How We Discuss Imperfect Heroes with Kids

Happy Columbus Day! This is not a feast of the Catholic Church, of course, but it's a national celebration (at least it WAS a celebration, now it's more like one-more-excuse-to-be-mad-on-Facebook) of a Catholic person with admirable qualities and great failings, both. So how do we handle a figure like Christopher Columbus with our kids? The same way we do everything else: truthfully. Christopher Columbus is not to be confused with St. Christopher. He has not been proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church. That means we don't expect that he lived a life of heroic virtue. That means we shouldn't be surprised when we find that he, like most of us, listened to his little shoulder devil more often than he should have.
Does that mean he cannot be an inspiration and a role model for our children? It does not. Christopher Columbus (like the founding fathers, and various actors, musicians, and athletes who come into my children's awareness) was given a GREAT GIFT BY GOD. He was smarter, and more determined, and more courageous than the people around him. God made him with a purpose, and because he corresponded with the gifts God gave him, Christopher Columbus lived a life of extraordinary adventure and accomplishment. He was a Catholic, and it's clear from his journal entries, that he loved God and wished to glorify God through his discoveries. However, he was also a very flawed human being. It appears that he allowed himself to care more for glory and riches for himself in this world than he did for knowing, loving, and serving God and preparing himself for eternal life. He was a visionary, daring to attempt feats no one had attempted before. But he became so obsessed with finding a passage to India and China, that he never himself appreciated having discovered a New World! He was an inspirational leader, able to rally his men in the face of great hardship. He was also a ruthless leader, resorting to very cruel punishments. He was a Catholic who valued his faith and wished to bring it to the people of the world. But he seems never to have really viewed the native people of the Americas as worthy of the respect and dignity due every human person. He tricked and enslaved and mistreated Native Americans in a shameful way. He impersonated a god in order to bend them to his will. That's a real no-no for Catholics. Despite his great gifts, at the end of his life he was an unhappy, unsatisfied man. He should have taken his own advice: "No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of Our Savior if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service."
So, in our home, we discuss Christopher Columbus as an American Hero (from Italy via Portugal) with very real human failings. We talk about how he could have handled his life differently, how he COULD have lived his life to merit being called St. Christopher, Christ-bearer. We hope and pray that, at the end of his life, he took responsibility for his failings and made a good confession and received the sacraments and that he is in heaven today. We talk about St. Brendan, a Catholic who visited the Americas eight hundred years before Columbus and didn't trick or enslave ANYONE. Someone who DID live a life of heroic virtue.
And we use this same method to discuss Olympic athletes who have mind-blowing physical gifts, but appear to be less-than-humble, and singers with angelic voices and terrible judgement, and founding fathers with an amazing intellect and admirable vision and self-sacrifice, who allowed and/or perpetrated the bondage of other human beings at the founding of our nation. The term "devil's advocate" is taken from a role formerly used in the canonization process in our Roman Catholic Church. In 1587, Pope Sixtus V established a process involving canon attorneys in the roles of Promoter of the Faith or Devil's Advocate. The devil's advocate person argued against the canonization (sainthood) of a candidate in order to uncover any character flaws or misrepresentation of the evidence favoring canonization. Saint Pope John Paul II reduced the power and changed the role of the office in 1983. St. JPII doesn't want us to be devil's advocates. I'm pretty sure he'd want us to be honest about people's flaws, but not dwell on them, and certainly not deny the obvious gifts that God has given some people, just because they're total knuckleheads in other aspects of their lives. My kids see my failings every day, on good days they see their own failings. But I don't want them to define me or themselves by only our failures. I want them to search for the good in everyone. I want them to find inspiration everywhere. . . . . . And, I'm back! But not really. Thank you all, my dear readers, for your patience as I disappeared from the blog here. It turns out that I DO have a maxed out point and remodeling a house + keeping said house clean + looking after a husband and eight kids and their food and clothing related needs + homeschooling five grades + driving and volunteering for one in regular school + writing a book is it for me. Something had to give and it was this. But I miss it SO MUCH, and this particular post has been bouncing around in my head for months and months and finally burst out of me this morning. In addition to all the very real and pressing concerns in our world, would you please say a prayer for me as I try to get this book written by December? So many of you have told me you would appreciate a book on how we live our faith and the liturgical year in our home, and I've wanted to write one ever since I started the blog. But I am having a terrible time trying to focus on getting it done in the midst of the rest of my crazy life and all my personal failings. I have yet to resort to trickery and enslavement, but I have wasted a LOT of time on Facebook and Netflix. Also, despite me being a TERRIBLE blogger at the moment, at least one of you saw fit to nominate me as one of the best at the Fisher's Net Awards. There's really no accounting for you guys. Probably you should vote for Bonnie or Haley instead of me, but that's your call. Double cheek kisses for everyone.