Reading aloud saint stories—it’s a way to teach Church History, character education, and what a mature spiritual life is like, all at once!
Being a Christian—that is, living the Christian life well—is extraordinarily difficult, and requires supernatural assistance and graces. Sanctity is a closeness to God, and willingness to say “yes,” like Our Lady did, to whatever He asks of us. With the lives of the saints, it is easy to see that they each had a spirit of obedience to what God asked them to do, and He was able to give them many graces during their lives. Some saints began as great sinners, and experienced the grace of conversion—these men and women are especially able to inspire us to a constant conversion in our lives as we face our own trials and temptations.
Reading about real men and women who cooperated with God and His graces to become holy is the way I learned as a young child about the right dispositions and attitudes of the faithful Christian; the quiet suffering and humiliation many souls experience in the quest of doing the will of God; of how to highly esteem the vocation that God would call me to; the excellence of the religious life and how I should pray for them and support them with what resources I have; the miracles that can come only if we have faith and trust in God’s providence; how the holy ones have dealt with sorrow, frustration, overwhelming grief, the disappointment of their hopes, and pain of all kinds with cheerfulness and obedience; the importance of prayer and sacrifice in our daily lives as tools of spiritual warfare; how humiliation and poverty on earth often conceals the treasures of heavenly glory.
It was so good for me to be learning these lessons as a child, because it taught me above all that things aren’t always what they seem in this life: that is, that the holy, spiritual life we are each called to goes on mostly invisibly in our hearts, but it is every bit as real as the earthly, temporary life of advertising, buying and selling that goes on around us at all times. It is never enough to read a saint’s life and close it with a thought like this: “Well, if I had been born in that place and time, maybe I could have been a saint, but now it is completely different.” In many ways and on many fronts, our times are spiritually some of the most bankrupt that have ever been known in the world—but I believe that means that God is going to raise up some of the greatest saints He ever has. Isn’t that an exciting thought? In every age He has raised up great saints, and our times are going to be no exception. We should educate ourselves and our children with the stories of those who have gone before us to prepare ourselves to be the saints that God asks us to be here and now.
Reading the stories of the saints aloud to your children will allow you to share in the experience of what they are reading and thinking. You will be able to bring the points up later in conversation when they perhaps have a situation that mirrors something if the saint’s life that you have been reading. It will become a natural part of your life very quickly. And remember that you should read saints’ biographies and autobiographies at your level, as well. St. Teresa of Avila wrote the story of her life, which I recommend as a peek into the great life of one of the Doctors of the Church. There are many books to read, and they will benefit you by reminding you that the trials that you face are not insurmountable and that you have friends in Heaven who will pray for you as you try to meet your troubles with faith and obedience as they did.
I have many other recommendations as well! For children, at the top of my list are the saints stories collections by Joan Windham (she was a talented English writer of the mid 20th century, and her stories often use British terms, so don’t be thrown off!) and Ethel Pochocki (of Maine). Growing up, I devoured the book-length saints’ biographies of Mary Fabyan Windeatt (my particular favorite was The Miraculous Medal) as well as the old Vision Books that are being reprinted by Ignatius Press. For adults, of course I recommend the Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, and also St. Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul, and the Diary of St. Faustina, to name a few. Read these lives of the holy ones with a comparison to the call to holiness that Our Lord repeats in the Gospels. By diligently reading the lives of the saints, it will become clearer and clearer to you and to your children that each of you has a special calling to holiness in this world, and a place prepared for you in Heaven in the life to come.