Catholic Activity: Devotion to the Saints
The various saints provide wonderful role models and intercessors for children. Parents should especially encourage their children to pray to their patron saints.
Living with the saints is like living with Mary, except that the saints are brothers and sisters. Nowadays saint-biographies are written so that their subjects are both believable and interesting; and if families are going to "collect" things, the first thing ought to be a good collection of books about the saints.
Since the saints, unlike Mary, were not born perfect, sometimes the easiest way to come to grips with a fault is to find a saint who had it too. Peter is fond of saying that people who get mad ought to pray to St. Peter, because he got so mad once he cut a guy's ear off. And children who are piggish about being first ought to know about James and John, the two brother Apostles who wanted the best seats in Heaven. Our Lord was pretty cross about that. He said that people who want to be first all the time and have the best of everything would do better to act as servants to the rest. Anyone who says "Me first" at our dinner table gets, real fast: "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," and Me First gets served last.
Children should be on especially intimate terms with their patron saints. Once a little boy we know named Michael was at odds with the world in a bad way, and his mother, who probably has more patience than any woman I shall ever know, was at her wits' end. She simply couldn't reach him. Then we thought about St. Michael the Archangel. So we drew a great big life-size St. Michael on the back of a strip of wallpaper, with a flaming sword and armor, great wings and radiance all around his head, and on it we wrote: "I am Michael the Archangel, patron saint of Michael — — , whom I love and watch over always." She took it home and put it on the wall in his room, and late that night she called up.
"I wish you could have been here. He looked at it and said: 'Oh, Mother — I love it. Best of all my things.' And tonight he prayed to him for the first time." It's not just that my saint means so much to a child, but that my child means so much to his saint.
The best thing about the saints is that they are heroes. There are no heroic feats in all children's literature or movies or TV or radio which the saints haven't done better. There are all kinds and there are saints for all types of children.
There are saints who were very bad (at first) like Paul, and Mary Magdalene and Augustine, and there are saints who were very good, like Thérèse and Blessed Imelda. There are saints who lived "normal" lives, like Mother Cabrini and Mother Seton and Monica, and there are saints who would stand your hair on end, like Lawrence the Roasted and the Apostles, most of whom were stoned, stabbed, flayed, or crucified. There are loads of saints who had delightful experiences with animals, like Martin and Anthony and of course Francis of Assisi, and there are saints who had delightful experiences with people, like Bridgit and Martin of Tours and Philomena (well, after they found her remains anyway). And we have just discovered, of all things, a saint who was the oldest sister in a family with six younger brothers — St. Odilia. Monica is sure this augurs very interesting things for her.
Then there are all the Old Testament saints and their stories — to be found right in your household Bible. There is more to Daniel than the lion's den, and more to David than Goliath, and a quantity of really exciting material in Esther and Tobias.
There are saints with all kinds of afflictions — and still full of joy, like Margaret of Metola who was blind and humpbacked, Herman the Cripple, Jeanne de Valois who was ugly, and Isaac Jogues who lost some of his fingers. And there were saints who were very poor, like Benedict Joseph Labre, and saints who were rich, like Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary. There were kings and queens and noblemen, shepherds and shepherdesses, warriors and warrioresses, cobblers and popes, farmers and priests, nuns and mothers and fathers and boys and girls, smart ones and "dumb" ones, painters, cooks, bakers, lawyers, writers, swineherds, lepers, poets, doctors, nurses, slaves, and beggars. They walked and ran and rode and flew (Joseph of Cupertino flew like mad) and even sat (Simon Stylites) — all for the love of God. They knew tricks, like John Bosco, and played jokes, like Philip Neri, and laughed a lot; if you think the saints are dull and stuffy, then you just don't know about saints. We know a great many stories and we have a great many books; yet (this is the truth) whenever our children ask for a story, they always say, "Mother, tell a saint story."
The fact about the saints which is so important for us is that they were people born with original sin — the same as we are. They had the same weaknesses and temptations, and they were saints because they overcame them with the same graces God gives to us.
Jamie will moan, "Oh, golly, I'll never be a saint."
"You won't if you don't try. Ask your saints to show you how it's done. They will because they know."
The making of a saint is the work of grace, and Christ's grace comes through His Mother. That is why our children need Mary. Because Mary is the mother of saints.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961