I’m a few days tardy in mentioning it, and that’s my fault, but if you look over at the sidebar, you’ll see a button for the Patheos Book Club that says “BOOK GIVEAWAY”.
It looks like this:
If you press the button, you will be led to this page where you can register to win a free copy of Colleen Carroll Campbell’s latest book, My Sisters, the Saints.
The question is, will you want to press the button?
Well, I think you will, for this is an uncommon book of saints.
Regular readers know that I love books about the saints. My dear Saint Philip Neri recommends reading the lives of the saints regularly for inspiration and instruction, and as a fan of Campbell’s (I had very much enjoyed, and been encouraged by, her first book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy) I was predisposed to liking this book, too. And yet I kept putting off reading My Sisters the Saints.
My resistance, I suspect, had something to do with the seeming glut of “Saints” books that have been published since the success of Father James Martin’s My Life with the Saints, so many of which seem to come with some built-in angle to hook the reader. There have been books about saints who were bad before they were good; saints who were always good; saints who were mothers; saints who were fathers; saints who loved animals; saints who could have Danced with the Stars. Okay, maybe not that last, but you get my drift.
I read many of those books, and a couple of them were stand-outs I liked very much, but too many of them were simply warmed-over resellings of stale or over-familiar hagiographies. I should have known that Campbell would offer something different, but still I found myself resisting what I assumed would be more of the same.
I should have known better, of course. There is nothing warmed over or stale about Campbell. Even so, it took the combination of Tony Rossi’s interview with Campbell and Elizabeth Duffy’s elegant praise of the book for me to finally pick it up.
And of course, once I did, I read it in a single sitting. My Sisters, the Saints is unlike any “saints book” I have ever read. This is no list of “saints-I-like-and-why”, it is an intimate detailing of how a centuries-spanning handful of females on fire with the love of Christ, enslaved to his will and obedient to his bride on earth, managed to attract Campbell’s attention during specific moments of her life — lonely, rocky times full of pain and doubt and fear — and to then to teach her what they knew about life and death, faith and trust and darkness.
And this, after all, is the job of the saints, the ministry of the Cloud of Witnesses; to pray with us and for us, to be community for us and to teach us what they know — to be the soft voices of experienced reassurance and instruction that, were they still with us on earth, would likely be lost in the noise or ignored.
In a small moment in college, Campbell finds herself drawn into big change thanks to Teresa of Avila — the Great Teresa — only to later discover some necessary, gently-offered disciplines urged by the petite Therese of Lisieux. Through professional successes (like her stint as a speechwriter in the Bush 43 White House) and moments of harrowingly painful personal loss — her memories of her father’s decline and death due to Alzheimers are full of heartbreaking beauty — Campbell comes face-to-face with Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Saint Faustina, two women who knew all about navigating the darkness in trust. Finally, she runs into Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross or, as she is more commonly known, Saint Edith Stein, who — having contemplated the richness of spiritual motherhood from her Carmelite cloister and faced the darkness of Auschwitz, turned out to be the perfect companion when Campbell and her husband faced an agonizing struggle with infertility, particularly in the face of worldly temptations to move away from the wisdom of the church (and to trust in God’s solutions) for the worldlier advice to please the self. The moment when Campbell realizes that God’s love for her will continue no matter what she did, but that her love for God must necessarily change if she were to choose the worldly way is a stunner.
Elizabeth Duffy wrote:
My Sisters the Saints fills a void in Catholic literature, as Campbell writes from the unique perspective of a woman for whom motherhood has not come easily. From the outside, her life could easily be misconstrued as an ode to feminist thought and worldly ambition, while the hidden story reveals a heart yearning for God, striving to live in faithfulness to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Campbell shares each stage of her journey, without moralizing or shaming her readers, but rather inviting them into this holy sisterhood where our sufferings and trials bring us closer to God and to one another.
That’s perfectly said, but I would add this: there is a determined authenticity to this book that moves it beyond the interest of women; this is not a book written to provide a bit of spiritual uplift to get you through the day; this is a lean-but-heavy book of interest to people, male and female, who have made acquaintance with a bit of darkness and are seeking reassurance that there is a sustaining and constant light, and that there are spiritual mothers out there who can be called upon when we are frightened, lost, confused about exactly where the light is, or how we may find our way to it. Spiritual mothers who will walk with us and show us all they know, for the honest asking.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is herself one of them. She has shown us what she now knows. This is a remarkable book for all Christians.
Register for the giveaway here. Or better yet, pick up a couple of copies of this splendid, humble, wise and inspiring book to give to people you love this Christmas, especially if they’re struggling with something difficult. It will be a true Christmas blessing for them.