This article was contributed by Sister Lou Ella Hickman, I.W.B.S.
For many people, the cross is merely a fashion statement or “bling.” Yet for the early Christians, the cross was such a powerful reminder of Jesus’ humiliating death as a criminal, it was not depicted until the fourth century. Since then, the cross has become the central symbol of our Christian faith. This liturgical year can be one of helping your students experience the cross as the tree of life.
Students can place a tree in the foyer of the church or school and keep it stocked with various types of “foliage.” Thus, whatever is placed on the tree is then considered a gift for whoever wants to take an item. Those who are preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation might choose this activity for their service project. This could be a project for your school or parish Scout troop. As an option, the students could pick a season to attach slips of paper with the names of the invisible of society such as those on welfare. Also, allow the students to brainstorm a list of intentions whenever possible.
As preparation for the project, have the class read the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9), one of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew: “a good tree bears good fruit.” (7:15-20), and finally Genesis 2:9—“Out of the ground the Lord God made various trees that grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle . . .” Then discuss how this project could reflect the parable, the saying about good fruit from trees and the creation story. Also discuss how these three readings say something about the cross. If you teach younger students you may want to introduce this project with the story of The Three Trees. Older students might enjoy reading this story to younger students. Overarching option would be for classes to take turns filling the tree.
Beginning of School Year
- Attach the names and addresses of seminarians/religious in formation to pray for and write to.
- Attach the names of various groups to pray for an increase of vocations. For example: the deaf, Native Americans, the homeless, the unchurched.
- Attach the names of the military personnel from the parish, school, diocese to pray for.
- Attach a request for the individual to begin praying for those who enter the Church at Easter.
- Attach a request for the individual to begin praying for those who will be baptized during the year, for their parents, and the godparents.
- Attach a prayer for those who will be preparing for marriage during the year.
September 14: Triumph of the Cross
- Attach small crosses with a card requesting for prayer for someone carrying a heavy cross.
October: Month of the Rosary
- Student can made rosaries. Check if parish has a rosary making group and ask for a donation.
- Attach the rosaries with a small card—how to say the rosary.
October: Pro-life Month
- Attach cards with names of items needed for pregnancy centers.
October 4: St. Francis of Assisi
- Blessing of the Animals: attach places where donations to help animals are needed.
- Attach prayers for veterinarians, park rangers, game wardens, and those who work in animal shelters.
November: National Hospice Month
- Make holy cards with the picture of St. Joseph patron of the dying and attach. Include prayers for the dying and those who care for them.
- As a side lesson, go over the Anointing of the Sick.
November 1 and 2: Saints Day and All Souls Day
- Make and attach pictures of various saints and a prayer to each. Make a small prayer box with the name of the saint inside and hang. If there is a religious goods store in town, ask the students to buy a holy card/medal to hang on the tree.
Before and After the Election
- Attach prayers for the new president and all those who serve in government offices.
- Ask your pastor or principal to hand out small slips of paper then have the parishioners/students and faculty to write down “The most important thing I am thankful for is . . .”
- Pick up during the offertory during Mass. Have your students attach to the Tree of Life. An option: have the students read the slips and then post the combined results. For example: family got 250 votes, health got 200, etc. Don’t forget to supply your pastor/principal with the paper and pencils.
- Attach Jesse tree symbols and/or Chrismons™ symbols. Chrismons™ symbols such as the anchor, butterfly, three interlaced circles. With these symbols attach a prayer to match. For example, the anchor is the symbol of hope so a student could add the Act of Hope.
- Attach prayers for those who attend church only at Christmas and Easter.
Feast of the Holy Family: First Sunday after Christmas
- Have the students draw a composite of a house and a church with a family to illustrate the concept of the “domestic church.” Then have the students write a prayer intention on the back.
January 1: World Day of Prayer for Peace
- Attach slips of paper with the name of a country to pray for. A student could add a specific idea to go with the name. For example: for the end of the civil war in . . .
Catholic Schools Week
- Teachers make every job possible. Attach slips of paper with the names of various types of jobs especially those that can be dangerous like police officers, fire fighters, etc.
- The word courage comes from the French word, “coeur.” Make Valentine cards with pictures of people who are showing great courage. Have the students compose a prayer for those who are fearful. Attach to the tree.
Lent/Ash Wednesday: March 1
- Attach slips of paper with suggested acts of gratitude/kindness.
- Attach a request to prayer for just one person who is indifferent about his or her faith as well as for parents.
Easter: April 16
- Place prayer or prayer intention in a plastic egg. Seal then attach to tree.
Earth Day: April 22
- List places where individuals can help clean, plant, or recycle.
- Attach a short prayer in honor of Pope Francis on how people could care for the earth.
- Attach prayers for graduates.
Ask your pastor /principal to remind parishioners /students periodically about the Tree of Life. If needed, more than one tree can be displayed.