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.
I’m privileged to have already spilled some ink on the pages of the foreword of this book. So let’s call this my backword, or my back-again-word.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along with us thus far. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of this book and of the author. And if you read the foreword you would know that I’m a pretty big fan of saints and women who strive to live like one.
As I stated on page xi,
“The thing about saints is that they start out with the same raw materials we all have and in the same beautiful mess we are all in.”
The women in these chapters deal with the messiness of life in beautiful ways.
Chapter 9: Dorothea Lange and Blessed Rosalie Rendu
Chapter 9 shows us compassion in action toward people who live “on the peripheries”, to borrow a descriptor from Pope Francis. The roots of the word compassion means “to suffer with”, and I really sensed that the heroines of the chapter offered gifts of “accompaniment” – another word Francis is using – as they suffered with others who were suffering.
The early chapter profiles Dorothea Lange, a 20th century photojournalist whose eye in the camera saw the person behind the photograph, not just “the get” of the subject. Then there’s Blessed Rosalie Rendu, a 19th century French sister with the Daughters of Charity and a critical leader in the development of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Both women encountered the grittiness of life from different angles and, it would seem, both held to the very Catholic value of what the Second Vatican Council described as respecting “the dignity of the human person.”
I appreciated the integrity and restraint that comes across in the work of Dorothea Lange as she spent years chronicling human plight. I’m trying to remember her sensitivity for the comfort and feelings of her human subjects every time I’m tempted to click the shutter willy-nilly on my iPhone. Even silly “selfies” or Instagrams should not be taken without thought or concern for personal dignity.
I had never heard of Blessed Rosalie before I read her story in this book, but I am familiar with the St Vincent de Paul Society whose motto is “Serviens in spe” (“to serve in hope.”) What made the Society unique in its early days during Rosalie’s tenure, and still today, is its personal, friendly attention to those they serve. The poor do not need to come to an outside agent for help. Members of the Society, instead, spend time going personally to visit the poor in their own homes and bring aid to them. Maria Johnson quotes Rosalie as saying, “I never pray as well as I do in the street.” What holy preparation en route to her mission each day. What a clue for me to catch… always pray en route to meeting whomever I may encounter next.
Chapter 10: Immaculée Ilibagiza and St Rita of Cascia
Chapter 10 confronts us with messes of grave intensity with the subject matter of the Rwanda Genocide in the 1990’s and murderous family fractions and spousal abuse in the early 1400’s. The gut-wrenching stories of Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Rwandan survivor, and St Rita of Cascia, a victimized spouse in a dysfunctional family could break your heart.
Despite the depressing sadness of these stories, Maria Johnson deftly examines the graces of peace and reconciliation that these remarkable women embraced. In both cases, these women of faith put God’s way ahead of their own way. That is what makes their stories extraordinary. And that message is what will make our own life-crushing circumstances redeemable.
I admired that Immaculée shares that she struggled with her emotions and her ability to pray, and yet worked to fight off despair at her lowest moments in captivity. In time, she was led to forgive those who persecuted her.
I’m consoled that St Rita not only forgave the trespasses against her, but she also became a conduit for peace in her fractious family. Peace became possible, but her prayer preceded it.
All these women remind us that charity and forgiveness always yield startling results. Life is messy, and difficult, and holds nightmare-scenario misfortunes now and again. Yet, it also beautiful… especially when valiant and courageous women choose compassion, peace, and reconciliation.
What messiness are you dealing with? Consider that it just might be the grist needed to grind out your sinful inclinations and lead you toward sanctity.
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- Offering compassion to another human being is more than a social cause; it is service in the name of love. How do our friendships and our “personal touch” in our relationships affirm the dignity of another?
- Many of these stories describe intense suffering. Which of these courageous women inspire you, despite their difficulties, and why?
- Who do these women remind you of? Are there women you know personally, or in the recent news, or in history that inspire you to compassion, peace, or reconciliation?
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 11 and 12. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Saints in 16 Book Club page.
Copyright 2016 Pat Gohn
About the Author
Pat Gohn is a married empty-nester with three adult children and four grandchildren. An author, catechist, speaker, and host of the Among Women podcast since 2009, her books include the award-winning Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, and All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. She works in Catholic publishing as an editor. Visit PatGohn.net