‘Saints in Training’
I thought that to make the Mass a true celebration of the saints, in addition to proclaiming the Word and praying the petitions, each student could pick a favorite saint and dress up to look like that saint for Mass.
The students dressed up and looked so adorable and so very holy! But then, on the way over to church with my 34 little Holy Heroes, one little saint said, "Mrs. Corsaro, he stepped on my foot on purpose, but I acted like a saint and forgave him." I said, "That was the right thing to do. You are acting very holy."
My little saint replied, "Yeah, but after church, I’m gonna fight back!”
“Oh yes, definitely,” I heard the sweet voice of little St. Joan of Arc as she drew her plastic sword. “You should always fight back.”
My first graders are “Saints in Training.” And this dialogue served as a good reminder: The saints were human beings. Just like us. Just like our children. And yet, each one of us is called to be a saint, too. And as a parent, we are called to raise saints.
I remember when I was young, only a few months married and expecting our first child. I listened to energetic, inspiring mothers a few years older than I tell me all about how to be a virtuous wife and mother. They talked about raising children of virtue. They promised that if I only listened to God's call and lived my life faithful to the precepts of my religion, I would raise holy children. Some even went so far as to promise that practicing my Catholic faith would guarantee I’d never be confronted with the trials that come with the secular teenaged and young adult culture.
I believed those women. They were well-intentioned, good-hearted and living their own lives in the manner they described. Together, we'd all raise a holy generation for the glory of God.
And now? Now our babies have grown to teenagers and young adults. Sometimes our grown children make decisions we are very proud of. But sometimes, they don’t. Even if we love our children with all our heart, dedicate home and family to God, instill in our children strong moral values and carefully protect the seeds of faith, that does not guarantee trials won't ever happen. They might.
I have seen them happen, either in my own home or in the homes of wonderful Catholic families I know personally. The reality is that Catholic families are not immune to the trials of the world, no matter how hard we try or how long we pray.
Catholic children raised in practicing Catholic families may still go to parties and party just as hard as their non-Catholic friends who have never gone to church. Catholic daughters may still text mean posts to their Face Book status during youth group meetings. Catholic children may still get tattoos and piercings in places we never dreamed of the moment they turn 18. Catholic children may turn into unwed, teenaged parents. Catholic children may grow to young adults who do not step foot in a church for an entire year after they move out from home.
So why work so hard --- why try so hard --- if all that lies ahead is the inexplicable decision by those children who may choose to walk a path that is clearly not the path we envisioned? We wanted to do nothing more with our lives than to return to God the children He entrusted to us; and now, what if our children choose to live apart from Him?
It is easy to begin to feel as if we have failed --- failed at the most important task we ever hoped to accomplish. When we begin to feel this way, I think it is important to remember one truth: Only one couple in the history of mankind has raised a perfect child and they would be the first to assure us that it was all by the grace of God.
We must be careful not to assume that it's a flaw in parenting that has resulted in a child's decision to live outside the life of faith. Children --- even carefully raised children --- grow into adults with free will. Every choice a child makes is not always a reflection of his parents. It's a reflection of that child's own relationship with his Creator. But God isn't finished yet.
Are we really prideful enough to believe that if we just do things a certain way we can overcome free will in our children and raise perfect, sinless saints? Because we can't. Aside from our Blessed Mother, there are no sinless saints. We are all "Saints in Training.”
Sometimes we forget that it is not mothers and fathers who make saints of children; it is God Himself, in His own time, according to His own plan.
St. Peter walked with Jesus. Jesus was his teacher in the faith. Jesus was the Master Teacher. And still Peter was a liar, a denier, a weak-willed wimp --- right up until the time that Jesus died. He was taught by God Himself, surely the best teacher of all, and he still didn't get it at first. And yet Jesus entrusted to him the keys of His Kingdom because He knew God’s plan for him.
By the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, after he has been filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter is every bit a man of God. He speaks boldly and eloquently. He is a leader for Christ. I think, as parents, that sometimes we will also be called to wait in faith for that “Second Act.”
There is no guarantee that the children we are raising will be saints, but we can work together towards heaven. God entrusted us with children for a reason. We can build a strong family culture. We can walk together, just as Jesus walked and worked with Peter, every day, day in and day out, endeavoring to be Christ to one another, sure that we have free will, but that we have grace, too. We can accept that our children will one day leave home and that they might make poor choices.
However, we can also cling to the truth that, as we wait for God to work in the hearts of these children in whom we've invested so much, we can rely on God's grace.
And we can remember, just as I was reminded by my 34 little Saints in Training: The saints were human beings. Just like us. Just like our children. And each one of us is called to be a saint one day. But for now, each one of us, by the Grace of God, is a Saint in Training.
Thérèse Corsaro teaches at St. Mary School, Palmdale.