Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Literary look at Motherhood

The formation of a person is a topic I ponder continuously in my head.  What creates a leader?  What creates followers?  What went into the saints that they were so willingly to lay down their lives for something so much greater than themselves?  How can we teach our children the same?  How can we teach them that if the moment calls they too will be willing to lay down their lives for something much greater than themselves?  How can we teach them to answer the call of smallness if they aren't called to greatness in the eyes of the world?

Our senses, impressions, feelings, images, and smells are being fire-hosed into our brain through our eyes, ears, nose, and skin at every waking hour.  My mother has cautioned me over and over to guard my senses especially those that I read and watch as they have the ability to affect me for days carrying with them the capacity to strike fear upon my heart.

For me and most I would guess, great literature has the ability to inspire and motivate the soul to greatness.  I remember as a child reading Anne of Green Gables and mimicking my life in so many ways after Anne Shirley.  I tried for hours to do my hair as she did.  I bought a leather book bag to keep my writings in.  At times, I was Anne Shirley.  At other times, I was Jo March although I really wanted to be Amy March.  I loved her grace and elegance.  I see in Dominic his admiration of Frodo Baggins.  Literature is a powerful tool that continues to form me now in motherhood.

I must first give my mother credit where it is due.  We just spoke this afternoon about Our Lady.  She asked me if I could so willingly let my Dominic suffer as Our Lord did.  Would I be willingly to let MYSELF endure the agony of watching my son suffer for a cause much greater than myself and himself?  I sheepishly said no.  I don't want to watch my children suffer.  As I mentioned earlier, if I let myself listen to the world of comfort and predictability motherhood will never makes sense.  I will never be magazine beautiful.  I will never have a Pottery Barn decorated home.  A life of sacrifice suddenly and quickly can be mundane and frivolous.  As John reminds me often, "It is often easier to slay dragons outside the home than all the smaller dragons that live within."

So apart from my mother who is willing to let herself suffer while challenging her children to do the
HARD thing, I continually make attempts to inspire myself through great stories of humans who mastered the art of continually choosing to do things for a cause much greater than themselves.  I hope to be like them someday.  Here are a few of my role models.

1.  Fr. Emil Kapaun
He was a military chaplain in the Korean War.  His division was captured and was sent to live in a prison camp.  I really do well up with tears when I think of his self-denial.  He existed at that camp to help others have hope.  His stories are endless.  He would go from tent to tent at night tending to the wounded risking capture and terrible punishments.  Upon being discovered once, he was forced to stand naked in the middle of a frozen pond for hours as punishment.  He never stopped working for souls.  He would take care of those covered in lice and soothe their pains and fears.  He would give anybody anything he had from food to clothing.  He offered hope to all those who were despairing.  What I love about him most is that because he served so joyfully I think others forgot he was suffering also.  He was cold.  He was hungry.  He was afraid.  BUT, he overcame those elements by serving.  The men were allowed ONE rice patty a day.  One day out of desperation, the men were squabbling over the food.  Fr. Kapaun walked over to them and began to cut his rice patty into pieces to give to the men.  They all stepped back in awe.  One man was losing all hope of ever being rescued, Fr. Kapaun would offer hope each day by pointing down the road that led into the prison camp.  He would say, "I know today an American tank is coming down that road.  It is today!  I just know it!"

2.  Fr. Walter Ciszek
Oh Walter.  He had my heart at hello.  I read his story when Lillie was so sick as a baby and my life suddenly made sense.  He desired from a young age to be a priest and specifically serve the people of Russia.  His life played out as he desired until he was sent to a Siberian prison camp for 23 years doing harsh labor.  Imagine his thoughts and disappointments!  Why had God formed him so well only to have him do harsh labor for 23 years?  At first, he thought he could evangelize to the other prisoners, but the guards forbade it.  Nobody wanted to hear him out of fear for being beaten!  He led a life of silence and penance and with THAT offering many were brought to Christ.  I wanted to do so much with my life.  I had unrealistic expectations about my vocation. Once I read these books, I realized that my offering of silence in the home and acceptance is what God wants of me.

3.  Fr. Gereon Goldmann
His story is similar to those I wrote about above.  I read this book in a day.  He was aware of the higher calling of a cause greater than himself.  Fr. Goldman gave all for Christ.  He gave his life for others.

4.  Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton
My favorite book of all time!  I admire his courage and discipline to stay focused under brutal conditions.  He was a prisoner of war for 8 years.  With his deep faith in God, he trained himself mentally, physically, and spiritually each day to maintain his faith and dignity to be a leader in the camp.  He faced such intense torture and prepared himself with a sound mind for a greater good.

5.  the 16 Carmelite nuns of Compiegne
This novel is based on the true story of sixteen nuns who were sentenced to death by the scaffold for believing in Christ.  The part of the story that sticks with me most is at the end.  The nuns were marching up to the scaffold to die and one of the nuns went and hid out of fear.  When she realized she couldn't renounce her faith, she courageously runs to the scaffold willing to give all for Christ and His Church.  I remember her often when I feel afraid and ask for courage to do the hard thing.

6. Of Gods and Men
Another story of aspiring courage and steadfast zeal for Christ
-taken from a review from Amazon
The monks at the Trappist monastery in Algeria seem almost to exist outside of time, so it may be a while before we recognize the 1990s as the setting for Of Gods and Men. And old traditions cannot escape new warfare in this stirring movie, based on a true story that happened at a remote enclave of peaceful, studious priests. These Christian monks minister to the largely Muslim (and very poor) villagers in their vicinity, a balance that is threatened by Algeria's Civil War. When nearby radical-Islamist insurgents begin killing foreigners, the monks must face a choice. Will they flee to safety--a perfectly rational and understandable decision that will leave the villagers without their only source of health care--or will they stay on, secure in their spiritual calling despite the possibility of abduction or murder? Director Xavier Beauvois makes an absorbing film from this question, and it's not at all difficult to understand why it became an unexpected box-office smash in France (and ended up winning the Cesar award for best film of 2010). The film is beautifully cast, and sometimes Beauvois simply trains his camera on the lined, weathered faces of his priests, as though allowing those lines to tell the story. Heading the cast is Lambert Wilson (of Matrix fame), who leads his men with an almost regal bearing, and veteran actor Michael Lonsdale, who quietly inhabits the role of the physician in the group. The film takes time out for quiet contemplation, as though understanding that the priests' suspenseful situation is only half the story. The wordless climax, which allows the men to be animated by the earthly pleasures of wine and Tchaikovsky, is something of a spiritual journey of acceptance all on its own. It's a moment you'll find very difficult to forget. --Robert Horton

7.  St. Alphonsus de Liguori and Uniformity with God's Will
I would be missing a key player in my spiritual life if I left out Alphonsus.  Everybody who reads this small book responds the same way, "Can life really be this simple?"  I really do mean that this book is life changing.  I was given a new set of glasses after reading it.  How can I view the world any other way than that everything must be God's holy will.

8.  Solanus Casey
I read his story to the kids last week and it made such an impression on them.  It affected Rose so much that she came up to me later that day and said she was picking Solanus for her confirmation name.  His story will touch your heart.  He wanted so much to be a priest, but he was an extremely poor student and couldn't learn.  After much deliberation, his superiors said he could become a priest, but had to submit to whatever job he was assigned.  He wasn't allowed to hear confessions or preach formal sermons.  He accepted what they asked of him because he knew people needed Christ and he felt God's call to bring that to the world.  He was assigned to be the door keeper or porter at the abbey.  And that he did perfectly well.  He did his job perfectly and brought the love of Christ to each person that knocked.  Thousands flocked to meet Fr. Casey each year.  He found the time to listen to each person.  He could have become discouraged and angry that his gifts were being used, but he accepted life as it was and kept on praying, knowing that God had a plan for him, and that if he listened carefully and acted with prudence, he would find out that plan.  I love that he did God's holy will by simply answering the door and greeting each person with God's love.  Through his submission of being a simple door keeper, God used him in ways he never imagined.

I hope you enjoy my friends as I have enjoyed them.  I hope to meet them all in heaven someday. 


  1. An excellent post-"guard my senses"-I love that. I've been trying to cement that into my older teens brains especially.

  2. What wonderful recommendations, thank you so much! And in perfect time for Lent.

    I remember a dear friend and I went to daily Mass on the same day at different churches when the reading was about the mother in Maccabees. I called her and we had both been thinking the same thing--that we were called to be as willing as that mother to strengthen our children for suffering, for martyrdom. Such an intense and sobering reminder!

  3. Thank you for all the recommendations! Spiritual reading about the Saints is such a good start to friendships with our friends in Heaven and such an inspiration to holiness in our own lives! I hope my library has some of these books!!!

  4. I wish the library carried some of these books. I am on self restriction from purchasing any more books from Amazon this month. (:

  5. I love, love, love this post. I love the Saints and reading about them is one of my favorite things to do. I have a special fondness for Venerable Solanus Casey as he grew up near my home town and I received my 1st Holy Communion in the same church where he received his 1st Holy Communion. I met his sister Sister Bernadine Casey about 10-15 years ago when she gave a talk in our area. It was so amazing to talk with a relative of his and learn more about his family and their upbringing. She compiled a book of his letters that I found very insightful. My favorite saying of his is "Thank God ahead of time". He would be an amazing confirmation saint! Here is a link to that book of letters.

  6. Thank you for posting all these wonderful suggestions. I bought Fr. Kapaun’s book a few months ago because of you…and now I have a few more to check out! Thanks so much for the inspiring reminder.

  7. Love the recommendations! I'm confident you know about him but since he isn't on your list I just have to add another holy man - St. Maximillian Kolbe. He is a favorite of ours, so much we named our youngest son after him (Kolbe) and his story, like all those of the saints, is incredible and miraculous!

  8. Solanus Casey became tops on our list of names for boys two years ago after reading the book "Meet Solanus Casey." The back of the book is full of some of his best quotes. One which made me smile was, "Jesus is no crank! He knows we are not angels but poor sinners, and He understands when we fail." I think of this often during the nightly examination of conscience.

  9. The answer to all of the above questions is very simple. Our children will become heroes if they fall in love with Jesus to such an extent that they lose themselves in loving Jesus in others. The way we get them to do this is by becoming saints ourselves. May we all aspire to do God's will at every moment. May we not be distracted by anything else!

  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and recommendations, Lindsay!
    God bless,

  11. Thank you for these! As a mama of a terminally ill one year old, I have had to come face to face with my dear of allowing my child to suffer-- may his pains reap great rewards!

    1. Oh, bless your heart. Thank you for all your sufferings. Thank you for opening my eyes yet again to another calling of greatness.

  12. Good list. Add the movie Sophie Scholl. In my top ten list!