not go to Confession and know that our sins are forgiven?  God wanted us to live, and He wanted us to be happy with Him forever in Heaven, so He sent a Savior to set us free from death and sin.  In order for the Savior to restore life to Adam and Eve and all us, He had to become a human being.  He had to take our punishment on Himself and experience death just as we do in order that justice might be satisfied. Jesus, our Savior, suffered in Adam's place and for Adam.  

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh; God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and of sin, hath condemned sin in the flesh;  That the justification of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.~Romans 8:3-4

The next set of meditations will be posted the Sunday after Ash Wednesday.  Future meditations will be posted on the subsequent Sundays during the season of Lent.

Collect for Ash Wednesday

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

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