I’ve been thinking about saints quite a bit lately.
Part of my work has me researching saints and their lives of heroic virtue. November began with All Saints Day. And as the Church begins the Year of Faith, we’ve decided as a family to work our way through a collection of stories about saints written for children.
The stories have become a valued bedtime ritual for the kids—they enjoy hearing about saints’ lives and how they sought God and loved their neighbors. The kids are disappointed when the timing of an evening won’t allow for a story, which kind of surprised me. I was not expecting them to be so captivated by these holy men and women.
But it does make sense. The saints face the ultimate question that all of us face: how far am I willing to go in handing over my life to God? It is a compelling question for anyone who believes, so why should children not be interested in how people have answered it through the ages?
The fun part has been challenging them to make connections between our lives now and the holiness that each saint distinctively forged in his or her own life.
For example, one night while Stacey was out at a parish meeting, I read to them the story of St. Therese of Lisieux , the Little Flower. Therese died as a young nun who lived most of her short, illness-ridden life in a convent, but she learned to do all things—especially little things—with great love. We decided, the kids and I, to each offer Stacey a “little flower” in the next day with a small act of love.
Oscar decided to get up without being grumpy. Simon decided to take out the trash. Lucy decided to give Stacey a kiss.
Another night, we read the story of St. Frederic Ozanam, a French scholar who defended Christianity in a growing secular age and founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society. We agreed to buy canned goods on our next trip to the grocery store and donate them to the St. Vincent de Paul Society food bank at our parish.
It is not easy to make a connection with every saint, but it is fun to try. At the very least, the stories capture our imaginations on a deep level. I find myself going through my days with a slightly different lens now that I am more familiar with people who responded to their circumstances with faithfulness and love. The saints challenge me to be a better Christian.
Some people are declared saintly simply because they raised a child to become a saint. Take St. Fausta, for example—she is depicted in one of the 140 statues that line the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. We know nothing about her other than the fact that she raised her daughter, St. Anastasia, in such a way that she was willing to die for the Christian faith as a martyr.
It is a great calling—to raise children who might one day become a saint. It is a calling that clarifies a whole lot about modern parenthood because it crystallizes the values that are needed for such an endeavor: self-giving love, of course, but also patience, joy, peace, faithfulness, kindness, self-control, goodness, and gentleness—to name a few.
In approaching this calling, I realize that raising a saint has very little to do with forcing a child into a mold of sorts. The simple variety in the stories is clear evidence that God did not make saints from a cookie-cutter. Each of them flourished in their individuality because each grew into the unique people God created them to be. They are a band of blazingly colorful personas.
Raising saints has to be about cultivating a life in which each child can blossom with the gifts and personalities that they were given by God. And the best way to teach that kind of virtue is to strive for sainthood myself.
What a gift to the world it would be if one day, children were to read stories about the lives of St. Oscar, St. Simon-Peter, and St. Lucy of Indiana.