What does it look like when a girl saves the day?
St. Maria Goretti, whose feast we celebrate on July 6, can show us. She wasn’t even twelve years old when she offered her life in service to the Truth. She faced her attacker with joy, humility, compassion, courage, and above all, purity of heart. No wonder she is a particular patroness for youth.What can we, as Catholic mothers, do to inspire our children to live the same virtues that St. Maria Goretti chose? The obvious answer is to make sure our kids know the saints, each one showing a different facet of the courage God gives us to follow Him to the cross and beyond. Sometimes, though, we must engage our children’s imaginations along with their faith. Another way to give our children examples of virtue is to provide them with quality fiction that shows in a particularly imaginative way how great virtue wears sometimes the most ordinary of faces. Also, since fiction can illustrate great virtues often without the frank violence that our saints had to suffer, it often can be used to give our children good examples of great character without frightening a particularly anxious child, for instance.
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I’m a mom, and I have three daughters. Of course, when I think of fictional characters who can illustrate St. Maria Goretti’s virtues for my children, I think of some of my favorite literary heroines over the years.
Joy in Suffering: Anne Shirley, better known as L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, was able to find the hope and the good in even the most difficult situations. If your child is not ready to hear about St. Maria Goretti’s suffering, she might be ready to see the healing that comes from caring for a cranky woman’s three sets of twins!
Humility: When Sara Crewe in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett went from riches to rags, she never lost her sense of self-worth. Like Maria Goretti, when we know our value beyond how others treat us, we are freed to be the Daughters of the King we were born to be.
Compassion: When we first meet Laura Ingalls of the Little House Series, she struggles with jealousy over her older sister Mary’s golden girls and calm, obedient manner. When Mary goes blind, however, Laura sets aside her pettiness and becomes Mary’s eyes. Like Laura, St. Maria Goretti lived an example of compassion for the source of her torment: she served her attacker by fighting his way into heaven.
Courage: When we meet Madeline L’Engle’s Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time, she wraps her fears of other’s judgment against her in a prickly disposition. When she must shed her defenses to save her youngest brother, just a Maria Goretti fought for her atttacker's soul, Meg Murry gives without counting the cost.
Purity: The titular character in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, after a lifelong search for love finds love within her grasp…but only if she will chose to live against her principles. Just as St. Maria's example does, Jane Eyre's purity of heart in the face of losing all she ever wanted gives readers young and old an illustration of integrity in the face of peer pressure.
[Author’s note: I am such a fan of Jane Eyre’s moral heroism that I have a book coming out today, the first in a trilogy, that re-tells Jane’s story in a near-future setting for today’s YA audience. Please consider taking a look at Unclaimed: The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan—Book 1!]
Each of these classic heroines gives us an example in her own way of how we can live fearlessly, as St. Maria Goretti did in particular and as children of God in general. Sure, in our culture we may find ourselves surrounded by selfishness over self-sacrifice. However, when we give our daughters and sons examples of life lived and given in service to objective Truth, we empower them to be the next generation of saints. The rest is up to them.
St. Maria Goretti, patroness of youth courageous in the Truth, pray for us.
Who are some fictional heroes or heroines you think display virtues we see in our saints and hope to see in our children? How do you think literature can go hand-in-hand with the stories of our saints?
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Copyright 2016 Erin McCole Cupp
About the Author
Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mother, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates somewhere out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. She's working with Our Sunday Visitor on a book about parenting spirituality for survivors of family abuse and dysfunction. Find out more about her novels and other projects at ErinMcColeCupp.com.