On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Our Lady of Charity”

Maria Morera Johnson’s new memoir, Our Lady of Charity: How a Cuban devotion to Mary helped me grow in faith and love (Ave Maria Press), is a beautiful testament to the ways the patroness of Johnson’s native Cuba helped her grow in faith even after she moved with her family to the US.

This quick read introduces la virgencita — Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. Johnson traces the history of devotion among Cubans to this depiction of Our Lady, a devotion that has continued within the Cuban-American community to this day.

Johnson found in devotion to la virgencita a connection with her ethnic and spiritual heritage. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Ermita de la caridad” (Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Miami), not because of the description of the shrine itself, but because of the discussion of Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, and the ways in which immersing herself in her ethnic traditions has enriched her.

our lady of charity

I have to admit, this left me more than a little envious of the rich traditions Johnson observed with her family. As an Irish cradle Catholic from the Northeast, I didn’t experience much in the way of that kind of tradition. There was plenty of Marian devotion (my grandmothers had the well-worn rosaries to prove it, and one grandmother prominently displayed a picture of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon in her home) but there really was no food, music, particular devotion, or patron saint we could call our own. I don’t know if that’s an ethnic or geographical phenomenon, or if it’s because the most recent immigrant in my immediate family tree arrived in New York in the 1930s.

But — and this is the point of Johnson’s book, I think — the kind of devotional tradition she describes here nurtures faith. When you look beyond the externals of statues, paintings, rosaries, hymns, and food, there’s a deep tradition of faith that underpins all of it. As Johnson notes in the final chapter, devotion to Mary can lead us to Jesus:

Mary is the first disciple. She brought the Good News of salvation to Elizabeth and then the world! If I’m going to learn all I can about Jesus and how to be a disciple, what better teacher is there than Mary? (100)

I highly recommend Our Lady of Charity. You’ll learn about a beautiful devotion to Our Lady, but more than that, you’ll learn how she can bring you closer to her Son.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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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’ ┬ástories 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.