Friday, May 16, 2008

Saint Jude: A Friend in Hard Times

Since St. Jude came through when I prayed for his intercession on the house, I'd like to tell you about my very favorite St. Jude book: Saint Jude: A Friend in Hard Times. Here's an article I wrote number of years ago on how a twelve-year-old, homeschooled boy came to write and publish Saint Jude:

St. Jude: A Friend in Hard Times, recently released by Pauline Books and Media, is a gem. Illustrator Keith Neely’s artwork is beautiful enough to turn this children’s book into a coffee table book. However, you wouldn’t want to leave it on your table for too long, as it is a terrific read. The historical information is interesting and the storytelling engaging. I don’t think that there is an historical account so easily accessible for children anywhere. Additionally, author Michael Aquilina III was able to bring St. Jude to life for my family. I want the saints to be real for my children, not just pictures on prayer cards, and this book accomplishes that end very well.

The amazing thing about all this is that Michael wrote St. Jude: A Friend in Need when he was just twelve-years old. It all started when Michael, at the ripe old age of seven, became fascinated with computers and read their manuals just for fun. One day, Michael had a computer problem that he could not fix himself. Nor could he find a solution in his beloved computer manuals. So he prayed for St. Jude’s help. In no time, the computer problem was resolved and Michael found a new friend in St. Jude, patron of desperate causes.

Michael then decided that family friend, and Catholic author, Scott Hahn needed to write a book about St. Jude and he kept his desire no secret. Whenever Michael would visit the Hahn home, he made a point to tell Dr. Hahn “You should write a book about St. Jude.” Dr. Hahn, open to the Holy Spirit working through a child, considered the idea but was already committed to several other book projects. Finally, he told Michael, “I think that God has placed that wish on your heart so that you might write the book.”

It wasn’t long after that Michael’s grandmother suffered a stroke. Michael and his father stayed with her for a week to help out. With a simple reminder from his father of Dr. Hahn’s words, Michael began writing his book during this out-of-town visit. In just one week he wrote the bulk of St. Jude, with the occasional writing tip from his father, Catholic author Mike Aquilina.

Now, not every child has a prominent author for a father or has the opportunity to hang out in the homes of other prominent authors. However, it was not these things that led to Michael’s writing of St. Jude. I submit that Michael has been able to achieve the extraordinary because he has parents who support and nourish his interests, from his fascination with computers to his love for St. Jude. Most importantly, he has parents who live the Church’s teaching of parents as primary educators.

“The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.” (CCC 2221)

As home educators, the Aquilinas have taken on the academic instruction of their six children firsthand. Most parents do not choose homeschooling, but that does not mean that they don’t have a significant influence on their children’s academic success. A parent’s attitude toward education can spell either academic success or failure, and creating an atmosphere of learning in the home can make all the difference in the world. The Aquilinas do this in ways that can be imitated by any parent. They let their children see them reading all of the time. They make time to read to their children. If you don’t like to read aloud, turn the tables and ask your child to read to you. In this way, you not only encourage learning, but also spend quality time with one another building bonds that will not easily break.

Also let your child see you write. Of course Michael sees his father writing all of the time as that is Mike’s fulltime job, but he also sees his mother Terri writing letters to friends, letters to the editor, and journal entries. In this way, the Aquilina children think that this is what people do and therefore they do it themselves. Writing skills can blossom when practiced outside of the classroom and applied to everyday activities. In order to achieve academic success, children need good writing skills. It is not enough to read, children need to be able to communicate the knowledge that they have accumulated onto the written page, especially if college is desired in their future. So write and write often.

One area that most of us do not think about is the worth of doing research. Let your children see you research a lot. Before you write that letter to the editor get on the Internet or go to the library to make sure that you have your facts straight. If the Aquilinas have a child ask a question that they cannot respond to honestly, they search for the answer. Pulling down your Bible, Catechism, or encyclopedia from your bookshelf will speak volumes to your child.

In preparing his book for publication, Michael had to do a lot of research. On more than one occasion, Michael’s editor at Pauline, Sr. Patricia Edward, had to ask Michael to give some background in Catholic doctrine, for example, on the intercession of the saints. Pauline also had scholars review the book who suggested that Michael be clearer in other areas. He had to point out where historians disagree on certain details of St. Jude’s life story. Had Michael’s parents not set a good example for him in doing their own research, Michael may not have been able to complete his book satisfactorily.

Just as children need to learn to communicate through writing, they need to learn to articulate their book knowledge through the spoken word. The Aquilinas suggest making many friends to cultivate the art of conversation. Invite your pastor, coworkers, and other interesting people to your dinner table. Go deep in conversation with your guests and include the children. Pray to your guardian angel and the guardian angels of your friends, and ask them to help guide your conversations and your correspondence. Let your conversations meander and don’t be afraid of silent moments.

Michael Aquilina III is very comfortable in the company of adults. I once saw him at a Catholic education conference where his father was a speaker. As his father answered questions, Michael was engaging in a conversation with several academics from a Catholic university and he did not look out of place at all. This has a lot to do with the fact that Michael and his siblings are always welcomed to listen in on their parent’s conversations.

If the children interject more than their parents desire, you would never know it. To sit in the Aquilina living room is to be surrounded by lively conversation with everyone participating. Children are never talked down to or asked to shush.

The art of conversation and the development of the intellect are also encouraged by the fact that the Aquilinas limit television viewing almost to the point of extinction. Yes, there are good programs on television, but even good television can be abused. It is much easier to encourage reading, writing, researching, and conversation, if your home is void of television noise. Besides, too much television makes for passive children with high needs for sensory stimulation and that is the death of the intellect.

Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. (CCC 2226)

While it is important to “teach” our children religion, most of what they learn is through modeling. We can sing the praises of Mother Church all day long, but if we ourselves do not truly love God and His Church then we cannot expect our children to love them.

When Terri Aquilina prays her rosary, her children naturally join her. When she attends Mass, goes to confession, prays before meals, her children want to participate with her. If parents show an interest in something then children, particularly young children, will also show an interest. Conversely, children will not find value in things that parents don’t care to do themselves.

Now as children grow older and they begin to question their religion, parents need to be prepared with answers. Prayerfully, your children are receiving a good education in religion through their parish school, CCD, or homeschool program, but that is not enough. Children, teens in particular, are sure to eventually ask: Why do we have to attend CCD? Or go to Mass? Or pray the family rosary? They need to hear from their parents why these things are important to them as Catholics.

Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. (CCC 2225)

Don’t be afraid to be a herald of the Faith to your children. Speak of God not only on Sunday, but everyday. In a society where we have separation of church and state, we sometimes forget that it is okay to speak of God in normal conversation. Sometimes we even forget that it is okay to have a religious opinion in the public square. You can be a herald of the Faith simply by voicing your opinion as a Catholic when neighbor or family member makes a statement that is contrary to your beliefs. Doing this, in a charitable manner of course, will teach your children the importance of faith matters.

For example, the Aquilina children know intrinsically the Church’s stance on human life. This is because they have a mother who will not hesitate to picket the local Planned Parenthood office or write a letter to the editor. They have a father who will not hesitate to speak up when the topic comes up in conversation with a friend. It is in this way that the children absorb Church teaching in a very natural way.

When I asked Michael, now fourteen-years old, if he found himself adopting his parent’s values, he answered quite simple, “Usually.” Yes, children have free will and they are sure to develop their own opinions and values, but the foundation upon which those values are built largely depends on the involvement, or lack of involvement, of parents.

Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents. (CCC 2227)

Michael has always enjoyed hanging around his father’s home office. Once, when Michael was about eight-years old, his father Mike was working as a newspaper reporter and he was interviewing a rather famous sociologist of religion who was an agnostic. The man told Mike, in the course of the interview, that he would very much like to have faith, but he couldn’t quite bring himself there. Michael was sitting in the room, reading. After Mike got off the phone, he asked Michael to pray for the man’s conversion. Michael asked if the man prayed for faith. His father told him that he didn’t know and as a journalist he didn’t think it was his place to ask that question. Michael told him it was his Christian obligation to do so. So Mike contacted the man again. If we parents do our best to take on the role of primary educator, we will find ourselves in turn learning from our children, and sometimes in ways that we never imagined.

Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them. (CCC 2223)

As parents we all fail, sometimes daily. The Aquilinas are no exception; Mike and Terri are the first to admit that. It is an incredible responsibility to raise godly children, but we have a saint in our midst to help us when things seem hopeless. In his epistle, the second to last book in the Bible, St. Jude reminds us that we should persevere in harsh and difficult situations. Do not hesitate to seek St. Jude’s intercession. He sat with our Lord at the Last Supper, he performed miracles in the name of Jesus, he spread the Faith throughout the world as one of the first Christian missionaries, and he wants to help us persevere in our God-given roles as parents.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 2221 to 2231) expresses in beautiful terms the teaching of parents as primary educators of their children. It tells us that we are responsible for the formation of our children’s souls in addition to their intellect. It is through the application of this teaching that the biographer of St. Jude was nurtured.


St. Jude Novena Blog Publisher said...

Ms. Wittmann, I maintain a small blog for people (Catholics) to publish their messages of thanks to St. Jude. I endeavor to make it both functional (e.g., how to say the novena, how to publish, etc.) and informative (e.g., who is St. Jude, why do we pray to him, etc.). In my post next Sunday, I will profile the book Saint Jude: A Friend in Hard Times, and include your article on Michael Aquilina. I will ensure I properly credit, source and link your article and blog. It was a wonderful article. Thank you, in advance.

St. Jude Novena Blog Publisher said...

Here's the link: