At the age of 14, I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my young life: choosing my confirmation saint. Not knowing much about saints -- other than that they spent many long hours a day kneeling in silent prayer, and lived many years ago -- I began my search with the assumption that every female saint was a nun and all male saints were priests, and none of them lived very exciting lives.
I ultimately chose Blessed Miguel Pro, a Jesuit priest who was martyred in 1927 during the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Blessed Miguel ministered to the underground church, risking his life many times and taking on a variety of disguises to evade police. The life of Blessed Miguel struck me as exciting, and his bravery and craftiness impressed me. I was also a little proud of myself for choosing an unusual patron, unlike my classmates, who made the typical selections of Francis, Lucy, Rose, Elizabeth and Patrick.
Ten years later, my understanding of the saints has deepened, thanks to good catechists, teachers, and youth ministers, who introduced me to the idea that the saints are our friends in Heaven, who want nothing more than for us to come to know and love God. Far from being a uniform group of cookie-cutter Christians, the saints come from every walk of life, time period, and place. The saints can inspire us with their lives of charity and heroic virtue, and we can look to saints as models of how we can grow closer to God in our own lives.
As my faith deepened in high school, I started learning about the Catholic faith and the saints on my own. I ended up reading “The Story of a Soul,” the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, and “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales; both of which helped me to see that holiness is something that we can pursue right where we are. When I was a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I was blessed to study abroad in Europe and visit many holy sites associated with the saints, including Rome and Assisi in Italy, the hometown of Blessed John Paul II in Poland, as well as the cell St. Maximilian Kolbe died in at Auschwitz. I was able to pray in more sacred spaces and venerate more relics than I can even count, which only served to make the lives of the saints seem more real and relevant. Knowing the saints became so vital to my faith life that my old understanding of the saints faded in my memory.
In my work as a teacher and youth minister, I find that young people today have a similar understanding of the saints as I once did, and it is up to those who are working to evangelize youth to introduce teens to the saints. In my high school classes, I started choosing a “Saint of the Week” to teach my students about various saints. Having a Saint of the Week has been successful and fun so far, providing a break from the regular curriculum, and bringing the liturgical calendar into the classroom. A Youtube search yields a whole selection of quick biographical videos to show my students, and praying to the saint of the week reminds them that the saints are there to intercede for us to God.
A few weeks ago, I talked to them about St. Jude as patron of impossible causes. We prayed a prayer to St. Jude together and I asked them to ask St. Jude to help them with a difficult intention. One student told me that she continued to pray the prayer to St. Jude even after his week was over and found, to her surprise, that her petition was answered!
The “Saint of the Week” has given us an opportunity to look at saints who lived out different vocations, and correct misconceptions about popular saints. St. Francis, we learned, is much more than a poor guy who liked animals. He struggled to find what God wanted from him after his conversion began, which strikes a chord with anyone seeking to know God's will. St. Gianna and St. Elizabeth of Hungary were wives and mothers who were sanctified by loving God and their families, as well as serving the poor. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti and Blessed Chiara “Luce” Badano died when they were very young, enjoyed athletics, and spending time with their friends.
Having an All Saints' Day costume party has become a fun tradition for the middle school and high school youth groups that I oversee because it gives us an opportunity to dress up, and challenges the youth to learn about a saint and present him or her to the group. We added a competitive element to the costume party by awarding prizes for most creative, most historical, best presentation, etc. It is also a great opportunity for group pictures!
In whatever way you choose, teaching our children and young people about the saints is an important way to encourage them in their Christian lives. St. Francis de Sales advises, “Be who you are, and be that well.” Loving God and living a life of holiness can be done in any time, place, or vocation, and the examples of the saints remind us that it is possible to be holy, and it will lead to our happiness. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said of holiness, “Holiness is not a luxury of the few. It is a simple duty for you and me.” Through our efforts, we can show young people that the saints are more than historical figures who give us hope that holiness is possible; they really are our friends in heaven who we can turn to everyday.