I sat down with our daughter, Michelina, last week to learn about the shrine she erected in our basement. Michelina, who will turn 9 in a few months, attends parish school religion. Shortly before Ash Wednesday she set up a prayer corner in preparation for Easter. Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent, kicks off 40 days of prayer and fasting for Catholics.
Dad: Tell me, Michelina, what inspired you to build your prayer corner?
Michelina: My purple book inspired me by telling me all the things I could do there.
Dad: Does having a prayer corner help you remain committed to your faith?
Michelina: Yes. It helps me understand some things about my faith better.
Dad: Michelina, I know everyone’s dying to know. What did you give up for Lent this year, and why?
Michelina: I gave up using my DSI and the family tablet after 8:00 PM, and no going back for seconds at snack time. I did the things for the electronics so that I don’t get in the habit of playing them every day. I did the thing with candy because a lot of people don’t have any.
Michelina was eager to walk me through the elements of her prayer corner. We discussed the significance of each item, starting with The Little Purple Book For Children. This book is filled with exercises to help kids experience the journey of Lent. The Little Books series was created by Bishop Ken Untener (1937-2004) in Saginaw, Michigan in 1999. Catholics can use these books to recite verses and learn Catholic customs, traditions and historical tidbits. Michelina’s Little Book is purple because purple is the liturgical color for Lent. This year’s theme is “Walking With God.” Lessons are completed independently every day starting the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter Sunday.
Michelina also had a copy of The Beginner’s Bible – Timeless Children’s Stories as told by Karyn Henley and illustrated by Dennas Davis in her prayer corner. She told me that she finds this bible very informative. She never grows tired of the interesting pictures. I thought the picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden looked pretty funny!
Next, Michelina showed me a pendant of Pope John Paul II. She had affixed it to a picture of St. Stanislaus, the martyred 11th century bishop of Krakow, Poland, which was prominently displayed in her prayer corner. The pendant was given to her by Grandma Farley. We believe that Grandma brought it back when she and Grandpa visited the Vatican years ago. Michelina found the picture of St. Stanislaus at the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus in Cleveland, a church that is adorned with many relics of Pope John Paul II. I’m guessing that she lumped the two together because both men were Polish.
Moving along in the tour I was shown a rosary of 10 beads that she made when she was in the 1st grade. A set of ten beads represents a decade. A regulation size rosary has five decades. Despite being Catholic my entire life I never mastered the art of praying the rosary. I’m sure the nuns went over it with me. I know I passed all the tests. But revisiting the rosary is like trying to make it through all the rounds of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader.
Rounding out the relics in Michelina’s prayer corner: Her baptismal candle from 2005. A couple of regulation size rosaries to supplement her homemade one. A pillow she sits on it when she’s hanging out here. Two stuffed bunnies to let the Easter Bunny know she hasn’t forgotten him. Finally, a list of Things To Do At The Prayer Corner:
1. Decorate however you want.
2. Do the Sign Of The Cross.
3. Thank God for all the things you would like to thank Him for. Example: You can thank God for every living thing – life, food, confidence, light and darkness, friends, family.
4. Pass all your worries up to God.
5. Pray in your head, aloud, or on the Rosary.
6. When you are finished, do the Sign Of The Cross and thank God for this place and time.
Michelina’s prayer corner made me think back to my school days. Like today, NO MEAT ON FRIDAYS! was the law of the land. In high school I stood in solidarity with friends at McDonald’s on Friday nights waiting for the clock to strike Midnight — so we could order Big Macs and cheeseburgers! It was officially Saturday and we had lasted all day without meat. Sure we could have ordered the Filet-O-Fish when we got there at 11:50. But we had made it this far. Enough with the fish already!
We feared the worst would happen to us if we misbehaved during Lent. No one wanted to risk being snitched on for not observing it. The cashier at McDonald’s understood our dilemma and allowed us to congregate in a corner during the countdown. Sometimes we watched “sinners” (customers who had probably been excommunicated from the church) ordering meat to go. We prayed for mercy when they squeezed by us, their heads facing down in shame, the steam from their burgers hovering like halos above. We dared not give in to temptation lest we face the wrath of Sister Angelita on Monday. I had always believed that cashier was planted by the diocese to keep an eye on us.
I learned a lot by talking with Michelina about her prayer corner. Lent gives us a chance to grow closer to God. I’m glad that she found a way to connect with Him instead of worrying about cheeseburgers!