No, this is not a blog from a parenting expert telling you the proper way to discipline your children. This isn’t about discipline at all really but about example – after all, the word “discipline” comes from the word “disciple,” which means that we should set an example for our children.
So when I read about the lives of different saints, and I see the example that their parents modeled for them, and I realize I have a lot to learn from them.
First of all, what is the goal of parenting? Holiness. We should desire for our children to be holy, even though it is not our job to make sure that they are. We cannot force holiness. To make them holy is God’s job. But we can teach them virtue and show them the way to go by the example of our own lives.
Take, for example, the life of St. Frances Cabrini. She was a pioneer and a missionary, and the first American citizen to be canonized. Born in Italy in the 1800’s, she wanted to do mission work in the east and the Pope told her to go west. So she began ministering to the poor immigrants in NYC, but soon thousands of requests came in for her to found schools, hospitals, and orphanages all over the world. Throughout her life, she traveled to Europe, Central and South America and throughout the United States. She made 23 trans-Atlantic crossings and established 67 institutions: schools, hospitals and orphanages. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and her whole life was dedicated to being a missionary and to being a “bearer of the love of Christ in the World.”
When I first moved to Denver, it was not long before I visited Cabrini Shrine (cover picture) where Mother Cabrini had founded an orphanage. While the story about the place is incredible, it was the story about her childhood that really struck me. As a child, her parents would read stories of the missionaries and saints to her, and that inspired in her a zeal to become a missionary herself. Throughout her life and despite poor health, she showed an unwavering devotion to being a missionary. It resonated with me as I remember reading my own children’s book of saints feeling that same desire for sainthood.
Take another American saint – St. Katherine Drexel. Growing up in New Jersey, I had no idea what an amazing saint had lived next door in Philadelphia. She was born into a prominent and wealthy Philadelphia family in the late 1800’s. When Katherine’s mother died shortly after her birth, his father remarried a woman named Emma several years later. It was through Emma’s example that Katherine led a life of generously serving the poor and uneducated, founding the Sister of the Blessed Sacrament whose mission was to help African Americans and Native Americans.
Twice a week the Drexel’s would open their home to distribute food, clothing, and rent assistance. I heard it said that women would be able to browse through Emma Drexel’s clothing and take what they needed. If some were to ashamed to show up at their house, the Drexel’s would seek them out in secret to provide food and money. Amid their riches, they were certainly generous. So, when Katherine’s parents passed away, she used her multi-million dollar inheritance to start up schools and hospitals for Native Americans in the west, and through her religious order, eventually served the poor and marginalized all over the country.
Then there is the story of St. Augustine, who lived a life of debauchery and worldliness while his mother prayed for him ceaselessly for many years. Through her prayers, Augustine eventually encountered the God in the scriptures and in the preaching of St. Ambrose. St Augustine became one of the greats Doctors of the Church and his mother, St. Monica, is also recognized for her holiness.
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s parents instilled in him a devotion to our Blessed Lady, and he went on to found the Militia Immaculata and inspired thousands of others to deeper devotion to her through his use of current media technology. He ultimately gave up his life for another man in Auschwitz, but it’s the dedication of his life to Mary that is the greatest inspiration to me.
Mother Teresa, another more recent and famous saint, learned the way of charity and piety from her mother. After her father passed away, they were very poor but when her mother saw a sick and homeless woman on the streets, she took her in. Even though they barely had enough to provide for the two of them, they fed and cared for the sick woman first. Her mother once said to her, “My child, never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.” As you know, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity who have cared for thousands of poor and sick around the world.
I could go on and write so many more stories of parents who inspired, generosity, faithfulness, and forgiveness in their families, but in summary, here’s how you can live your life like the parents of the saints:
- St. Frances Cabrini – read the lives of the saints and bible stories to your children. Holy Heroes CD’s are also helpful in learning the lives of the saints!
- St. Katherine Drexel – be generous and share with the poor
- St. Augustine – Like St. Monica, pray for your children daily
- St. Maximilian Kolbe – foster a devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Pray the rosary (or parts of it) with your family
- Mother Teresa – practice love for neighbor, charity, and selflessness
Above all, introduce your children to a relationship with God by having one yourself and teaching your children the basic tenets of the faith. When I read the stories of the lives of the saints, I see in their parents an incredible devotion to holiness. You want to raise saints? You can start by being a saint yourself.
Lastly, none of this parenting is possible without love. We can look to the method of St. John Bosco who is known for his work teaching unruly boys. He famously said, “Get them to love you and they’ll follow you anywhere!” His approach started when he saw a beautiful lady in a dream saying to him, “Softly, softly if you wish to tame them! Take your shepherd’s staff and lead them to pasture.” We must model the behavior we want our children to emulate, and do it in love.