1. Desire your kids’ holiness more than anything else in the world, and keep after them like shine on glass rosary beads. (a.k.a. Monica-style): Blessed Zelie knew, much like St. Monica, that nothing else works for the formation and conversion of children quite like the prayers of their doggedly determined mother. So clear from Celine Martin’s account of Zelie’s life in The Mother of the Little Flower, TAN Books, is that her mother’s one desire for this world was her children’s holiness. She wasted no time; she prayed for her precious children from the moment she knew she was pregnant. Celine writes, “Her union with God and the fervor of her prayers, during her months of pregnancy, were so great that she was astonished not to see these pious dispositions manifesting themselves in her children from the dawn of their intelligence.” In fact, just before Zelie’s oldest Marie was four and her sister Pauline was not quite two, Zelie’s sister wrote to their brother, “Zelie is already distressed that her children show no signs of piety.” (This has been most consoling to me as a mother of a four-year-old.)
Despite this apparent set-back in holiness in Zelie’s mind, she persevered in prayer and with great care and patience taught her children the faith and “gradually and methodically” got her children to “overcome” themselves.
In the Beatification Process for St. Therese, her sisters Marie and Pauline said, “We were never spoiled. Mother watched very carefully over the souls of her children; even the slightest fault was pointed out to be corrected. It was a kind and loving education, but always vigilant and careful.”
2. Teach your children to pray and pray with them. Celine writes, “Mother took an active part in our education. I recollect how she always made us say our morning and evening prayers, and taught us the following formula for the offering of the day: My God, I give You my heart; please accept it that no creature, but You alone, my good Jesus, may possess it.”
3. Teach your children the value of sacrifice. Zelie used to tell her daughter whose sisters were begging for her things, “Give it away, my little girl, and you’ll have another pearl in your crown!” This type of training can transform a household. Much like fasting for adults, nothing drives home the reality of our faith for little people than choosing to give up a most favorite stuffed bunny to a little brother who doesn’t deserve nor appreciate the gesture in exchange for heavenly glory. I am often surprised by how happy the child is who gives away his toy after he had fought so hard to keep it. And even if it’s done with clenched teeth and someone hissing something about getting a pearl, it’s still in the family vocabulary.
Zelie also encouraged her children to keep track of their sacrifices. Celine writes, “She accustomed us to obey through love, to please the dear Jesus, to make small sacrifices for Him. We had a kind of ‘rosary’ to count these acts (‘a rosary of acts’); it was composed of movable beads which one could slide on a string.”
Feeling insignificant in the world? A fun exercise is keeping track of your own loving sacrifices as a mom on any given day. Out of curiosity, I counted one morning and stopped when I hit 25 by 7 a.m. How powerful our work must be to Our Lord.
4. Talk about heaven with your children and make it clear that getting there is your family’s number one priority. Zelie wrote of her daughter Leonie, “She hears so much talk about the next life, that she often refers to it, herself, also.”
Our family still has a long way to go in this regard, but the little guys at the moment are at least excited to see those big crowns we’ve been talking about and ride down the slides (in the hugest waterpark ever) with Mary and their patron saints. I need to remember in the thick of a crummy afternoon that imagining with the children what heaven will be like’s a good game-changer. For myself, picturing melting into Jesus’s arms and snuggling with Mary’s mantle while everyone else is safe and eternally blissfully happy at the waterpark should be enough to see me through to dinnertime.
With Zelie’s prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit, some day our kids could write about us: “My parents always seemed to me to be saints. We were filled with respect and admiration for them. I sometimes asked myself if it were possible to find their equals on earth. Around me I could see nothing like them.”
At our house at the moment, this is at least good for a laugh. But St. Luke reminds us, “With God, nothing is impossible.”
Copyright 2011 Meg Matenaer