Party Girl: Chapter 1 {My Sisters the Saints Book Club}

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Welcome to the My Sisters the Saints Book Club! We’re reading My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir, by Colleen Carroll Campbell.

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In chapter one of My Sisters the Saints, Colleen writes about her spiritual awakening in college. After growing up in a devoutly Catholic home, she went through a period in her early adult life when she was only nominally Catholic — following the letter of the law without the spirit of the law making an impact on her life and her decisions. She discusses how her party girl life left her feeling empty and unfulfilled, but that those feelings were what led her to take her first steps to “open the door to God.” After a heartfelt prayer asking God to help her reclaim the joyful faith of her childhood, she was slowly, but surely, drawn closer to God.

Colleen’s faith sounds a lot like my own when I was in college, and I could easily relate to her experiences of living in the world with only a toe in the Church’s life. When I went away to college after obtaining my Associate’s at the local community college, I went from going to Mass every Sunday to going only if I was home with my parents for the weekend. And even then, I frequently missed Mass because I was working part-time as a waitress when I came home, frequently working four shifts in three days to make money for books (and fun). Plus, I really needed to be sure I saw my boyfriend enough, and of course there had to be time carved out to go out clubbing with our friends.

Let’s just say that finding a time I could make it to Mass — even the Last Chance Mass on Sunday evenings — was not a priority in my life at that point. Sure, I said I loved God. Sure, I still received Communion whenever I managed to get to Mass. But I hadn’t been to Confession in years, and I wasn’t living the life I should have been living. While I wasn’t as bad as some of my peers, I certainly wasn’t the good Catholic girl I wanted to believe I was.

God had started to work on me, though, and my boyfriend and I met some Evangelical Christians who were On Fire for the Lord who became very dear friends. They showed me a kind of Christianity I hadn’t ever experienced before. I started listening to tapes of Christian talks and reading books by various Christian authors that led me to a deeper love for God. I toyed with finding a “Bible Church,” as one friend called it.

When I told my father, he said flatly, “The Catholic Church is a ‘Bible Church.’ Where do you think the Bible came from?” When I thought about his comment, I realized that Mass certainly was full of Bible readings! Relieved that I could apparently hear plenty of Scripture at my parish, I stayed put within the Church, but this was still mainly more out of familiarity and a tribal loyalty than because I believed the Catholic Church to be the fullness of the Christian faith. And yet my love for Jesus slowly grew again, and I recovered some of the joy I had when I was a little girl.

My boyfriend eventually became my fiancé, and I prayed for his conversion from his agnostic atheism back to Christianity so that our wedding ceremony would mean more to him. (He had already promised that when we had children, no matter what his beliefs might be he would faithfully attend Mass with our family. It was important to him that our children make a decision on Christianity after being exposed to it first!) When he called to tell me that he was going to return to his Christian beliefs, I was over the moon!

It was good for us to be on the same spiritual path, even if he wasn’t Catholic. After we got married, we attended a parish not far from our home, though only sporadically. I learned that there was a Deaf Ministry there, and I started to interpret Mass for our parishioners who were Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I still didn’t go to Mass when I wasn’t interpreting, though, and sleeping in on an occasional Sunday was a luxury we took advantage of without thinking about our Sunday obligation.

When our first daughter was born, my husband and I made the commitment that we would not miss Mass again without grave reason. Beginning October 15, 1998, we went from hardly ever going to Mass to never missing Sunday Mass, and even making it to church on Holy Days of Obligation. This was the first step in opening the door wide to God so He could step into my life.

Interpreting the Mass had been making an impact on me that I didn’t expect, too. My very best work was done at the Mass, and I was present right there next to the altar when our Lord was made present during Consecration. I stood nearby as our bishop Confirmed the son of Deaf parishioners. I interpreted the consecration Mass of our new building, and as a cardinal read a letter from Pope John Paul II, I realized that my hands were transmitting the words of a future saint. I realized that God could work through me!

From those occasional Masses before our kids were born when I interpreted, God reached out to my soul and began to draw me closer over the years. I learned more about my faith by interpreting parish Lenten retreats and the questions our Deaf parishioners had afterwards and by teaching in the religious education program and preparing for Masses and interpreting First Communions and weddings and more. It all led to making the decision to use a Catholic curriculum when we began to homeschool our children.

All along, God just kept gradually pulling me in. Oh, I’d resist plenty, like a fish trying not to be caught, but He would let the line out and then just start reeling me in again. I started reading about the Faith and studying it more. Eventually, I became a Lay Dominican; I even made my First (Temporary) Promises last year. God continues to draw me closer, bringing me near the boat to live in complete harmony with him.

I’m not all the way in the boat yet, but when I look back, I can clearly see God drawing me in, little by little. I can see a slow progression to where I am today. I’m not completely sure what my next step is going to be, but I think being a part of the Dominicans is a part of that. I’m coming nearer to the end of my life of teaching my children and learning about the Faith with them, and now I’ll have my Dominican Province to help lead me along. I truly believe that God is using them as an instrument to sanctify me and bring me near, just as He has used my interpreting, my years as a catechist, and my years of homeschooling to do just that.

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. Did you spend time wandering away from the Faith?
  2. When you look back on your journey, what was the first step of the journey that opened the door and let God to step in?
  3. Can you see the baby steps you’ve taken toward a deeper relationship with the Lord?

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from the reading. When you look back on your journey, what was the first step of the journey that opened the door and let God to step in? Can you see the baby steps you’ve taken toward a deeper relationship with the Lord? In this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 2 – “A Child Again.” For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the My Sisters the Saints Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Christine Johnson

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About Author

Christine Johnson has been married to Nathan since 1993 and has two daughters whom she homeschools. They live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, where she tries to fit in as a transplanted Yank. She blogs at Domestic Vocation about her life as a wife, mother, homeschooler, and Lay Dominican.

12 Comments

  1. I am so glad you are tackling this book. It was a present to myself last year when I came upon a gift card. I grew up in a lukewarm Catholic family. We did all the right things, but Catholic was something you did, not something you lived. It wasn’t until our first child was baptised that I really started to take a new look at my faith. That was seven years ago and I am still searching and seeking, but I am growing in faith each day.

  2. Great job kicking off the series, Christine! I relate to your experience quite a bit. I fell away from the Church during college, and I also found myself ‘running’ with Evangelicals. I wrote about this for my Grace of Yes Chapter 8 reflection a few weeks back, but in a nutshell, what brought me back around, ironically, was when an Evangelical asked me, “Have you been born again.” A few months later I found myself craving to be back at Mass. And while I stumble quite a bit, I haven’t looked back since.

  3. I really learned a lot about St Teresa. I have always heard her name brought up but knew nothing about her. To hear about a saint having difficulties and challenges as we do but growing in love of God and doing his will was inspiring to me.

  4. I have found myself in this very same situation of one day just realizing that all the “stuff” doesn’t matter. My realization didn’t come till awhile later after children. I am a cradle Catholic and brought up in the faith, but it was more like Emily said “Something you did not something you WERE”. God is pulling me to him all the time.Finding my way between HIS desire and completely following Jesus and still fitting into the world is something I am struggling with now.

  5. I am overwhelmed in a good way! This calling and awakening I knew; it’s all for God. The longing for something to fill me in when I am tired, exhausted, worried; is a longing for a deep relationship with Him and Him alone. It’s comforting to know that I shared the same struggle with a saint and other women as well and that with God’s grace, I can overcome my struggle.

  6. When I told my father, he said flatly, “The Catholic Church is a ‘Bible Church.’ Where do you think the Bible came from?”

    Your father is awesome for that.

    I could relate to a lot in this post. I had a three giant leaps in my faith journey, all through college. Since then it’s been a series of baby steps–some of them backwards, I admit. Excellent post.

  7. Great start for this book. I am glad to have joined this. I related very much to Colleen in the first chapter. Party girl in my young college years (yuck) and then God came and took me by the hand and led me away from that life and back to Him. There have been ups and downs and a period in the protestant churches but He has led me home to the Catholic church and very grateful to Him and never want to leave.
    I really enjoyed her talk on St. Teresa. It is interesting how God sends just the right saint at just the right time.

  8. Thank you for your wonderful introduction! I bought this book when it came out and it spoke to me on many levels. I was raised a devout Baptist and really thought I had all the answers. I floundered in my teen and college years, and stopped attending church. I alternated between the party girl lifestyle and seeking a deeper connection with God. I couldn’t seem to find the answers or what I was looking for. I started attending Mass with my fiancé (now husband), not really expecting much – I had stated that I had no interest in becoming Catholic at anytime! I was shocked and amazed when the answers, everything I had been looking for was right there! That was 12 years ago, and I am still learning what a treasure my Catholic faith is. I have ups downs and am just now learning more about the saints!! This book was a wonderful introduction to some of them!

  9. Happy to be here as well! I am reading this book for the second time. My focus is totally different this time. Hoping to gain a new perspective and deeper appreciation on several levels. Thanks for this offering. Looking forward to participating!

  10. I was finally able to get the book with a gift card I earned doing reviews for Amazon, and Image Books on FB directed me to your book club. I related to Colleen from the very beginning. We are the same age. We are from Colorado. And the similarities on all things continue. I am moved by her finding deeper faith in reading the writings of the saints of old. I just came through a fiery health trial where I nearly lost my life, and needing to “finalize” my faith, was astonished when the writings that comforted me most were from the early church fathers and mothers. Even more astonished when I realized they were “Catholic.” Since then, I have fully converted to the Catholic faith in my heart (I won’t officially join the church without my husband, but am trusting God to bring him there with me and believe fully He will). Lately I have been struggling in the same no-man’s land Colleen describes, and the first chapter of this book is helping me feel rooted and grounded once again, finding footing where I feel I have slipped. Pointing me back to the simplicity that is in Christ. I can serve Him every minute in the little things, right where I am. I need to stop grasping for something bigger. He is big enough.

    • Camilla… I can serve Him every minute in the little things, right where I am. I need to stop grasping for something bigger. He is big enough.

      Oh how true, I find my self looking for something bigger to justify myself to HIM he is ENOUGH and I just need to put all my faith and trust in HIM.

  11. Wow! In reading this first chapter, I can’t help but think of the song “Killing me softly” with the lyrics, “telling my whole life with his words.” I feel like I could have written the same chapter on my struggles in college with my faith. I went from being very involved in a Catholic high school youth group to a college experience based more on following the crowd than following my faith. Yet, I still managed to hold on by a thread by going to weekly mass because of obligation. I stumbled into a beautiful Catholic marriage that I didn’t full appreciate when it began. I can see now that God had his hand in everything, even when I thought that I was in control. It wasn’t until a friend gave me a Matthew Kelly book 3.5 years ago that I began really learning and understanding my faith. I began to appreciate the “beauty of Catholicism” that had previously seemed like an odd paring of words. I now seek out Catholic books, CDs, lectures, retreats, etc, all giving me new incite into what this beautiful life is for. This book is certainly part of this journey, as is this wonderful book club!

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