Monday, October 20, 2014

Review of "Seven Saints for Seven Virtues"

Jean Heimann, the author of Seven Saints for Seven Virtues had a wonderful Catholic mother. She modeled charity in action; she baked goodies for neighbors, nursed her sick and cranky father in his final days and was a model of charity for her daughter. also grew up with the venerable old volume Lives of the Saints which in archaic diction and fascinating details, told fantastic stories of the heroic virtue of the saints. I wonder, if as a child, Jean thought, "saints are models of charity, so is my mother, therefore, she might be a saint". I know I didn't  think that way about holy people whom I came across in my childhood; for me, saints were far off, ethereal beings who never even considered sinning. I think many Catholics were under that misapprehension, thanks to over zealous authors of saints' biographies and lack of role models in today's darkening world.

That's why this book is so important to Catholic spirituality. By describing how central growth in virtue is to attaining holiness, and by practically defining the seven virtues as well as the seven deadly sins, Jean Heimann gently reminds Catholics that holiness is not for a few lofty individuals, its for everyone. Charles Péguy once said "the greatest tragedy in life is not to be a saint." No one ever grew in holiness by comparing himself to the world.  Seven Saints for Seven Virtues gives us vivid examples of who Catholics should emulate, paired with their best known virtue. It offers the reader a road map for growth in the virtues which leads to holiness.

Seven Saints for Seven Virtues offers brief biographies of the saints,  filled with vivid descriptions of the lives of contemporary saints St. John Paul, Bl. Mother Teresa,  perpetual favorites, St Joseph, St Catherine of Sienna,St Agnes,  and the dynamic duo of mother and son;  St Monica and St Augustine. Despite her Master's Degree in Theology, Mrs Heimann's explanations of why those saints exemplify a particular virtue are easy to understand for laypeople. Her faithful writing at "Catholic Fire", an award wining Catholic blog, has given her the ability to reach her audience, making the seven virtues seem attainable and attractive. By showing how virtue leads to union with Christ, and interior peace, she makes the reader long to practice virtue more in their own life.

But there's more. Just as her mother was a role model in her life, perhaps without her family's acknowledgement of her outstanding virtue, Mrs Heimann knows that many of us live among ordinary people whose lives exemplify a particular virtue. Six other people are held up as role models of virtue. One is Olympic skiier Rebecca Dussault, whose pure relationship with her childhood sweetheart Sharbel,  grew to a chaste and fruitful marriage. A 32 year old mother of four children, Dussault is a model of modesty to her teammates, refusing to wear immodest clothing, be unfaithful to her beloved Sharbel, or be exposed to pornography. She was mocked by her teammates, but it never affected her resolve to live chastely as a married woman, athlete, mother and home educator. Sometimes her career as a skiier took a back seat to her convictions, "I also needed t be clear with my U. S. Ski Team coaches, letting them know that my husband and I practice NFP and that if I were to conceive--not that my chances were any better than any other woman contracepting on my team--we would yield to life unquestionably.I had many opportunities to share to share our use of NFP with others in light of marital chastity, trusting it even when the commitment to the Team was of Olympic proportions."

 Mrs Heimann, a long time blogger friend of mine, saw the quality of diligence in my life (my family are still scratching their heads at this!) and included me in the chapter on the virtue of diligence with my great inspiration St. John Paul the Great. When I studied his encyclical "The Gospel of Life" I was given hope in the idea that even I, a home educating mother and part time writer, could become part of the New Springtime of Evangelization.  Seven Saints for Seven Virtues continues what St John Paul did in his pontificate, calling laypeople to evangelize where they are by leading heroic lives of virtue, attracting others to the light of Christ.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why I stalked Fr. Benedict Groeschel for Three Years

When you are an enthusiastic Catholic and  live in the New York City area, running into Fr. Groeschel is no great accomplishment, the man had a punishing schedule for decades. I remember running into him at the pro-life prayer walk on the Feast of the Holy Innocents December 28 one year and asked him a question which made his face light up. I said,
"Father, can you tell me the story of the Jewish mother who got ashes on Ash Wednesday?" With a twinkle in his eye, he answered in his fluent Broolynese, "When her son asked her why she got ashes, she say, 'So listen, it can't hoit!'"
Fr Groeschel was a mixture of a teacher, psychologist, storyteller,  and of course first of all a Franciscan priest. The stories he told about little old black ladies at Adoration, the depth of his writing about suffering and his unswerving dedication to Christ made me seek out his endorsement of the book of stories from Catholic parents of children with special needs. So I began seeking opportunities to speak with him about my book. Stalking him.
The first time was at a high school on Long Island, where "The Human Experience" was screening. He kindly told me "I do blurbs." I am going to set up a website entitled "I do blurbs!"
I reminded Fr. Groechel who I was when my family were at a rest stop on I95 near New Haven, CT. He was tired but attentive as his companion Father Terry introduced us and I informed him of the book's progress.
When I was farther along in my writing I found him in Connecticut where he was the keynote speaker for a pro-life conference. No snappy responses and no twinkle in his eyes. He looked tired but still took the manuscript and put it in his bag. I felt awful.
But then a few months later, when he called my home to tell me how he loved the book and how he thought I should publish the 30 plus stories in two volumes, I felt wonderful. Father offered to write the foreword and said that with that, I would have no trouble finding a publisher. Sadly, his punishing schedule kept him from getting to my book. I can only imagine that he had a pile of such manuscripts waiting, so finally I called him at Trinity Retreat House.  Father Benedict sounded very weak on the phone, and a realized that it was not possible for him to do it. He was willing but clearly overwhelmed and there was a pleading quality in his voice.
I asked a good friend of his Mother Agnes Mary superior of the Sisters of Life whom I stalked at the Villa Maria Guadalupe on the Fourth of July Life Fest in 2009, certain that she was not as busy as Father Groeschel. I bet that would make her laugh!
Her foreword was perfect and made me realize that I was meant to be encouraged by Father Groeschel but that Mother was the perfect person to write the foreword.
I saw Fr. Benedict one final time. We had dinner together at a banquet for a pregnancy shelter and he was our keynote speaker. The PA system failed, and by the time we asked him to resume his talk, the wedding next door was blasting "La Bamba" and he could barely be heard. He bore it with patience, but I couldn't bear to bring up the topic of my book after all he'd endured at the banquet.
So we just enjoyed pleasant dinner conversation, and my book never entered into the discussion. Father is my favorite Catholic writer, speaker and priest. I was honored to have spent time with him and to have his verbal endorsement for A Special Mother is Born. He knew, as I do, that the spiritual beauty which emanates from these children would be a powerful means of conversion of hearts. May he enjoy the greeting from Jesus, "you fed me, clothed me, visited me when I was in prison, now enter into the home of my Father."
Father Benedict, the bad news is that I hope to follow you there someday. The good news is that I won't be bringing my book for you to sign!