From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Teaching children about saints

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Feb. 6, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

I remember as a teenager complaining to my mother that I was bored, and her telling me to go read the Lives of the Saints. I did not take her advice. At the time, most saints seemed boring themselves, or else so holy they just made me feel guilty.

Now I’m a mother myself trying to interest my children in holy people who could be models of faith. I try storytelling, hoping not to bore them.

Black History Month seems an appropriate time to remember African saints, Black men and women who played important roles in our faith from its very beginnings. The church recognizes over 2,000 Black saints. Some were wise and educated, like St. Augustine of Hippo, named a Doctor of the Church. Others were courageous young mothers, like Perpetua and Felicity, who faced wild beasts in the arena at Carthage, giving their lives for their faith.

Here is the story of just one Black saint, and an exciting story it is, too. So gather ’round....

St. Moses the Black

Moses stood tall and broad. Muscles rippled under his skin, skin as black as the waters of the Nile River on a moonless night. As a young man he was a slave in Egypt, but he seemed born to be a leader. Today St. Moses the Black is venerated for his wisdom and acts of non-violence and reconciliation. But it took a lifetime for him to become the man he wanted to be.

In the beginning we near nothing good about Moses. As a slave he must have been busy, but somehow he found time to get in trouble. Accused of theft and murder, Moses escaped from his master and took up with a gang robbing and killing throughout the Nile Valley. Known for his courage, strength and fierce temper, he soon became the leader of the group of 75 bandits.

One story tells how a barking dog gave him away during a robbery. In anger, Moses swore vengeance on the shepherd who owned the dog. Later, with his sword in his mouth, Moses swam the crocodile-infested river to sneak up on the owner’s hut. The man escaped with his life, but Moses butchered four of the shepherd’s choice rams.

There are different tales of Moses coming to see the light, but one claims that while running from the law he hid out with some monks living in the desert near Alexandria. The monks so impressed him with their lives of simple grace that he gave up his life of crime to join them.

It was not easy settling down to the discipline of monastic life. Moses struggled for years against impulses to return to his former adventures. The devil is said to have appeared in physical form to torment him. But little by little he became known for his humility and love.

Once the monks gathered to decide a punishment for a brother who had sinned. Moses arrived at the meeting carrying a leaky basket of sand. When questioned, he said, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” At this, the others forgave the offending monk and turned to examining their own faults rather than those of others.

Moses eventually rose to leadership of a desert monastery of 75 monks, the same number as his former group of thieves. In 405 C.E., at age 75, St. Moses suffered a martyr’s death, refusing to resort to violence when his monastery was attacked by a group of barbarians.

Why not plan a family time to celebrate the diversity of our church? Tell the children ahead of time that everyone will have a chance to tell a story. It must be about a person who loves God, or who did something especially loving, honest or courageous. Let the children go first, then tell about St. Moses the Black. After everyone has shared once or twice, ask if your children have any questions about saints. Don’t be surprised if an interesting discussion breaks out. Saints can be a lot less boring these days.

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer.)

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