St. John Paul the Great wrote in his encyclical Orientale Lumen that the witness of nuns "...has offered an example of giving full value in the Church to what is specifically feminine, even breaking through the mentality of the time...The nun's charism, with its own specific characteristics, is a visible sign of that motherhood of God to which Sacred Scripture often refers." This spiritual motherhood is the specific ministry of the nun in addition to the monastic works described in my previous post: Star Athletes of the Spirit: Kid's Books About Monks.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is probably the most famous example of this spiritual motherhood. Even though she has been canonized and we should call her Saint Teresa, she will probably always be known as Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa: The Smile of Calcutta, by Charlotte Grossetete, illustrated by Catherine Chion, describes her life for children aged five to seven. This is a Catholic book! I have found many secular books about Mother Teresa, some of them beautifully illustrated, that I had to reject because they insist on calling her a "humanitarian" working for "social justice" instead of a nun working for the love of God.
The Young Life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta by Claire Jordan Mohan, illustrated by Jane Robbins, is a 64 page chapter book for grades 4-6, describing the childhood and young womanhood of Mother Teresa up to the day she starts her home for the dying. It also contains lots of extra materials, a biography, a selection of quotes, a glossary and a maps of her home country.
As a Lenten challenge, you could introduce your kids to the 15 tips for humility Mother Teresa's gave her Missionaries of Charity:
1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity.
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and discarded.
11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
14. Give in, in discussions, even if you are right.
15. Choose always the more difficult task.
Teens will enjoy reading Something Beautiful for God, the famous account of Mother Teresa's work by former atheist journalist Malcolm Muggeridge who converted through meeting her. This short book, 160 pages, features transcripts of conversations with Mother Teresa and many beautiful photographs.
Mother Teresa founded an active order of nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, whose monastic labors consist of a combination of contemplative prayer and charitable work.
St. Elizabeth, the New Martyr, Grand Duchess of Russia, is another example of active spiritual motherhood. Ella's Story: The Duchess Who Became a Saint by Maria Tobias, illustrated by Bonnie Gillis, is an 80 page chapter book for ages nine and up vividly telling the story of a German princess, granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, who marries the uncle of Tsar Nikolas II, the last tsar of Russia. After the assassination of her husband, Elizabeth becomes a nun and uses her wealth to found an order caring for the poor in Moscow. She was killed by Bolshevik revolutionaries. St.Elizabeth has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Read more about her here.
Teens, this Lent read about the amazing story of another active nun, Sister Clare Crockett, a self-described wild Irish girl who did not believe in God. Our Lord's call to her was so strong and irresistible that she left her home, family and country at age 18 to join a monastery in Spain. She became a saintly missionary caring for the poor and died in an earthquake in Ecuador at age 33.
The active orders of nuns are the most well known because they are most visible to the world. It is perhaps even more important, however, to read about the cloistered contemplative nuns who are hidden from the world praying and doing penance for us all.
Saint Clare of Assisi: A Light for the World by Marianne Lorraine Trouve is a beautifully written chapter book for ages nine to twelve telling the story of the beautiful daughter of a noble Assisi family who followed St. Francis, became a nun and founded the Poor Clares. Their lives are inspired by St. Francis emphasizing simplicity, small communities and joy.
St. Therese of Lisieux, also know as the Little Flower, was another great contemplative nun. She entered the convent of the Discalced Carmelites, founded by her namesake Teresa of Avila,
at age sixteen by special papal dispensation. St. Therese and her famous Little Way are often portrayed with great sentimentality. However, the practice of the Little Way is pure asceticism requiring a tough, athletic spirit.
The Little Flower: A Parable of St. Therese of Lisieux by Becky Arganbright adapts the Saint's lesson of the flower garden as a parable for children. They will find that they are able to do little things with love thereby giving them great value before God. The illustrations by Tracey Taylor Arvidson are beautiful without being sentimental.
Teens, read the autobiography of St. Therese this Lent. She began writing this account when she was not much older than you at age 22 and completed it just before she died at age 24. The Story of a Soul describes the Saint's Little Way as she practiced it, doing little things with great love. While this seems easy, imagine treating a person you find extremely annoying as if she was your best friend. St. Therese did this with such perfection that the nun concerned wondered why Therese liked her so much. The Little Way is, in fact, a great way to holiness and led to its author being declared a Doctor of the Church. " Doctor of the Church (Latin doctor "teacher") is a title given by the Catholic Church to saints recognized as having made significant contribution to theology or doctrine through their research, study, or writing." The Roman Catholic Church recognizes only 34 doctors, four of them women. St. Therese, a spoiled little girl who turned into a young woman of great holiness and died at age 24, is one of them.
The greatest spiritual athletes among the contemplative monastics in the Roman Catholic Church are without doubt the Carthusians. They live in separate hermitages within their monasteries praying, working and eating in silence and solitude. They only gather for daily mass in their church. Because of the more social nature of women, the Carthusian nuns are allowed more contact with one another than the male Carthusians. They meet once a day for an hour of recreation where they may talk.
St. Rosaline, the Carthusian: The Saint With the Shining Eyes by my husband Mark Vincent, beautifully illustrated by our friend Nadia Olson, tells the story of a saintly little girl who grew up in a powerful, noble family in medieval France. Like St. Therese, she followed God's call at age sixteen and entered a Carthusian monastery where she lived a life of great asceticism and holiness. Later, she became abbess of her monastery and after her death many miracles occurred at her grave site. Ages four and up. Click on the image to see more information and look inside.
Introduce your pre-school children to the monastic life with The Song of the Talanton by Claire Brandenburg. The talanton is a long wooden board beaten by a nun calling her sisters to prayer in a small Orthodox monastery. The tonk, tonk, ta-lan-ton rhythm is perfect to guide pilgrim Sophia and young readers into the monastic rhythm of prayer. You can listen to it on the included CD which also includes a reading of the story by Claire Brandenburg. The beautiful watercolor illustrations are by the author.
Celebrate St. Patrick's Day reading The Life of Brigid, Abbess of Kildare by Janet G. Meyer, beautifully illustrated by Zachary Lynch in a style blending Celtic design and iconography. This book tells the story of Brigid, daughter of a Christian slave and a chieftain who grew up in slavery. Her love for the poor and her charity were boundless. She became a close friend of St.Patrick and foundress of monasteries all over Ireland. This book is suitable for children three and up.
Read more about children's books and monasticism in previous posts:
Star Athletes Of the Spirit: Children's Books About Monks
The Variety Of Cultural Traditions In the Catholic Church
How To Pray Without Ceasing: The Jesus Prayer
Have a Blessed Lent!