November is one of my favorite months of the year. The leaves have changed by now into beautiful colors, Thanksgiving is celebrated with family and friends around the table and it is the month that begins with my favorite feast day, All Saints Day! On Nov. 1 the church set aside a holy day to celebrate the saints in heaven. This day is also one of the six days which are obligations for Catholics to attend Mass, but rather than looking at it as another day which you have to juggle your personal schedule to attend Mass, we should look at it as a day to celebrate some of our closest friends. It is a Holy Day of “opportunity” for grace rather than (another) “obligation” in our lives.
As a youth minister, I try to always introduce the youth to the amazing men and women who have been canonized saints. The saints can be like a bridge from our earthly lives to heaven. A line about the saints that I often hear myself repeating to our youth is, “Remember, these men and women weren’t saints when they lived on this earth; they were ordinary people like you and I.”
It is so inspiring to share the very different stories of their lives and backgrounds. The Catholic Church has canonized saints who committed many sins — sins from impurity to murder. Yet, they are saints. It shows us that God’s mercy is endless and our ability to follow his will is within reach. This is a message not only youth, but those of all ages, enjoy hearing.
I think sometimes as Catholics we forget about these role models that we can look to as examples of Christians who lived out their Catholic faith in the world. I try both to educate myself and our youth through sharing their stories at our various meetings, no matter how old or young the group is.
Recently we had a meeting about the saints geared toward our third-fifth grade youth group. The children were asked to dress up as their favorite saint. Many of them did and they looked so adorable with their costumes of Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Jude and many others. The meeting was set up for trick or treating throughout nearby rooms. Each room contained two or three high school and young adult Core Team members who presented on their own favorite saints. Many used visual aids such as pictures or books about their saint.
At a high school youth group meeting we had teens share about their favorite saint to one another and at a young adult group meeting we had parishioner, Daniel Palmieri, presenting on “The Saints with the Stigmata.”
Other ways we introduce the saints to the youth is by having a patron saint for many of our groups. Our high school youth group was named after Saint John Paul II for his love and charism toward the youth. Our women’s spiritual guidance group prays weekly through the intercession of Saint Dymphna for her various patronage to those with anxiety as many women struggle with that during their teenage years. The Rock groups, which I lead at Williamstown High School and Middle School, have adopted two patrons. Saint Peter is our main patron, being “The Rock” of our church and Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is our second patron being she was a young Native American, and the Williamstown mascot is a Native American “Brave.” At all the groups, we often talk about these saints and ask their intercession here on earth.
My personal favorite stories to share are about holy men and women who lived in the last 150 years, such as Thérèse of Lisieux, Maria Goretti, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Padre Pio and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Unlike saints from the third and fourth centuries, they are more like people than legends passed down through the years, and often we have access to pictures or video of their witness to following Christ. With social media platforms, such as Youtube and Instagram, youth can witness these individuals and aspects of their faith.
I encourage you to look no further than the lives of the saints when thinking about topics to share with our youth. Talk with them about the saints you personally admire most and allow them to grow to love some of their own favorites. The lives of the saints will serve as both inspiration and catechetical teaching for our young people. They may be inspired to one day be a saint of our church.
Kari Janisse is the coordinator of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown. She leads programs for youth starting in third grade through adults up to 28 years old. She also leads programs outside of the parish called, “+he ROCK,” which are Catholic clubs at local high and middle schools.