BY SUSIE LLOYD
EDITOR’S NOTE: Catechists often wonder, “How much can we accomplish in one class a week?” For faith to take root, it should be cultivated at home, too. With this article, in Catechist, October 2016, we launched The Domestic Church — a department with ideas, like this one, for parents! Please copy and share this with the parents of your students.
Tell True Stories
Jesus spoke in parables because he knew that stories were easy to understand and that people can’t resist them. Who can forget the parable of the Prodigal Son?
A certain man had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living (Luke 15:11–13).
You can imagine a group of listeners—perhaps sitting around a table with him—hearing this for the first time, wondering, What will happen next? Some were probably thinking, Serves the younger brother right to be starving in the gutter! Others wondered, Will the father forgive the son? Is the boy sorry enough? Maybe they debated the question. Is the older brother right or wrong for resenting the younger one? What did they think of the father? Is God really that patient with us? There’s a lot of mystery to unpack in that one simple story.
In our entertainment-saturated culture, we are surrounded by stories. Most ideas get into our heads through storytelling, for good or not so good. Why not fill your kids with stories that matter? Turn the TV off at night and reinstate the bedtime story. Kids are very receptive to stories at bedtime, not to mention that they love the personal attention from Mom and Dad. Why should kids know all about the Star Wars saga, a universe that never existed, and not know the saga of salvation history—in which they play a very real part? If kids are heavy electronics users, it might take a few tries before they stop fidgeting and looking bored. All the more reason to stick with it! Tell the kids it will only take five or ten minutes. I bet it won’t be long before they ask for more.
What stories should you tell?
My vote goes to saint stories because my big brother, Ben, used to tell me saint stories at bedtime. They were formative, and it was a special time just for us. He would pray with me first, then he’d tuck me in and take me to another world—far, far away, where real heroes and heroines fought real battles against evil and won, even if they sometimes did get killed in the process. But that was not the end! They went to heaven where no bad guys could ever get them again. But that was not the end, either! They are now our BFFs. They help us deal with our bad guys so we can get to heaven, too. Kids respect authenticity and individuality, and nobody has more of both than the flesh-and-blood saints. They always told the truth, even when no one else was telling it. They didn’t have to try to be original or unique. Doing the right thing makes you more your own person than following the crowd.
If you don’t know many saint stories, there are lots of great books. The best ones show how hard it was for the saints to do the right thing. They were just as human as the rest of us, so they can inspire us. You can either read them yourself and retell them in your own words, or you can read them aloud to the kids. Go ahead, ham it up—you know you want to!
By the way, stories are not just for younger kids. Jesus told stories to adults! Once kids get hooked, books can grow up along with them and you can read to them all the way through high school. It might even spark some lively discussions.
What to get and where to get it
For the littles: Famed author/illustrator Tomie DePaola has a long list of saint titles easily found on Amazon. In The Lady of Guadalupe you can read about how Mother Mary appeared to the humble native Mexican saint, Juan Diego, and left her miraculous image as proof of her love for the whole nation. It also comes in Spanish and is available on Kindle. Also check out his Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi and The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica. These stories are all told with reverence, attention to detail, charm, and humor. The fact that a best-selling mainstream author with over 200 books to his name has a lively devotion to the saints is an example of its own.
For the middles: The Vision Books series excels at showing the saints as human beings who kids can relate to. A good start are the ones that lived in times similar to our own—such as St. John Bosco, who got gangs of fatherless boys off the streets and became the father they needed. He loved them, looked out for them, led them to virtue, and taught them various trades. And he fought in a cosmic tug of war for their souls. Or you might choose St. Katherine Drexel, who gave her vast fortune to create schools for some of our nation’s poorest Americans. Some 30 titles are available at Ignatius.com.
For teens: Give teens something worth their energy. You’re not giving them third-grade math; don’t give them third-grade religion. Jump right in with the play, A Man for All Seasons. Even though it’s not a perfectly accurate portrayal of St. Thomas More, it does show how one man’s conscience wouldn’t allow him to live a lie to save his neck (literally). It’s so fabulously written that it was revived on Broadway in recent years. The character of the Common Man accurately characterizes the spirit of the times, then and now. You might invite your kids to each take a part.
Another gripping story is With God in Russia by modern-day American, soon-to-be saint Fr. Walter Ciszek about his 23 years serving as a priest behind the Iron Curtain. You’ll be cheering for this self-described “tough” as he learns humility and trust in this dramatic, action-packed adventure.
Find Susie Lloyd’s books, articles, and speaking schedule at SusieLloyd.com.
This article was first published in Catechist magazine, September, 2016.
Image credit: Thinkstock Photos 510305410