INTERVIEW: Colleen Carroll Campbell

Photo credit: Jeremy Rusnock

Q&A with Colleen Carroll Campbell

author of

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir

Available in Paperback Sept. 23, 2014

 

 

 

 

Q. Your writing career until now has been focused mostly on journalistic and political endeavors – as a news and editorial writer, op-ed columnist, presidential speechwriter and author of The New Faithful, a journalistic study of a religious phenomenon. What inspired you to take such a personal turn in this new book?

The truth is, I was forced into it. I was drawn to writing about the themes at the heart of this book – the tensions between our human desires for both freedom and commitment, spiritual growth and worldly success, avoidance of suffering and the wisdom that comes only through trials. I was especially drawn to writing about how these tensions play out in the lives of women struggling to reconcile their Christian faith with contemporary feminism. And in the end, I found myself agreeing with Flannery O’Connor: “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way … You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.” It just so happened that the story I needed to tell was my own – mine, and those of six women saints.

 

Q. The personal struggles you describe and issues you confront in this book are quite contemporary, from disillusionment with the hook-up culture to difficulties finding work-life balance and moral dilemmas over hi-tech fertility treatments. Yet most of the saints you cite as guides were contemplatives and many were cloistered nuns. Did it surprise you that you could relate to these women?

Yes, it did. The outward circumstances of my life and the lives of these saints were often very different, though there were some striking parallels – such as the dementia that struck St. Therese’s father and my own father. The real basis of my connection to these women was more fundamental, though: our shared search for meaning, longings for both love and liberation, and struggles to overcome temptations and faults. The contemplative dimension of these saints was also their genius, and I learned that the true contemplative does not seek to escape life but to live it more fully and deeply. These women of prayer taught me a lot about how to live as a woman of action in the world.

 

Q. You write about your attempts to find meaning in your father’s battle with dementia. Why is a spiritual lens helpful when viewing the Alzheimer’s experience?

We live in a culture that judges a person’s worth according to the categories of autonomy, productivity and rationality. By those standards, an Alzheimer’s patient does not count for much. We think nothing of describing dementia patients as mere “shells” of their former selves, as “not really there,” “already gone,” even, according to some ethicists, as non-persons. It’s natural to recoil from the changes that take place in a loved one afflicted by Alzheimer’s – I recoiled from them, too, initially – but looking at this disease through a spiritual lens allows you to see gifts in the person and the trial that you could not otherwise see. For me, this meant coming to see my father not only as still himself and still beloved by God but as a true model of unconditional love and profound trust in God – someone I could still learn from and admire, even amid his decline.

 

Q. You worked as the sole woman speechwriter to President George W. Bush, a rare opportunity yet one that exposed you to the sort of work-life conflicts that confront women in all walks of life. Why was it important to you to find spiritual meaning in those conflicts and a saint to help you sort through them?

I turned to my faith to sort out those conflicts precisely because I found the secular alternatives so inadequate. On the one hand, I heard from a secular feminist establishment that gave me the “you go, girl” speech – but offered me little help in dealing with my own innate desires for marriage, motherhood and more time with my family. There were antifeminist voices that supported those desires, of course, but they often gave short shrift to my legitimate longing to do meaningful work in the world, treating it as somehow selfish or superficial. So I found myself looking to my faith, and in this case, to St. Faustina, for guidance in balancing these two competing desires – to discern where God was calling me and how I could find love and peace without sacrificing my freedom and all I had worked for.

 

Q. In writing about your journey through infertility, you mention your frustration at how few books you found that helped you deal with the spiritual side of this trial. What’s missing from the way infertility is often addressed in religious circles?

For starters, compassion. When you are dealing with infertility, you get a lot of unsolicited advice: Just pray! Just relax! Just adopt! But advice is usually the last thing you want. What you really want is a baby. And failing that, you want someone to acknowledge your grief and its validity without giving you a lecture about why you should not take your childlessness so hard or which remedy you should try next. In my case, I had the resources to figure out my medical options and to understand, on an intellectual level, the moral implications of various infertility treatments. What I most needed was a way of making sense of my trial and getting through it. I needed help understanding my value as a woman even if I never bore biological children. Where did I fit in the kingdom of God if this were to be my permanent lot in life? What was the meaning of my marriage if it could not bear fruit in this way? Why had God given me this intense desire to bear a child if he did not intend to fulfill it? Those were the questions that led me to discover the writings of St. Edith Stein, a philosopher who wrote poignantly – and, for me, very helpfully – about the meaning of a woman’s maternal desires and the way those desires can be fulfilled in all walks of life.

 

Q. There seems to be a renewed interest in the saints in recent years, even beyond the Catholic Church. Why do you think that is, and why should readers – especially non-Catholics – get to know the saints?

Christianity is an incarnational religion. We believe that God became man in a specific town, on a specific day, in the womb of a specific woman. So the personal and specific matters in Christianity, and the personal stories of Christ’s followers matter, too. Each life testifies to some unique aspect of God’s love; each human person bears God’s image in a unique way. Getting to know the saints allows us to get to know Jesus in a new way, to see his qualities magnified through a new lens or situated in a new historical context. I like the way Father Robert Barron put it when I asked him this question on my EWTN show, “Faith & Culture.” He said that looking at Jesus is like looking directly at the sun: His virtues are brilliant, blindingly so, and they give light to everything else. Looking at the saints is like looking at the moon: They reflect the light of Christ, but in a way that’s a little easier for our imperfect eyes to take in. When we’re striving for holiness and intimacy with God, it helps to look at these little moons – to look at the men and women who faced the same struggles as us and emerged victorious.

 

Q. Most of the women saints you highlight lived in modern times and all but one left behind voluminous writings about their own spiritual journeys. Do you see this spiritual memoir as an attempt to follow in their literary footsteps?

Well, I certainly would not claim to have written the next Interior Castle or Story of a Soul, but I do see My Sisters the Saints as part of that long tradition of Christian writers linking their personal stories to the great story of Jesus and his saints. In the contentious, sound-bite age we live in, I think it’s tempting for Christians – and especially Catholics – to get so caught up in debates over doctrine or ecclesial politics that we lose sight of the intensely personal character of Christianity, a religion that is all about a personal God reaching out through the person of his Son to touch the personal lives of his followers. That’s not to say that doctrinal disputes or the public implications of Christian beliefs do not matter; I think anyone who has followed my work knows that I take those things seriously. But at the end of the day, God changes the world one heart, one life and one story at a time. This spiritual memoir is my attempt to share how God used the stories of his saints to change my heart and my life.

 

To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Colleen Carroll Campbell, please contact Katie Moore, publicist, kamoore@penguinrandomhouse.com, 719-268-1936.

 


BOOK TRAILER: My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell

My Sisters the Saints Book Trailer

Colleen Carroll Campbell’s new book, My Sisters the Saints, is the spiritual memoir of her fifteen-year journey and search for God through these six saints. Check out the trailer here, and don’t forget to order your copy of My Sisters the Saints.
The book will be available on September 23, 2014!


INTERVIEW: John Henry Crosby

Q&A with John Henry Crosby

Translator, compiler, and editor of

My Battle Against Hitler
Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich

 

 

Q. Describe your introduction to Dietrich von Hildebrand? How did he become such an integral part of your life?

I suppose I can say that I was born into a relationship with von Hildebrand—though I hasten to say that I never knew him personally (he died in 1977, the year before I was born). But I was born into a family deeply shaped by von Hildebrand. My mother, an Austrian, knew him already as a girl, and her brothers and her father were students and disciples of his. My father, who joins me as editor and translator of My Battle Against Hitler, was also a student and close friend of von Hildebrand during the last decade of his life, and is one of his leading exponents today.

What may surprise some readers about my own interest in von Hildebrand is that it initially had very little to do with philosophy. What first captured my imagination was von Hildebrand the man of culture and the moral hero. In an earlier life—which is to say in my teenage years—I pursued studies in violin performance. It was in these years that I discovered von Hildebrand as a great and compelling defender of the beautiful. And since beauty has always been for me the path to grasping the truth and the good, it was not difficult to give my heart to one who so deeply understand and celebrated the beautiful.

In good time I discovered von Hildebrand the moral hero, the witness to truth against Nazi power. I was moved not just by his courage or his clarity of mind, but what really spoke to me was his heart; for he went to battle against Hitler ultimately as an act of love—for love of truth, indeed, but also for love of his native Germany and his fellow Germans, for his family, and his friends.

I’ve now had the privilege of working on several translations of books by von Hildebrand. But working on the memoirs has been a very special experience—almost like an interpersonal exchange with a man whose heart and soul are so deeply expressed in these pages. In considering even the slightest nuance of meaning, in struggling to capture his spirit, a bond almost like companionship has arisen between me and von Hildebrand.

 

Q. If you had to choose just one legacy of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s life to share with the world, what would it be?

Oh what a painfully difficult question! I think it’s almost unfair to ask! How can I not speak about his idea that the human heart, in crucial ways more so than the will and the mind, is really what most deeply defines us as persons? Or how can I not say something about his insights into reverence and gratitude? Or how he shows us that beauty is not just a dispensable luxury but a necessity for human flourishing?
But to the question of one key legacy of von Hildebrand—and let me limit myself to a legacy embodied in My Battle Against Hitler—I would say this. His example in Vienna challenges all of us to ask ourselves if we are compromising ourselves by becoming too comfortable with evil, particularly where evil masquerades itself in goodness, desirability, and social acceptability. Are we simply “making do” and granting evil de facto power over our attitudes and actions?

This is a legacy that can easily be overlooked since, from our vantage point, it is natural to view von Hildebrand as victorious in the battle against Hitler. But that was not how von Hildebrand would have experienced it. After Hitler’s ascension to power, he knew that he was not fighting for victory, at least in the short term, but to honor the demands of conscience.

In his memoirs von Hildebrand often expresses this idea of serving truth even in the face of apparent futility. I particularly love a passage in which he encounters a fellow Catholic who accuses him of failing to recognize God’s will in Hitler’s stunning rise to power—and in fact I’ve chosen this episode for the frontispiece of My Battle Against Hitler. To this confused Catholic, von Hildebrand countered, “If God permits evils such as Bolshevism and National Socialism, then of course, as St. Paul says, it is to test us; it is precisely our struggle against evil that God wills, even when we suffer external defeat.”

 

Q. Were you surprised by anything that you came across in his memoirs?

I’ve been reading and studying the memoirs for the better part of a decade. Never during these years have they lost their luster; on the contrary they have continually increased my admiration, even my reverence, for Dietrich von Hildebrand.

What first struck me ten years ago—and what continues to move me today—is the way von Hildebrand bore the immense sacrifices required by his fight against Hitler. In circumstances that would fill even the strongest of souls with anxiety and unrest, he was able to live in great serenity and peace. And when most of us would think it quite natural to view the loss of home and possessions and friends primarily a personal sacrifice for us, I never cease to marvel that von Hildebrand above all mourned the loss of hearts and minds to the siren song of Nazi ideology.

And there is a mysterious power in the pages of his memoirs that I also find amazing. Whenever I read in them, I feel the confines of fear, anxiety, and the instinct for self-preservation begin to melt away as I am moved to view my life as an opportunity for witness and even heroism.  And I know that many others who have read my translation in its various drafts have had similar experiences. The question, of course, is: How will I respond to this infusion of confidence? How will you respond? Will we rest content in being inspired by von Hildebrand’s heroism? Or will we allow the power and strength of his example to prepare us for whatever may be asked of us?

 

Q. What do you hope to accomplish through the publication of My Battle Against Hitler? 

I’m extremely sensitive about not wanting to limit the book’s potential by interpreting it in any one direction. It is first and foremost the story of a great man, and no human life, let alone one lived with such fullness and intensity, can be reduced even to the noblest single agenda!

What I can say is that I hope this book will introduce von Hildebrand to thousands, even millions, of readers the world over. My Battle Against Hitler is not a work of philosophy, yet it is an exceptional introduction to von Hildebrand’s thought. So much of what he says and does in his fight against the Nazis goes back to his major philosophical insights. Readers of this book will be well prepared, and I hope, eager to delve into his many other writings.

But much as I hope this book will be wildly successful and reach vast numbers, I cannot help think that von Hildebrand would hold out a truer, higher standard. He would be far happier if his story helped even a handful of people to their own acts of reverence and courage.  He would, no doubt, especially welcome those who felt called to public moral witness, but he would be no less happy to learn that someone had discovered a calling to bear witness even in a humble, obscure, and personal way.

Dietrich von Hildebrand often quotes the Latin saying tua res agitur, which means “this concerns you.” He would say his battle against Hitler concerns you. Why? Because as a human person you are no less called than von Hildebrand himself was to know, to serve, and to bear witness to truth.

 

To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with John Henry Crosby, please contact Katie Moore, publicist, kamoore@penguinrandomhouse.com, 719-268-1936.


Quiz: Catholic Celebrations

Today we’re going to check your general knowledge of the Catholic feasts.

 

1. What is the Latin word for weekday?

a. Feria

b. Dominus

c. Diem

 

2. What is the highest degree of Christian celebration?

a. The taking of the Sacraments

b. Solemnity

c. Confession

 

3.  What are Solemnities called that are considered important enough tha attendance is obligatory?

a. Solemnities Improviso

b. The Elevated Solemnities

c. Holy Days of Obligation

 

4. What is a period of eight days, marked in the beginning by a Feast?

a. Season

b. Octave

c. Cycle

 

5. What is the term for a period that commemorates and celebrates the great mysteries of Christ?

a. Cycle

b. Confession

c. Virgil

 

6. What Solemnity is unique to Ireland?

a. The Feast of the Famine

b. St. Patrick’s Day

c. The Exhaltation of Peter

 

To learn more about the Catholic calendar check out Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina’s new book The Feasts available now.

Answers:

1-a,2-b,3-c,4-b,5-a,6-b


INTERVIEW: Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson

Q&A with Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson

authors of

The American Catholic Almanac

 What was your inspiration for writing The American Catholic Almanac?

Over the past several years, we’ve watched Americans—both believers and non-believers, liberal and conservative—square off against each other on questions of faith, politics, and the place of religion in public life. Regrettably, not only has the tenor of the discussion grown increasingly hostile, but also, much of the discussion has been sadly uninformed. As a nation, we’ve forgotten so much of our history. As a Church, we’ve done the same. While technology has afforded incredible access to information, we simply don’t know our own story any more. We don’t know so many of the men and women of deep faith who shaped our country, Church, and culture. This cultural amnesia has contributed to a tragic loss of respect and appreciation for the role of religion in American history, and the role of the Catholic Church in particular.

The truth is, there are legions of fascinating, brave, brilliant, complicated, and holy Catholics who are part of the American story. Knowing their stories enriches both our lives and faith. More fundamentally, when we know and share their stories, we understand our own story—as both Americans and Catholics—so much better. That understanding changes the way we engage the culture. It changes the way we see the current conflict over religion in public life and partake in conversations about it. Ultimately, in writing the American Catholic Almanac, we wanted to help Catholics celebrate the rich history of Catholicism in America, so they might write an even greater story for our future.

How is The American Catholic Almanac different from other Catholic Almanacs?

Traditionally, almanacs are mostly collections of facts and figures. These are, of course, wonderful and resourceful books. But our Almanac aspired to do something more than relay facts. We wanted to enchant our readers, to energize and inspire them. Accordingly, we decided to tell stories. Stories put you in the middle of a moment in history. They invite you into an adventure.  And the American Catholic Almanac is really just one great big storybook. Day by day, as you move through the year, you become absorbed in short yet engaging stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and often inspiring snapshots of the American Catholics who’ve come before us. It’s an easy way for the busy and overwhelmed (but curious), to learn more about the history of the Church in America, as well about as many of the fantastic men and women who made that history.

What is the most interesting piece of American Catholic history you learned while working on this book?

This is an impossible question to answer! Every day we worked on this project was an exciting journey of discovery. We found ourselves constantly calling up friends to tell them some story or other or posting on Facebook the fun facts we had come across. For example, did you know that the first bishop of Sacramento came to California as a young man to mine for gold in the great California Gold Rush? He wanted to find enough gold to pay for his seminary formation in Europe. And he found it. Later, after he became bishop, his friends from the Gold Rush days chipped in to build Sacramento’s cathedral. Then, there was the first seminary in the United States: St. Mary’s in Baltimore. It was a former tavern. How Catholic is that?

There were also people such as Father Peter Whelan, an Irish-American priest who, during the American Civil War, ministered by himself in the hell on earth that was Andersonville Prison, and Margaret Haughery, a penniless, illiterate widow in nineteenth-century New Orleans, who launched a successful dairy and bakery, simply to raise money for orphans. By the time of her death, she had built six orphanages in Louisiana. We could go on and on: Archbishop Charles Seghers, who was murdered while ministering in the Alaskan wilderness; Mother Mary Lange, an African-American heiress who founded the first religious order for black Catholic women in 1829 Baltimore; remarkable converts to the Faith such as Orestes Brownson, Daniel Barber, Claude McKay, Fanny Allen, and James Kent Stone; plus tragic figures like Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, and General William Tecumseh Sherman. Honestly, 365 days wasn’t enough to do justice to all the wonderful stories we found.

How do you see this book being used? Who is the target audience?

We don’t think there is any one way to use the book. Some people will want to read it a little bit each morning or evening, just following the day by day reading plan we’ve laid out for them. Others’ curiosity will get the better of them, and they’ll read it much faster. The important thing, of course, is to read it to the end. Some of our favorite stories are in November and December.

In many ways, the Almanac is a great resource for Catholic families, schools, and anyone curious about American history.  Parents and teachers might consider, using the stories as a starting point for lessons on the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, or the great waves of migration that made the United States what it is. Catholics in public life will benefit from learning more about the long history of anti-Catholicism in our country, while priests, bishops, and lay Catholics working for the Church will find the tales of America’s first evangelists incredibly instructive. There really is something for everyone in the American Catholic Almanac, including non-Catholics.

Our greatest hope, however, is that the short stories we tell in the book will inspire a deeper appreciation of the profound contributions of Catholics in American history. Before we began this project, we didn’t fully appreciate what a great blessing it is to call ourselves not Irish Catholics or French Catholics or German Catholics, but American Catholics. Now we do. The story of America would be far different if not for the faith-inspired role of the Catholic Church in America. By God’s providence, this story continues. We hope this Almanac will encourage readers to continue their own journey of discovery about our history—and to make history themselves.



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