Very often, we default to believing that only a few are "chosen" by Jesus to become saints, but the truth is that each of us is chosen.
Just about every day of the year, Catholics have the privilege to celebrate the prayers of a saint or two or three or more. Although not all of the saints are found on the liturgical calendar of a local church (i.e., diocese) and only some are celebrated in the universal Church throughout the world, every saint is worthy of our honor and can truly inspire us to the same heroic level of sanctity.
Every feast of a saint is a beautiful occasion for us to ask ourselves, "How am I doing on the pathway to holiness?" The saints so beautifully come in every age, from every culture, and with every challenge and personality, one can imagine. In fact, as this coming week attests for us, even children can become saints! On Feb. 20, we will celebrate the two youngest, non-martyred saints in the history of the Catholic Church: Sts. Francisco and Jacinta de Jesus Marto.
As brother and sister, Francisco and Jacinta were two of the three seers that Our Blessed Mother appeared to on the 13th of the months of May through October 1917, except August when the children were imprisoned. Our Lady then appeared to them several days later. Her simple request of the children was to make little daily sacrifices and offer much prayer through the daily recitation of the rosary for the conversion of sinners and to spread devotion to her Immaculate Heart, eventually through the Five First Saturday Devotions.
The immediate question you and I might ask, as did the Church for the longest time, is how can children live the heroic degree of sanctity necessary in order to be canonized saints when they died so young? How could these little children definitely choose to live such heroic lives in order to bear witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ when they were not much older than the age of reason?
Certainly, there is much written and being written about the lives of little Francisco and Jacinta Marto, which I wholeheartedly encourage you to seek out. How much they willingly suffered each day, making little sacrifices and offering little acts of self-mortification for the conversion of sinners as was asked for by the Blessed Mother. They eventually died of the painful illness of influenza at the ages of 10 and 9, respectively.
Yet, the two beautiful spiritual practices devoutly lived by the children were their love for and devotion to the hidden Jesus in the Eucharist and the daily recitation of the holy rosary. These two very fruitful spiritual practices can be lived by every child and developed with even minimal time. Their love for Jesus was nourished often by dropping by their local parish church and running in to sit before the hidden Jesus in his eucharistic presence, where he remains in the tabernacle for all to visit.
The children would very often desire just to sit in the church to console Jesus, so he would not be alone. Likewise, Jesus greatly increased the graces in the lives of the children in fact to live the very heroic life of virtue that would one day be declared worthy of canonization. This same, simple practice can be nourished in our children by simply stopping by church before or after school, running errands or going to sporting events, if for only a few minutes to say, "Hi Jesus, I'm here!" Only a few minutes is necessary for Jesus to bless a child with all the graces he or she needs to live the heroic life of virtue that will soon flourish in his or her everyday life.
Similarly, the daily recitation of the rosary can begin with a simple decade or one Our Father and 10 Hail Marys, asking our Blessed Mother to intercede before her divine son for us that day. It can be prayed first thing in the morning, on the way to school, before or after dinner, or just prior to bedtime. For children, it is most beneficial when it can be prayed within the family. It was most promoted in our times by Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, "The family that prays together, stays together." Soon, additional decades can be added until a whole mystery is being prayed.
Very often, we default to believing that only a few are "chosen" by Jesus to become saints, but the truth is that each of us is chosen. May the little saintly children of Fatima lead us on! Sts. Francisco and Jacinta, pray for us!
- Father Edward Riley is a faculty member of St. John’s Seminary and spiritual director of the World Apostolate of Fatima in the Archdiocese of Boston. He also serves as the liaison for the Office for Homeschooling of the archdiocese.