Family Resource - Jeannine Marino

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What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

by Jeannine Marino, JCL
Assistant Director, Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

How often have you asked your children this question? Have you ever encouraged them to be saints? Did you know that we are all called to be saints? Imagine the transformative effect on the world if we encouraged our children to be saints! Are you thinking to yourself, "Great idea, but how exactly do I teach my children to be saints?"Before we can teach our children how to be saints, we have to first understand what a saint is and who can be a saint. In talking about the relationship of Christ to his disciples, Blessed John Paul II described who a saint is:

Thus He gave the commandment to all His disciples to imitate the perfection of the Father and He sends upon all the Holy Spirit, who might inspire them from within to love God with their whole heart and to love one another as He Himself loved them. . . . In all times, God chooses from these many who, following more closely the example of Christ, give outstanding testimony to the Kingdom of heaven by shedding their blood or by the heroic practice of virtues. (Pope John Paul II, Divinus Perfectionis Magister,

Blessed John Paul II provides us with a theologically rich description of the saints. A simpler description of a saint is a member of the Church whose life was imbued with a love of God and neighbor; who is united with God in heaven; who is an intercessory to God on our behalf; and who is worthy of public and universal veneration. Put even more simply, a saint is a witness to the love that God has for each of us and whose witness should be emulated by the faithful. A saint has lived the virtues of faith, hope, and charity in such a profound way that others are brought to Christ through their witness. Surely we want our children to live lives of faith, hope, and charity. But asking them to be saints? You might think that's unattainable and reserved for a few. Not true! The Council Fathers at Vatican II clearly taught that we are all called to be saints when they affirmed the universal call to holiness: "It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. . . . The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one" (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church [Lumen Gentium], nos. 40-41, in Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery [Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996]).

Blessed John Paul II called young people to live lives worthy of emulation: lives filled with the gospel values that, in the spirit of the New Evangelization, can transform the world. Shortly before his death, he issued a message to the youth preparing for World Youth Day: "Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity" (John Paul II, Message to the Youth of the World on the Occasion of the 20th World Youth Day,

Still unsure how to inspire our children to be saints? How about teaching them about the lives of the saints and cultivating in them a love of the saints? Throughout the history of the Church, we have numerous young saints whose lives were filled with enthusiasm, adventure, and most importantly a deep love of Christ. Joan of Arc was nineteen when she was martyred. Even though she was an illiterate peasant, Joan led armies into battle, was taken prisoner, and counseled the King of France. She was a mystic, went to Mass daily, frequented confession, and devoted herself to works of charity to ease the suffering of the war-torn French people (see Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience,

Dominic Savio was only fifteen when he took ill and died. He was tall, frail, and ill most of his life. He was sent to a Salesian school run by St. John Bosco, where he was known for his protective care of the younger children from the older students and for being able to settle arguments between his classmates. His devotion to Christ and his desire to bring others closer to Christ inspired not only St. John Bosco but also Pope Benedict XV (see Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples,

One of the Church's recent saints, canonized during the Year of Faith, is Pedro Calungsod. He left home as a teenager, became a catechist, and oversaw missionaries. Despite encountering hostile peoples, he refused to carry weapons and died protecting others at the age of seventeen (see Pope Benedict XVI, Rite of Canonization and Celebration of the Eucharist,

Raising children is a wonderful gift and great responsibility. Our responsibility is to foster in them a love of Christ and his Church and a vocation to holiness. Thankfully, we never undertake the task of raising children alone; we have the Church to assist us. Remember, if you need inspiration and guidance for raising your saints, the Church has patrons for you too. Just look to the Holy Family.

Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.

Excerpts from Pope John Paul II, Divinus Perfectionis Magister, copyright © 1983, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV); Message for World Youth Day, copyright © 2004, LEV. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpts from Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents edited by Austin Flannery, OP, copyright © 1975, Costello Publishing Company, Inc., Northport, NY, are used with permission of the publisher, all rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without express written permission of Costello Publishing Company.