St. Francis of Assisi

One of the most beloved saints of the Middle Ages and now is Francis of Assisi, patron of animals and the environment. Here’s his story to share with your children:

Francis was born in Italy in the twelfth century to a wealthy
family. He loved parties and fine things like the beautiful brocade and silk fabrics his father bought and sold, and he dreamed of adventure. He became a knight and went off to fight, but he was captured and put in prison. After a year, his father paid a ransom and he was freed. Francis knew then that he would not become a cloth merchant like his father. He
found himself in a church that was falling down, and as he prayed, Francis heard God tell him to rebuild it. He sold a bale of his father’s silk to pay for the repairs, which made his father very angry. The bishop told Francis that God would give him what he needed, so Francis gave his father his purse of gold coins—and all the fine clothes Francis was wearing! From that time on,
Francis wore only rough burlap and gave up all his belongings to live among and serve the poor and the sick. Francis followed Jesus in his actions, not just his words, and soon he had followers of his own who wanted to live simply and serve God and others as he did. He took special notice and care of God’s creation. He helped people and animals live together peacefully. One of the stories told about him is that he helped a village make friends with a wolf that had been attacking their animals. Even the birds flocked around him as he told them of God’s love. Some churches hold a blessing of the animals on his feast day, October 4. Francis may even have staged the first Christmas pageant, with real animals to warm the Christ child in the stable. Francis died in the same little church that he rebuilt with his own hands. He still inspires others with his generosity, his joy in God’s creation, and his simple, peaceful ways.

In honor of Francis, your family could make dog biscuits or cat toys to give away in your neighborhood or donate to a local animal shelter. Even toddlers can string Cheerios onto chenille stems that can be fastened into circles and hung on a tree branch to feed the birds. You can also make a bird feeder by spreading peanut or soy butter onto a pinecone or ice cream cone and rolling it in birdseed.

Here’s a fun short video to watch, a simple recipe for dog treats, and my favorite picture book about Francis.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents

All Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls

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Did you know that Halloween is only the beginning of a holy three days? Hallow means holy and “Hallowe’en” is a contraction of All Hallows Eve, or Even. On Halloween, we face our fears and laugh at them, knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. The Celtic day of the dead, Samhain, predated Christianity and fell on October 31. Ancient practices and festivals have been adopted by the Church and made new in the light of Christ. To me this does not diminish the Christian holy days; it makes them stronger, more resonant.

My friends at Salt offer a brief theology of Halloween which I find both heartening and illuminating. Halloween is the busiest and most festive night of the year in our Brooklyn neighborhood, joyfully celebrated by all. We’ll spend several hours (in costume, of course) on our stoop with lollipops, play dough and glow sticks to hand out, delighting in the community flowing by.

November 1 is All Saints Day, a major feast of the church which we’ll celebrate on the following Sunday with baptisms. The Book of Common Prayer calls saints “the lights of the world in every generation”–people whose lives and deeds have shone brightly and helped others more closely follow Jesus. There are saints who lived long ago and there are saints living and working in the world today, saints who are known by the church and saints who are known only to God. We say that we are part of the Communion of Saints, the company of all faithful people, connected through our baptism to those Christians who have died, those who are alive now, and those yet to be born. The word “saint” means holy. In the Episcopal Church we have a Calendar of Saints, holy men and women we remember in prayer and with readings from scripture on their feast day. The saints tend to be quite colorful, and being perfect is in no way a requirement.

November 2, All Souls Day, is the “commemoration of all faithful departed,” a day to remember our own family and friends who have died. It’s a good time to visit a cemetery, which should not be a place of fear, but of respect. No one minds if you make rubbings of old gravestones. The churchyard where I work has markers dating back to the late 17th century. Mexican friends observe this day with serious play and even joy as the Day of the Dead, making family altars with photographs, flowers, candles, and food. Light a candle, say a prayer, tell stories of the ones we love and see no longer.

Here are three books I recommend for children who are grieving: The Invisible String by Patricia Karst does a wonderful job of describing the way in which we are all connected to those we love and is helpful for those experiencing any kind of separation or loss. My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes. by Roger Hutchison is a sensitive, imaginative exploration of grief in child-friendly language and vibrant art.  Death is Stupid by Anastasia Higgenbotham, is refreshingly honest, while leaving room for your own religious beliefs. 

(Excerpted from Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, Chapter 5)