Saints in 16 Book Club: Chapters 5 and 6

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Welcome to the Saints in 16 Book Club! We’re reading My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live, by Maria Morera Johnson.

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Call me crazy, but I feel a connection to Maria Morena Johnson. How can that be, when I’ve never met her in person? Maybe that is an indication of a really good writer. Perhaps it is because she shares so genuinely in My Badass Book of Saints. It could also be all of her references to Miami, my place of birth and upbringing that will always hold a special place in my heart. Whatever the reason, the feeling is real, and I think it is also because Maria Johnson is just so-darn real … and so are the saints she selected to highlight in her book.

When I first received my assignment to reflect on chapters 5 and 6, I was a bit intimidated. These women seemed way out of my league. Phyllis Bowman and St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who lived and died to uphold human dignity? Irena Sendler and St. Christina the Astonishing, who did what needed to be done? How could I possibly relate to these heroic women?

But as I read their stories, explored the connections Maria makes with them, and even took to heart some of Pop’s words of wisdom, I began to calm down. Whether we are called to be public or private witnesses of our faith, we are all invited to rise to our occasion. We are all called to live lives of virtue, even if it’s just in our own corner of the world and in the privacy of our own circle of influence.

In chapter 5, we meet Phyllis Bowman, a pioneer in the prolife movement. She spent 25 years defending all stages of life before Parliament and in the public eye, after having her own change of heart on the life issue and a conversion of faith. We also meet St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who led a much quieter, more private life, but who now is a patroness for those called to uphold the dignity of life. In chapter 6, Maria introduces us to Irena Sendler, a brave rescuer of Jewish children in Poland during World War II, as well as St. Christina the Astonishing, who offered her entire life for the souls of Purgatory.

While each woman in these chapters is vastly different from each other, they all have in common this authentic care and concern for others. Their God-given gifts might be different, but their goal is the same.

While reading about them, I could only wonder, “How does God want me to use my gifts, my occasion in life, to authentically care for the beautiful dignity of life?” As a mother of six children, upholding the dignity of others has to start in my own home, with my own family.

When people ask me, “Have you always wanted a big family?”, I have to honestly answer, “No.” I never set out to have half-dozen children, but God did. And I am really grateful that I followed His plan instead of putting the fate of these children in mine. Was it easy having six children in eight years? Heck no. Was it worth it? Most definitely!

I didn’t become a mother of six overnight. God must have been working on me for a long time, for me to be open to these six little souls. Likewise, what we have to remember is that the women in these chapters—in the entire book—didn’t become heroines overnight either. They followed the daily promptings of God to gain strength, wisdom, virtue, and love. They had to learn how to make little decisions of faith, before they could ultimately abandon their entire lives in service to God’s will.

And it is the same for us. We might never be called to speak before Parliament or join a resistance movement, but we are all called to pray and to seek out opportunities to do what needs to be done right where we are planted. For me, it means reading one more story, giving one more hug, and rubbing Lavender on their necks before bedtime, especially when all I want to do is put my feet up and sip my tea. It means sending a note to a friend who is having a hard time. It means taking the time to prepare a home cooked meal rather than going through the drive-thru … again. It means looking my children in the eyes when they are asking a question, rather than getting distracted by the email message on the computer screen.

At some point, we might be asked for more, and if we are faithful in small ways, we will be able to say “Yes” to God in big ways, too. And isn’t it comforting to think that we are never alone? We have Phyllis, Gianna, Irena, and Christina praying and cheering for us from Heaven.

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. How do you uphold the dignity of human life in your corner of the world?
  2. What is one thing you can do on a daily basis to grow in your faith and strengthen your resolve? Maybe it is adding a weekday Mass to your schedule or limiting your social media time.
  3. If you could invite one of these women over for tea, who would it be and why?

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapters 7 and 8. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Saints in 16 Book Club page.

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Copyright 2016 Sarah Damm

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About Author

Sarah Damm is a Catholic wife and mother of six children, living in Minnesota. She spends her days running errands, cooking meals and helping with homework. She and her husband Greg strive to weave the Catholic faith into their daily lives as well as into their family celebrations. Sarah blogs at sarahdamm.com. In addition to CatholicMom.com, she also is a contributor for WINE: Women in the New Evangelization.

12 Comments

  1. I think I’d like St Gianna over for tea. It would be a pleasure to just chat with another mom 🙂

    I think St Christina might make me a little nervous. I admire what she did, but perhaps from afar. (You know this means St Christina is going to find some way to endear herself to me now, right?)

  2. Whew! I finished catching up last night after starting the book a day or 2 ago. 🙂
    Irena Sendler would be my choice for tea. I’m a bit obsessed with that time period. There were so many heroic people; so many martyrs that we’ll never know about. There is a woman who came to speak in my hometown some years ago. She is a holocaust survivor, although she was little at the time and has no recollection of her very young life. Her mother was approached one night by a nurse and was told that if the mom would allow her to take care of her 3 daughters, she would see that they would be placed in safe hands. The next day, when asked if she had any children, she gently pushed her daughters to the side and said, “no”. Sylvia had the opportunity to meet that nurse a few years ago and express her gratitude. I would love to sit down with Irena and talk to her about those children. The guilt she had about not doing more really hit home with me. I think, no matter how much we do, we all always have that guilt about not doing enough.

    • Wow, Mary! What a cool connection! Thanks for sharing Sylvia’s story with us!

      My mom was just telling me about a movie she watched recently, and the story sounded so familiar. I asked her if it was about Irena Sendler, and she said, “Yes!” I haven’t watched it yet, but the movie is called “The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler,” and it was made in 2009.

      Glad you are reading with us!

  3. Margaret Brown on

    I would definitely invite St. Gianna to tea. I had three miscarriages, two before our son and one between our son and daughter. I developed pre-ecclampsia during my seventh month of pregnancy, and nearly died delivering our daughter, but would not have made any other choice. I discovered later that spring that in our home state at the time, I could have legally aborted our daughter during my third trimester. I was horrified and really began to understand how much I valued ALL life. I hadn’t needed to make a firm stand prior to that time in my life. I’d love to visit with a Mom who made the choice that ultimately I didn’t have to make. Both my daughter and I made a full recovery and I am now enjoying grandchildren, through the grace of God!

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Margaret, and for being a true witness to the sacredness of life! You have had real and courageous opportunities to uphold the dignity of life, and I am sure your example has made a difference in many people’s lives. God bless you, your children and your grandchildren!

  4. I’m intrigued by the word “heroine”, and maybe Professor Johnson can give us a lesson on the etymology . But when we think of saints and the process of canonization, there are always examinations of their “heroic virtue.” If you are going to be a saint, you are going to be someone’s hero, I guess.

    I love what you wrote Sarah: “what we have to remember is that the women in these chapters—in the entire book—didn’t become heroines overnight either. They followed the daily promptings of God…”

    Saints had holy habits that helped to shape their actions, decisions, work… their heroism. Lately I’ve been journaling using the writings from saints I’ve wanted to get to know better. One in particular is Venerable Pio Bruno Lantieri who always said, as so many saints do, to “Begin Again.”

    Sometimes I have to begin again daily, or hourly! But the persevering and powerful saints in this book did not take defeat for an answer… they all seem to “begin again” to follow the prompting of God.

    • I am so glad you joined the conversation, Pat! I really like the idea of “Begin Again.” It gives me hope, because I certainly have to begin again every day. Sometimes, I have to begin again almost immediately after waking up. The mornings are SO crazy in my house, and by 7 a.m., on our way to school, I sometimes have to ask God and my children for their forgiveness, because I was too impatient, as we were getting ready … The saints give us such encouragement to never give up … to learn from our mistakes and to keep moving forward.

      P.S. I also really like the idea of journaling with the saints and would love to know more about your process.

    • That’s fun! Heroes are warriors. Brave. Display fortitude and strength!

      In the ancient greek tradition, they were human — failed, vulnerable, and given to what we would call sin. Interesting, huh? They were heroes because in spite of their weakness, they rose to their destiny and accomplished great things. Their heroism was not in their accomplishments, like heroes today, but rather, in how they lived lives of courage in overcoming their shortcomings. The victory, if you will, was just icing.

      Similar to the Saints, right? They were sinners, too. They just had the courage to trust in God’s plan, and the strength to do his will. I’d like to be heroic like that.

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