Each month, we receive hundreds and hundreds of submitted drawings and writings from children attending local Catholic elementary schools and parish religious education programs for the Junior Saints children’s section published by our Catholic Standard newspaper. Their insights on our faith remind me of what Jesus says in Matthew 19:14: “Let the children come to me… for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Reading their writings and reviewing their drawings reminds me why sometimes I need to stop working and worrying and go play tag with my 9-year-old son Matt, because sometimes experiencing life through the eyes of a child can bring me much-needed clarity and freedom (as long as I don’t fall down and hurt myself).
Recently, amid worries about working on our next work projects in the aftermath of the Snowzilla blizzard, I enjoyed plowing through the stacks of kids’ artwork and writings about Lent in this Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church.
Of course, some submissions were funny. A third grader wrote, “For Lent, I’m giving up soda, because I don’t need that sugar. Jesus did not drink soda, and he is great.”
In one drawing, a girl showed herself triumphing over the temptation to eat potato chips, as she is being cheered on by kids on the playground and Jesus in heaven (the sun overhead also gives her two thumbs up).
Other kids wrote about how they will give up favorite foods. Judging by their responses, sales for Pepsi, Coke and Hershey chocolate will steeply decline during the 40 days for Lent. A fourth grader boy reflected on Lent as a time to give up his favorite food, beef jerky, and focus on God, and a fifth grade girl expressed a similar sentiment about forgoing meatballs for Lent. Same for a third grade boy sacrificing gummy worms. A fourth grade girl wrote, “The thought of me being without (the video game) Minecraft, (I thought) my life would probably be over, but I thought if Jesus can die and come back to life, I think I’ll be fine.”
Many kids wrote about giving up their electronic devices, social media, movies and online videos for Lent, like the boy who is giving up his tablet to spend more time reading the Bible and praying, and the girl who is giving up social media to pray the rosary more. Another vowed to give up Instagram and join the parish youth group and try to strengthen her relationship with God.
Evan David, a fourth grader from Holy Redeemer School in Kensington, promised to, “instead of using the screens, in my free time I will exercise, go to Adoration and Sunday Mass.”
Danny Papp, a sixth grader from St. John School in Hollywood, wrote, “I am going to give up YouTube and chocolate milk for Lent.” Ethan Brooks, a fifth grader from St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie, wrote, “For Lent, I will give up playing on my iPhone and iPad for 40 days.”
Jack Harper, a sixth grader from Our Lady, Star of the Sea School in Solomons, noted, “During the season of Lent, I will keep my head out of my phone and focus on the things that really matter, like my parents, family, friends and most important, God.” That point was echoed by Gio Guadagnoli, a fourth grader from St. Mary School in Bryantown, who will “set aside my iPod to pay attention to the Lord” and will go outside “to the beautiful world he created.”
Pope Francis called on Catholics to carry out works of mercy during this Year of Mercy, and Catholic students are in step with “Walking with Francis,” like Madelyn Thompson, an eighth grader at St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie who is volunteering at the Warm Nights shelter program at her church with her grandma and making sandwiches for the homeless. Other students wrote about looking in their clothes closet for something to give to the poor, and helping shovel snow out of the driveway for elderly neighbors.
Kids also wrote about getting closer to Jesus during Lent, by encouraging their families to go to Mass every Sunday, by praying the rosary in the car on the way to and from school, praying with their families, making new friends, by doing good deeds every day, going to Confession, and thanking God for all their blessings. Eric Bomfim from St. Bartholomew School in Bethesda noted, “Jesus has done so much for us, and we need to give back to him.”
Elexis Powell, a third grader from St. Mary School in Bryantown, wrote, “I will be praying more and showing mercy to others.” Eighth grader Adam Caraway from St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie added, “I will do my very best to become holy.”
Alex Herron, an eighth grader from Our Lady, Star of the Sea School in Solomons, pointed out, “This is the Year of Mercy, and for Lent, I will be more merciful. Lent is not about giving something up. It is about changing for the better.”
Ryan Roach, an eighth grader from St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie, wrote, “What I will be doing this year for Lent is reflecting on the person I have become, and the person I want to be.”
Armana Lulu, a seventh grader from St. Pius X, noted, “For the 40 days of Lent, I will start and end each day with a prayer… Pray daily, and you will have a clearer vision of the risen Christ.” That sentiment was shared by Citiana Belaynen, a St. Pius X sixth grader, who wrote, “I will try to pray and listen for God’s plan for me in my life.”
Maybe we adults can learn from the kids, and center our lives this Lent on prayer, the sacraments and serving the poor and being merciful. And if need be, turn away from beef jerky and gummy worms.