Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

“You know a lot of saints.”

This offhand remark by a student last week really got me thinking.  While I know that the student was referring to book knowledge of weird trivia about saints (the class was trying to choose their All Saints Day saint to act out, and it turns out the middle schoolers like the weird ones), his words got me thinking.  Not only do I know many saints stories, but I really do feel that I know many of the saints who have a part of my journey of faith.

If you haven’t read My Life with the Saints by Father James Martin, I would highly recommend it.  Father Martin tells the stories of several saints interspersed with his own story of conversion and faith.  (I say conversion in the sense that any walk of faith is a conversion of heart- Father was always Catholic.)  Both Father Martin’s book and my conversation with this 8th grade student got me thinking: who are some saints that I really know, not just in a book sense, but in the sense of a friend in faith?  How do I share that friendship with my students?

Saint Maximilian Kolbe– I’ve probably written about him on this blog before, but if not, Maximilian Kolbe is probably one of the saints who has had the largest impact on my spiritual life.  In fact, my son is named after him.  Beyond his story of heroic sacrifice and courage in the concentration camp Auschwitz, Maximilian lived a life of radical virtue and devotion to Mary.  His writings and example have largely shaped my relationship with Mary and his courage makes me look at my comfortable life and say how can I leave my comfort zone and serve the kingdom of God.

Saint Faustina Kowalska- The Chaplet of the Divine Mercy has been a part of some of the darkest and most difficult times in my life.  When I was in middle school and a friend’s dad passed away very unexpectedly, we prayed the chaplet.  When I was in high school in New Jersey on September 11th, 2001, the whole school gathered in the auditorium and prayed the chaplet until the buses came to take us home.  Whenever I am alone, or frightened, or don’t know what to say, the words of that prayer come to mind.  I even prayed them while in labor with Max!  Saint Faustina inspires me in so many ways, but the main one is that by listening to God, she changed the way the world prays.  She never left Poland, she was very uneducated, she only lived to be about 30, but she changed the lives of millions of people almost a century later.  Her life makes me want to stop and listen more to what God wants me to do in the life he has given me in my small Catholic school and farming community.

Saint Polycarp- This is a funny one.  When my husband and I were expecting our son, we didn’t want to share his name until he arrived, because we both have large opinionated families.  While on the phone with my sister Laura, she jokingly said, “You should name him Polycarp.”  So the entire time I was pregnant, he was Polycarp.  As the year progressed I found myself turning more and more to Saint Polycarp in intercessory prayer for Max, for a healthy delivery, for a safe pregnancy etc.  Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John and one of the earliest Christian writers.  As I take the time to sit and write about my faith this morning I am struck by the longstanding Catholic tradition of sharing faith in writing.

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla– Saint Gianna has been one of my favorite saints since college.  Again, her story of heroic sacrifice for her child is very inspiring, but it wasn’t the reason that I was drawn to her in the first place.  I went to a women’s college straight after 13 years at a very conservative charismatic Catholic school.  For the first time ever I encountered feminism not in the way it had been described to me in school but in real women who were striving to make the world a better and more equal place.  Ever since those first weeks at college I have proudly identified myself as a feminist.  In Saint Gianna, I believe we have a beautiful example of faith and feminism.  Gianna got her medical degree in the 50s, at a time when many women didn’t work outside the home.  She used her education and expertise to help the poor and the sick who couldn’t otherwise afford a doctor.  And when she did make the decision to save her unborn child at the cost of her own life, it wasn’t a choice made on blind faith but from careful prayer and reasoning.  From her example I can take a look at my own gifts and abilities and ask myself how I can use them to make my world a better place.

At a teaching conference this weekend, a fellow Catholic school teacher said “I know how to teach them the content.  I know they know the facts.  But what I really want them to know is Christ.”  I feel this same way about the saints.  I want my students to know the saints, not just know about them.  Because I really think that one of the best ways to know Christ is to know his friends.

I would really love to hear back from you, readers!  Who is a saint who you know that has really impacted your journey of faith?

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