Children naturally long for heroes. Whether it’s a knight in shining armor, a superhero with a cape or a noble princess, our children are always seeking individuals of exemplary virtue, character and bravery to hold up as models. As adults, we’re not entirely different. Look at our society and you will see individuals in entertainment, music and politics who have been lifted up as “heroes,” often knocked off their thrones by sin and corruption. We long for a good example to follow.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “The home is the first school of Christian life and ‘a school for human enrichment.’” So, basically, we as parents are the professors of the Christian life. We are delegated with the formation of the souls that God has placed in our families. Talk about a big responsibility!
About five years ago, my husband, Ben, and I were Catholics who went to Mass most of the time but to Confession rarely, and we lived our personal lives largely based on secular values. We were in the midst of our own “dark night of the soul” when we felt called to repentance and conversion. We longed for the beauty, truth and goodness in the Catholic Church. We returned to the sacraments, received the Eucharist for sustenance and found Catholic friends who would model a life of fidelity. However, after years of living a life around a very self-serving model of faith, we still had so many questions. How should we pray? How should we raise our children? How should we live? We needed exemplars — heroes, if you will — to show us how to live a life of holiness.
The good news is, the Church had our backs. We as Catholics have our own “superheroes” who show us the path to holiness through their unique lives: the saints. This week, I would love for you and your family to join me in reflection and fun activities based on the lives of some great saints. Set aside a few minutes each evening to learn about one of our friends in heaven and see how we can learn to lead virtuous and holy lives through their examples. The following reflections and activities have been written specifically to be read aloud and completed with your children. Each day’s reflection concludes with a prayer written by or for that day’s saint, which I hope you will consider adding to your family’s collection of prayers. Wishing you a blessed week!
Monday: St. Michael the Archangel
Each one of us has days when it feels like everything is going wrong. Maybe we are overwhelmed with a feeling of anger toward a family member or we feel frustrated with every little thing. Thankfully, we have a great and powerful friend in heaven whose job is to defend us against bad things. He is stronger than the most powerful superhero and he fights fiercely for us against all of God’s enemies. St. Michael has a whole army of angels powerful enough to throw Satan into hell, so surely he is strong enough to help us when we feel overwhelmed.
Activity:Print and cut out one set of angel wings for each member of your family. Have each person decorate the wings with the words “Defend me in battle.” Feel free to add your own illustration of St. Michael. Hang the wings near your bed to remind you that St. Michael is always protecting you.
Prayer:St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
— Traditional Catholic prayer
Tuesday: St. Josephine Bakhita
When she was eleven, St. Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped and forced to be a slave. She endured years of cruelty and suffering under many masters. When she was taken to Italy, she learned about God and decided to follow Christ. The freedom she found as a daughter of God led her to seek her own physical freedom — going to court in Italy to fight for freedom from slavery. She became a religious sister and spent the rest of her life working and praying in the convent, known for always having a smile on her face. She learned to give thanks for all things, even for her captivity, because being a slave led her to Christ.
Activity:St. Josephine Bakhita’s life shows us that God frees us from bondage through his unconditional forgiveness, love and grace. Take a spool of yarn and loosely wrap it around the hands of a volunteer from your family. Pass around a pair of scissors and have each family member snip one piece of yarn to symbolize the freedom we find in Christ.
Prayer:St. Josephine Bakhita, you were sold into slavery as a child and endured untold hardship and suffering. Once liberated from your physical enslavement, you found true redemption in your encounter with Christ and his Church. O St. Bakhita, assist all those who are trapped in a state of slavery; intercede with God on their behalf so that they will be released from their chains of captivity. Those whom man enslaves, let God set free. Provide comfort to survivors of slavery and let them look to you as an example of hope and faith. Help all survivors find healing from their wounds. We ask for your prayers and intercessions for those enslaved among us.
— Pope Francis
Wednesday: Pope St. John Paul II
John Paul II loved the family and taught us that the family is the building block of society. He encouraged us to make each of our families a “shrine of life and love” and to protect the human dignity of every person within our family. He told us that when we make a sincere gift of ourselves to our families, God multiplies our love and transforms the society in which we live.
Activity: Assemble several building blocks or construction toys, such as wooden blocks, Legos or Duplos. Work together as a family to construct the tallest tower you can build. Is it easier to build a tall tower with a narrow or wide base? Explain that each of our families is like a support at the base of the tower and that together with all of the other Catholic families of the world, we make a firm foundation for our society.
Prayer: Lord God, from you every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Father, you are love and life.
Through your son, Jesus Christ, born of woman, and through the Holy Spirit, the fountain of divine charity, grant that every family on earth may become for each successive generation a true shrine of life and love.
Grant that your grace may guide the thoughts and actions of husbands and wives for the good of their families and of all the families in the world.
Grant that the young may find in the family solid support for their human dignity and for their growth in truth and love. Grant that love, strengthened by the grace of the sacrament of marriage, may prove mightier than all the weaknesses and trials through which our families sometimes pass.
Through the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that the Church may fruitfully carry out her worldwide mission in the family and through the family.
We ask this of you, who is life, truth and love with the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
— Prayer for All Families, Pope John Paul II
Thursday: St. Maximilian Kolbe
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who was sent to a concentration camp during World War II. When a fellow prisoner was sentenced to death, Maximilian Kolbe offered to take his place, knowing the prisoner had a family. Maximilian Kolbe reminds us that we find our true freedom when we offer our suffering for the lives of others.
Activity: Decorate a small jar or box with the word “Offerings.” Place some scraps of paper next to the box. During the day, when you experience an inconvenience, pain or frustration, offer it up for someone who needs your prayers. Write their name on the piece of paper and place it in the jar. Keep the jar on your prayer table to always think of the souls who need our prayers.
Prayer: St. Maximilian, amidst the hate and lonely misery of Auschwitz, you brought love into the lives of fellow captives, and sowed the seeds of hope amidst despair. You bore witness to the world, by word and deed, that only “Love alone creates.” Help me to become more like yourself. With you and Mary and the Church, may I proclaim that only “Love alone creates.” To the hungry and oppressed, the naked and homeless, the scorned and hated, the lonely and despairing, may I proclaim the power of Christ’s love, which endures forever and ever. Amen.
— Love Alone Creates, Mission of the Immaculata
Friday: St. Francis
St. Francis was an Italian monk who lived an especially simple life and was known for delighting in God’s creation. He reminds us that all good and beautiful things in creation were given to us by our loving Father, God, for us to love and enjoy.
Activity: Go for a walk through your yard and pause to give praise for every living thing you notice. Say “Praise be to you, my Lord, through _______.” Fill in the blank with whomever you find, whether it’s Brother Geranium or Sister Roly Poly. Get down in the dirt and see what little creatures you can meet!
Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
— Traditional Catholic prayer
Saturday: St. Faustina
St. Faustina was a Polish religious sister who was visited many times throughout her life by Jesus Christ. Jesus told her that God is full of mercy and love, and even the most sinful people should not be afraid to draw closer to God because his mercy is greater than the sins of the whole world. St. Faustina taught people to say the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Activity: Today’s activity is about trust. Create an obstacle course in your living room with things such as couch cushions, chairs and toys. Split your family into teams of two. Cover one team member’s eyes with a bandanna or dish towel. Now, have the other partner lead the blindfolded partner through the obstacle course backward without stepping on or bumping into anyone or anything. When the team has completed the obstacle course, switch the blindfold and repeat with the other partner. Make a note of how good communication builds trust!
Prayer: O Jesus, I want to live in the present moment, to live as if this were the last day of my life. I want to use every moment scrupulously for the greater glory of God, to use every circumstance for the benefit of my soul. I want to look upon everything from the point of view that nothing happens without the will of God. God of unfathomable mercy, embrace the whole world and pour yourself out upon us through the merciful heart of Jesus.
— From the diary of St. Faustina
Sunday: St. Josemaría Escrivá
Sometimes it feels like the little things we do during the day don’t really matter. We rush through our jobs, doing them quickly or poorly because they feel insignificant. Maybe we do a sloppy job setting the table for dinner or we scribble through homework because we want to get on to something more fun. St. Josemaría teaches us that every little thing we do can glorify God. We can turn all of our activities and jobs into little prayers to God, sanctifying him at work, at home or at school.
Activity: Prepare a simple tea party for your family. Have everyone help with some part of the preparation: setting the table with cups and saucers, putting the sugar on the table, pouring the water over the tea bags, pouring the tea, etc. Play some soft classical music and try to maintain a spirit of quiet prayerfulness, offering thanksgiving and praise to God through each job. Continue to offer silent prayers as you are sipping your tea together. Assign each person to help with some part of the cleanup and try to do each job carefully, neatly and completely, making your work a prayer to God.
Prayer: Dear God,
St. Josemaría loved you a lot and he also loved children. I would like to love you as much as he did and to please you always.
I want to help you make the world a better place and to make people happier.
I want to think about you all day long, when I get up and when I go to bed, when I’m doing my homework and when I’m playing.
I want to obey my parents, to be kind to my brothers and sisters and to pay attention in school. I want to share the things I have and the presents I get. I can’t do these things on my own.
Dear God, St. Josemaría is very close to you in Heaven and he helps me to be good. St. Josemaría, please ask God for the favour I want… (ask for the favour you want).