Happy St. Patrick’s Day, ya’ll! The stars have aligned and I spontaneously carved out some time this afternoon to finish this post on the saints that’s been in my drafts for a while.
So…did you know that St. Patrick wasn’t actually an Irishman?
He was actually born in Britain, but was captured by Irish raiders when he was sixteen and forced to be a shepherd in Ireland for six years. His Catholic Christian faith deepened during that time, however, and after receiving a dream from God of an approaching ship, he escaped on that very ship (which was where the dream told him he’d find it!) and went back to England. He then studied to become a priest, and was later made a bishop. He was sent by Pope Celestine to evangelize England and Ireland. During the next 33 years, Patrick baptized thousands of people in those countries, especially in Ireland. He traveled constantly and endured many attempts on his life. St. Patrick did so much to spread Christianity in Ireland that during the Dark Ages, Ireland became known as “The Land of Saints.” Many Irish missionaries kept Christianity alive and growing in other countries during that time, and the country’s numerous monasteries served the poor and sick and protected learning and culture during a dark time in history. And all because of St. Patrick’s ministry.
What an amazing story.
I have made it a habit for a while now to read the “Saint of the Day” on the Laudate app (along with the daily Mass readings). This little habit has done so much for my faith life over the years that I have become pretty convicted about intentionally giving my children the gift of the saints.
So what is the gift of reading the lives of the saints? Well, for me, it’s more like a group of spiritual reminders that keep me grounded and in perspective.
- Our problems are nothing new. St. Patrick and St. Josephine Bahkita were slaves. St. Gemma Galgani (and many other saints!) endured horrific pain and debilitating constant illness for years. It’s not that I should feel all wimpy and guilty about how hard a time I have with my own problems and crosses. I think that learning about the lives of the saints just helps us remember that everybody in every age of history has problems. Big ones and little ones and impossible ones and painful ones and horrifying ones. Nothing you will ever suffer is so new, or bad, or unspeakably painful that there isn’t a saint in Heaven who made it through something similar–through faith in the saving power and personal love of Jesus. Maybe the types of problems we have don’t really matter; it’s how we get through them that counts for all eternity. We all have a place in history, a mission we were made for, a battle to fight in the story of history that He is weaving and writing. While we can certainly mess things up with our sin–as did many of the saints I’ve read about –God can more than work with that. We’re just a little pencil in the hand of a writing God,” said St. Teresa of Calcutta. I love that.
- Our sins are nothing new. So many people think they are too far gone for God. They think they’re the most depraved, the weakest, the worst, unworthy, unredeemable and unlovable to the point of hopelessness. That is one of the saddest and most terrible lies of the enemy. Now, I cannot vouch for the innermost thoughts or charity of any of the flawed human beings on this planet, but I can vouch for the merciful, compassionate gaze of God on anyone who turns his face toward Him in humility. So can every one of the saints. I wish I could share with those who feel so unworthy the story of St. Mary Magdalene, the “sinful woman” who after her deep and heartfelt conversion became a dear friend of Jesus–and was the first disciple Jesus appeared to after his Resurrection. I wish I could share the story of St. Augustine, a brilliant intellectual who led a life of great sin and evil before a major mid-life conversion. His writings are incredible (check out his Confessions), and he is now a Doctor of the Church. Not to mention, we have St. Paul, who zealously hunted down the early Christians. No matter how bad we’ve been, there is always hope.
- We can’t make God love us any more or any less. Oh, how I want my children to learn this. I was an adult before it really sunk in me that trying so hard to be “good” wasn’t going to make God love me one jot more, and that all my weaknesses and sins weren’t making Him love me any less. He has loved me as a beloved daughter from His first thought of Me, and He’ll love me for eternity. Period. End of story. No matter how I choose to live my story. And here’s another mind-blowing way I hope my kids learn to pray with this truth: God loves loves every saintly person we know with that same love, and He loves every homeless man, unborn child, and every aggravating or selfish or ugly or mentally ill or hypocritical or difficult person we have in our lives, with the same unconditional and burning love He has for us.
- Saints were real people, just like us. Among the more than 10,000 people the Catholic Church has declared saints since the time of Jesus and the Apostles, there is every type of person from every type of background imaginable. The saints are slaves and kings, rich and poor, mothers and fathers, married couples and celibates, emigrants and homebodies. They are blind people and deaf people, introverts and extroverts, sick people and well people, miracle workers and construction workers. They are soldiers and sailors, doctors and farmers, small business owners and teachers, special needs persons and mighty intellectuals. They are people who struggled with abusive spouses, manipulative inlaws, and wayward children. They are people who lived with difficult superiors, corrupt government and Church officials, financial difficulties, and prolonged illnesses and disabilities. They are people whose projects failed over and over, people who dealt with extreme poverty, people who were torn from family and friends, and those whose lives were so nondescript and ordinary that people didn’t discover the incredible beauty of their souls until after their death. The variety of the saints gives us hope: there is no mold for holiness other than being the best version of oneself, the person God created you to be within the time and set of circumstances He’s put you in.
- We are all called to be saints. St. Josemaria Escriva and St. Pope John Paul II are two of my very favorite saints. Both men spoke over and over of the universal call to holiness. Their encouragement to strive for holiness by putting our hearts–all for Christ!–into the ordinary work of each day was new and so powerful for me as a very young wife and mother. Meditating on the sheer variety of the saints always leads me back to this inspiring and challenging idea that the world doesn’t need more good people–it needs more holy people.
“Not all of us can be rich, wise, or famous; yet all of us–yes, all of us–are called to be saints.” -St. Josemaria Escriva
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” -St. Pope John Paul II in his inaugural homily
So, how am I going about intentionally putting the saints into how we raise our children? Here are a few ideas I thought I would share:
- Holy Heroes Glory Stories: One of my favorite ways to teach my children about the lives of the saints are the Holy Heroes Glory Stories, a series of beautifully-done short audio dramas about the saints. Over the years, we’ve listened to the moving stories of modern day saints like St. John Paul II and St. Katherine Drexel, popular saints like St. Anthony of Padua and St. Therese of Lisieux, and even lesser-known saints like Blessed Imelda Lambertini, St. Juan Diego, and St. Jose Sanchez del Rio. I love the Glory Stories because we can listen to them in the van, and because they are produced in a way that appeals to a wide variety of ages in our family–including me.
- Novels about the Saints (for me!): I suppose I have to actually have the wisdom and knowledge of the saints I want to give to my kids, so reading up myself on the saints is helpful for my own spiritual life. Besides reading the short biographies for the “Saint of the Day” on my Laudate app every day, I have read a few lovely novels about the saints from German author Louis de Wohl. My favorite one (and a great Lenten read!) is The Spear: A Novel of the Crucifixion. My local library doesn’t have de Wohl’s novels, so I’ve bought a few of them secondhand online. So far, I’ve read The Restless Flame, about St. Augustine, and The Last Crusader, about Don Juan of Austria and the Battle of Lepanto.
- Saint biographies for children: Even though it is always a little tricky to sit down and read aloud with all of my kids right now, I try hard to make read-aloud time a priority, and I make sure I rotate in stories about the saints. Over the years we have accumulated several wonderful books about the lives of the saints. My favorites are: My Golden Book of Saints, Cloud of Witnesses: A Child’s First Book of Saints, and Picture Book of Saints. I’ve also really liked Saints for Girls and have my eye on Saints for Boys.
- Tomie de Paola books: Author Tomie de Paola has lots of fabulous children’s story books about the saints, and most of them have been available at my local library! If your kids get a little bored with the picture-and-short-biography type of saint books, try Tomie de Paola’s many saint story books: The Clown of God; Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland; Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi; Christopher, The Holy Giant; Mary, the Mother of Jesus; The Friar Who Flew; The Holy Twins, and a favorite of mine, Pascual and the Kitchen Angels. And I think there are some more that we haven’t read yet.
- Saint movies: We have watched a few of these that we were given to our family as gifts. We have seen The Day the Sun Danced: The True Story of Fatima, Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa, St. Francis, and St. Patrick. They’re sweet and are great for younger children (12 and under).
- Formed.org: If you parish doesn’t have a Formed.org subscription, talk to your priest about it! There are lots of films about the saints available (some for the family and some maybe just for Mom, Dad and older kids), and a large children’s section that we’ve found some gems in, including some movies about the saints.
- Live the liturgical year: Try to celebrate your children’s saint and/or confirmation name feast days with something like a special meal or dessert. Read the biography of the saint of the day at breakfast. Try visiting a local St. Joseph Altar for St. Joseph’s feast day, or cooking Polish food for dinner if St. John Paul II is a favorite heavenly friend in your house. If you have little kids, you could just print out free coloring sheets day-of when you see it is somebody’s feast day, or check out books from the library if there are any children’s books written about that saint (don’t forget Tomie dePaola’s treasure trove of story books!). I am loving Kendra Tierney’s new book The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life, which has lots of ideas for sprinkling little habits and traditions throughout the liturgical year that celebrate the saints and complement our family’s life of faith.