Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
~ by Monika Minehart ~
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We hear this question repeated again and again to our children from a very young age. It seems to be a harmless question, and in many ways it is; but it also is an instructive question that can mislead children into believing that the career or job we eventually hold as an adult is the most important facet of our lives. Our vocation (from the Latin vocare meaning “to call”) and the work to which God is calling us is of great value, but our effort toward achieving a certain career should not take priority over the kind of person we are as we make strides toward our goal.
When I meet with middle schoolers or high schoolers for my job in Catholic Youth Ministry, I ask them similar, but incredibly different, questions: “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” or more importantly, “Who do you want to be right now?” If we want to become virtuous people in adulthood and uphold the virtue of honesty, for example, in our professional and family lives, then we must begin in childhood to strive for honesty in our work and our play. Maria Montessori famously said, “Play is the work of a child.” Who are we on the playground? Are we the type of people who push others out of their way to get to the front of the line for the slide? Or are we the type of people who accompany a friend who has fallen to get help? Do we seek out alternate music to listen to that is uplifting and positive instead of succumbing to the pressure to listen to the latest song that does not imitate the beauty of God’s creation? Do we think for ourselves instead of following the crowd?
We regularly teach children not to cheat on tests nor plagiarize their essays. It should follow, then, that educators and adults help instill a love for honesty in children through the gift of generous praise to those who speak up for the truth rather than permit the concept of ‘snitching’ to run rampant as it often does among children. We often, perhaps unknowingly, place emphasis on the goal of material wealth, status and prestige over the consistent and courageous effort it takes to achieve spiritual excellence and holiness. The child who achieves ‘honor’ roll for his grades alone is often lauded as more praiseworthy than one who achieves lower scores but perhaps stands up for what is good, honorable and true in the face of adversity. This is manifest in the type of awards given out at the end of the school year and throughout the year in reward-incentive behavior charts. In the reality of our daily lives, we do not receive a piece of candy every time we do the right thing. Instead, we might be faced with mockery or sheer silence when we have the inclination to step up and do the right thing. Having a positive role model to set an example of grace, patience, understanding and honesty can be extremely beneficial to promote the virtue of fortitude in the young and old as we no longer feel alone in our actions and gain a sense of community working toward an eternal goal of achieving heaven and helping others get there one day as well.
In the Catholic Church, the holy men and women who have been canonized as saints provide us with a special form of companionship on this journey toward eternity. Catholicism teaches that all Christians are called to be saints. The USCCB (United States Council of Catholic Bishops) explains that, “Saints are persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.” There are hundreds of biographies and autobiographies about the lives of the saints that give great detail on how to navigate daily struggles. But yet, we often don’t read them. We won’t find their stories in our news feed and we would be hard pressed to find these books offered to our children in a traditional school. Fortunately, classical education helps resolve this problem through the study of the great works of the Catholic saints and those who have studied them. Books such as Confessions by Saint Augustine, Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila and Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux are great starting points for those seeking to understand the path of Christian holiness. Some may insist these books are too challenging for children; and yes, they are challenging, but that is the point. We must consistently challenge ourselves to live as Christians in an increasingly secular world. As they say, “we are what we eat” and if we want to grow in spiritual strength, we need to digest spiritual truths. In the Catholic tradition, the saints can help us get there and we simply need to open our hearts and minds to the nourishment they provide in their writings.
Monika Minehart is a new instructor in the Aquinas House of Studies at Scholé Academy and will be teaching two new courses in the Fall and Spring of the 2022-23 school year: St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul and The Plays of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Monika lives in Louisiana with her husband and four children and works as a Director of Youth Ministry & Faith Formation at a Catholic church in New Orleans.