On Barb’s Bookshelf: Super Girls and Halos

Barb's Book shelf blog titleI always felt like female superheroes were for sporty girls who were physically strong, and beautiful too — and who could rock a form-fitting, skimpy costume.

Yvonne_Craig_Batgirl
By ABC Television – eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, Link

I did like that Batgirl’s real name was Barbara, like mine, but that was about it for my appreciation of superheroes.

I love that Maria Morera Johnson began her new book, Super Girls and Halos (Ave Maria Press, 2017), with a quote from the only superhero movie I ever liked: The Incredibles. Mrs. Incredible is probably the first “supergirl” I could relate to. She’s a mom. She worries about her family. She’s the most real superhero I’ve encountered.

incredibles

Comic books and action movies aren’t my go-to genre, maybe because I didn’t find superheroes relatable. My taste in comics, as a kid, ran more to Archie than to Wonder Woman, and you won’t find either Betty or Veronica in this book. But superhero comics, movies, TV series and video games are super-popular, and I think Maria has hit on the reason for that:

We can envision ourselves in the roles we see on the screen and respond to these courageous characters with admiration and appreciation for the fortitude or integrity they exhibit. Characters such as Katniss Everdeen and Wonder Woman often resonate with us because we admire their virtues. We might live vicariously through their fictional adventures, but can emulate their traits, such as courage or justice, in our daily lives. (viii)

super girls and halos

Let’s chat with Maria Morera Johnson, author of Super Girls and Virtues: My Companions on the Quest for Truth, Justice, and Heroic Virtue:

Was it difficult to pair up the fictional heroines with real saints?

The fictional heroines were easy — they are my favorites! The saints, however, had a way of finding me. A saint of the day would pop up when I was organizing the heroine’s attributes. Or I’d see a holy card and investigate. I mean, I’ve had these Catholic things around me, now they were suddenly coming to life! The most dramatic happened on vacation in Scotland when I encountered a small shrine to an Australian saint, St. Mary MacKillop. I’d say, the saints wanted to play with me, and I was happy to invite them along for the adventure.

Unlike the heroines who depend only upon themselves and the development of their human virtues, the saints, cooperating with God’s plan, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help them grow in holiness. They accept God’s will in their lives, regardless of the sacrifice or tedium. This can be called heroic virtue. (xv)

Which saint/heroine pair was the most surprising to you?

I think Rey from Star Wars and St. Clare of Assisi caught me off guard. It was a tough section to write about, Justice, but it came together rather easily when I was able to find the right saint and the kind of heroic virtue that understands God is due our worship as well as our love. I think people understand Wonder Woman in a chapter about Justice, but Clare, who is peaceful rather than warrior, has raised some eye brows and a little head-scratching. I think I do the pairing justice, if you’ll pardon the pun.

As a lover of literature, I find that the most compelling, realistic characters are those that remain true to their natures. (xii)

Which saint or heroine do you think is most like you?

I definitely found Dana Scully from The X-Files to have a similar, or at least familiar quest for the Truth. It’s the most personal chapter in the book, where I talk about my own falling away from the faith and my struggle to come back. It pairs beautifully, I think, with St. Benedicta of the Cross, who converted to Catholicism after leaving her Jewish faith for atheism. Most of us are familiar with Edith Stein, and so she immediately popped into my mind for pairing with Scully. Dare I say these were matches made in heaven? I crack myself up … but I think there’s some truth to it!

As we move from the heroines’  stories to the lives of saints, we see how the cardinal virtues, strengthened by God’s grace, led these women to holiness. We learn through these saints that we grow in virtue by practicing the tenets of our faith, too. (xiv)

And now for some book-launch fun, courtesy of Maria Johnson! Enter her social-media contest for a chance to win a Wonder Woman plush OR a T-shirt featuring a truly Catholic heroine.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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#WorthRevisit: St. Therese

At daily Mass on Monday, Father gave me two hosts.

Actually, he gave most people two hosts, unless they receive on the tongue.

The gentleman in line ahead of me stopped, looked at his hand, and said to Father, “You gave me two.”

“Yes. Yes, I did,” replied Father, and continued distributing Communion to the other people in line.

After Communion Father mentioned that he should have said something before we all lined up. He was giving everyone two hosts because they want to deplete the reserved Eucharist in the tabernacle before Holy Thursday.

With two churches in our parish and a succession of substitute priests this spring, we have a lot of consecrated hosts in those tabernacles. So on Tuesday, when Mass is celebrated in the other church, we all received two hosts again (this time, with fair warning from Father before Communion.)

I expect that the same will be true today.

story of a soul tan classicsWhenever I receive a portion of a host, it makes me think of the moment in St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography, A Story of a Soul, in which she worries about only receiving part of a host:

I do not normally feel any anxiety about going to Holy Communion, but there was one occasion when I did. There had been a shortage of Hosts for several days, so that I had received only a small piece, and on this particular morning I most foolishly said to myself: “If I only receive part of a Host today, I will know that Jesus does not really want to come into my heart.” I went up, and to my joy, after a moment’s hesitation, the priest gave me two complete Hosts: what a lovely answer! (p. 105)

I actually like when I receive only a piece of the host, because it makes me recall an extra time, “This is my Body…broken for you.”

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For #WorthRevisit Wednesday I’m linking to my review of Shirt of Flame, which chronicles author Heather King’s year spent delving into the life and work of St. Therese.

…this is a saint to whom I don’t take easily.  A priest once described her in a homily as “immature, fussy, and a bit of a drama queen” and I’m inclined to agree.  I read her autobiography as a teenager, and I think it appealed to me more then than it does now that I’m fortymumble years old (I’m actually 50 now) and most of my idealism has melted away amid the cares and worries and chores of taking care of my husband and family.

That book got me reconsidering my opinion of St. Therese.

Have you ever found a book that completely altered your thoughts on a particular saint?

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Recommended Reading: The Diaries of Joseph and Mary

March is the Month of St. Joseph. What better time to enjoy a little historical fiction starring the Holy Family?

diaries of joseph and maryDennis P. McGeehan’s book, The Diaries of Joseph and Mary, invites the reader to journey with Mary and Joseph from their early childhoods until Jesus sets out for his baptism at the hands of his cousin. These fictional diaries allow the reader to peek into the minds and hearts of Jesus’ mother and foster father.

McGeehan’s imagination is complemented by extensive research into centuries of Church scholarship regarding the Holy Family. He is careful to distinguish what we do know (from reading the Gospels) from what we can surmise (from reading history and Church scholarship). This book does not pretend to be anyone’s biography; it is clearly historical fiction with a basis in actual history and tradition.

While Mary has more pages in the book (since she lived longer than her husband), Joseph definitely has a featured role in this story. Mary’s diary entries are often devoted to praise of her spouse.

I found that this book offered much food for meditation. It allowed me to think about Gospel events and other events in the life of Christ in a different light, as I considered what Jesus’ parents would have been experiencing.

Don’t miss the appendix at the end of the book: 101 Questions and Answers about St. Joseph. Here McGeehan showcases the results of his research, sharing what centuries of Church Fathers and other scholars have taught about St. Joseph.

This book is appropriate for readers in middle school and up, so I’d recommend that you leave your copy around for your teenager to explore!

Scholastica, Benedict, Mary, Martha and Me

On this feast of St. Scholastica, Father M. read the Gospel story of Martha and Mary, then began his homily with the familiar story about St. Scholastica’s prayer to prolong her brother’s visit–which was answered with a storm so severe that St. Benedict was unable to depart. benedict and scholasticaFather mentioned that Benedict was concerned about following the rules–under the Rule he himself had written–and wanted to end the visit in time to return to the monastery by nightfall. Scholastica, on the other hand, wanted to savor the time of prayer and conversation with her brother, and wanted him to stay. When he refused, she took the matter straight to the top. Benedict realized that the storm was no coincidence, and when he called her on it, she replied, “I asked a favor of you, and you refused. I asked a favor of God, and he granted it.”

BOOM.

Father went on to preach about the Gospel. It’s one of my favorite passages–even more so after what was said today. First, he said that it’s not a bad thing, in and of itself, to be concerned about serving a meal. That’s a great comfort to me, as I’m all about serving meals. But here’s the best part:  Jesus wasn’t chiding Martha because she was working on serving a meal to her guests. He was chiding her because she didn’t take into account Whom she was serving.

Guilty as charged. Every single time.

I guess that’s why I have a soft spot for Martha.

St. Benedict, in his efforts to stay true to his Rule, forgot whom he was serving during his visit with his sister. It took her prayer and God’s answer in the form of a thunderstorm to show him that his sister, like Mary of Bethany, had “chosen the better part.”

Sts. Benedict & Scholastica image source: Wikimedia.

Get to the Heart of Things: My Sisters the Saints Book Review

Over the weekend I devoured My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell. cover-mysistersthesaints-197x300 CMI’d planned to read a chapter or two, but I couldn’t stop there–I had to keep going until I got to the end of this memoir.

When I read the “about the author” information on Colleen Carroll Campbell, I was immediately intimidated. She’s famous! She was a presidential speechwriter! She’s been on TV! She reported on the conclave! How can I possibly relate to someone as together as that?

I’m glad I didn’t let that put me off, because only a few pages in, I knew I definitely could relate to the author. A few chapters in, I was in tears.

The author gets to the heart of her devotion to certain saints and makes them accessible to the reader with her awareness of how sainthood is often viewed as synonymous with “perfect in every way.” Stories of the saints whose lives have inspired and guided Colleen Carroll Campbell’s are interwoven with Campbell’s own life story.

I found this memoir honest, heartbreaking and inspiring all at once. And I was reminded that “together on the outside” does not always translate to “together on the inside.” For someone like me, who is simultaneously judgemental towards and intimidated by people who seem like they’ve got it all figured out, this was a huge comfort.

Saints-Book-Club-rect-550x275CMCatholicMom.com is hosting a book club based on My Sisters the Saints. You can participate even if you haven’t read the book yet (but I encourage you to make time for this book–it’s that good.) The book club began on Saturday with an author interview and will continue each Saturday through February 21 with chapter-by-chapter reflections. The book club’s main page will carry links to each chapter’s reflection as it is posted. Read the reflections and add your comments to the conversation.

(Shameless self-promotion:  I’m scheduled for February 21, where I’ll be discussing the chapter that features my favorite prayer EVER. Hint:  Memorare UP!)

Image source: CatholicMom.com
Used by permission.

Book Review and Giveaway: Seven Saints for Seven Virtues

Hot off the presses from Franciscan Media’s Servant Books, here’s Catholic blogger Jean Heimann’s Seven Saints for Seven Virtues! And you can WIN a copy right here!

7 saints 7 virtues bookI’ve followed Jean’s blog, Catholic Fire, for years; the same careful scholarship and fervent faith she shows in the blog is revealed in this book.

What it’s all about:  This book examines seven saints of the Church in association with a virtue for which each one is known.

  • Charity:  Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta
  • Chastity:  Saint Agnes
  • Diligence:  Saint Pope John Paul II
  • Humility:  Saint Joseph
  • Kindness:  Saint Catherine of Siena
  • Patience:  Saint Monica
  • Temperence:  Saint Augustine

What’s inside:  A thoughtful foreword by Lisa Hendey of CatholicMom.com, Jean’s own introduction to the book, and a short bio of each saint, supplemented by a discussion of that saint’s particular virtue, quotes by or about the saint, information from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jean’s reflection on the model of each virtue in her own life, suggestions for practicing each virtue, and a prayer at the end of every chapter. There’s also a generous Recommended Reading list in case you want to learn more.

Author Jean Heimann
Author Jean Heimann

Why I love it:  Saints are often depicted as if they’re so holy, they’re almost not human. That’s not the case with this book. Jean brings out each saint’s special virtue and starts the reader on the path toward living that particular virtue.

How to read it:  I’ll admit that after reading the foreword and the introduction, I skipped straight to Saint Monica’s chapter, because patience is one of those virtues that I really have trouble displaying. This book gave me a new perspective on what patience actually involves (hint:  it’s more than just being peaceful about waiting in line). You don’t have to read this book in a straight line from start to finish. Choose the saint whose virtues you need the most right now. Start there, and you won’t want to stop reading about the other saints whose virtues Jean highlights!

Try this:  Take this book to Eucharistic Adoration. In the space of one Holy Hour, you can read, pray and reflect on a saint and a virtue. Bring along your journal and resolve to work toward developing that virtue in your own life.

How to win a book:  Just leave a comment with a valid email address answering this question:  who’s your go-to saint?

The winner will be chosen at random from all entries at the conclusion of Jean’s book tour on Thursday, October 23. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond and claim the prize or an alternate winner will be chosen.

Follow along with the tour.  Here are the other stops on the Seven Saints for Seven Virtues Book Tour. Many of these are offering giveaways of the book as well!

Monday, Oct. 13Plot Line and Sinker Ellen Gable

Tuesday, Oct. 14 Contemplative Homeschool Connie Rossini

Thursday, Oct. 16Can we Cana? Karee Santos

Friday, Oct. 17Bergers Book Reviews Alice Berger

Saturday, Oct. 18Seven Angels Four Kids One Family Jane Lebak

Sunday, Oct. 19Spiritual Woman Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Monday, Oct. 20Cause of our Joy Leticia Velasquez

Tuesday, Oct. 21 View from the Domestic Church Donna-Marie Cooper-O’Boyle

Wednesday, Oct. 22Entering into the Mystery Janet Moore

Seven Saints for Seven Virtues is available on Amazon as a paperback or ebook (my advice:  get the paperback! You’ll want to write in the margins and highlight the parts that speak most to you.) Your purchase of this book through my Amazon affiliate link helps defray the cost of this website!

St. Jerome, Doctor and Curmudgeon

I’ve had a soft spot for St. Jerome ever since I heard on a radio show that he was a pretty crabby guy.

caravaggio_st-jerome-writing-smWe cranky people have to stick together.

I know that Franciscans are known for being joyful, but I have this tendency to be pessimistic, critical and snarky–and even harder on myself than I am on others.

Evidently, I’m in good company.

St. Jerome is proof that by cooperating with Grace, even grumpy, snarky people can become saints.

There’s hope for me yet.

You can learn about St. Jerome by listening to this short audio biography from Franciscan Media, or read his biography here.

Apparently, he’d have been a more-than-worthy Jeopardy opponent too.

Art: Caravaggio – San Gerolamo” by CaravaggioOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

One for the Books

Today the Church celebrates a priest I first learned about in grade school.

Public school.

(I’m pretty sure that would never happen today.)

Father Serra statue C JohnsonBut back in second grade in 1972, our Social Studies book had a whole section on the California missionaries, led by Father Junípero Serra.

I was fascinated.

Here were pictures, in my schoolbook, of men dressed like my uncle, who is a Franciscan friar. Here was the story of a priest who founded a string of Catholic churches throughout what later became the state of California at the same time the American Revolution was being fought in the eastern part of our nation.

In the Catholic middle school I attended, I learned about Father Serra again; Father Serra stained glass C Johnsonthis time the lesson was brought to us by speakers from the Serra Club, a group that promotes vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

As an adult, when I had the chance to visit California with Hubs in 1995, I made sure to see one of the mission churches there. California mission C JohnsonI’d love to take a trip along El Camino Real and see them all. They’re beautiful tributes to evangelization.

Here’s more about this energetic, dedicated Franciscan saint.

 

All images generously shared by Christine Johnson.

Book Review: American Saint

I’ve always been intrigued by the saints–especially those from the USA. And having struggled through a fairly-tedious biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the past, I welcomed the opportunity to read an advance copy of a new bio by Joan Barthel. Titled American Saint:  The Life of Elizabeth Seton, this book reads more like historical fiction than a biography.

american saintThe material for this book was gathered from primary sources:  letters by the saint herself.  For me, that was the most fascinating thing about this book. I was left wanting to read more of her letters, which were heavily quoted in the book. Through her letters, we are given an account of her journey of faith, her struggle to survive after her husband’s death, and some of the minutiae of parenting, running a household, teaching a school and leading a new religious community.

I was not aware of the extent to which Catholics were persecuted in post-Revolutionary America, and the author of this book gives a thorough treatment of the anti-Catholic social climate of Seton’s time.

This book is, however, not without its own bias. I did not expect that a biography would be so overtly flavored by the author’s political agenda, but the introduction of the book mentions nothing of its subject until the last sentence of a 3-page defense of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. I’d have preferred a more-objective treatment of Seton’s life, rather than the editorializing about women’s roles and aspirations that was intermingled with the story. I am not convinced that Seton spoke, thought or acted as she did as part of any feminist agenda, but simply because she was trying to be the best wife, mother, teacher, leader and Catholic she could be.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, and no other compensation, for my honest opinion presented in this review.

That About Sums It Up

Little Brother came home from school today with a religion project he’d made on the computer. For November, the month of All Saints, the students in his class had found quotes from different saints and made signs with pictures of the saints and their quote.

martin de porresHere’s my son’s:

St. Martin de Porres

Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness.

For a boy who thinks that just about ANYTHING is preferable to cleanliness, these are definitely words to live by.