July 9, 2015

Book Review: Seven Saints for Seven Virtues

Matthew Coffin

Seven Saints for Seven Virtues (published 2014, by Servant Books, Cincinnati OH, 125 pages) by writer, speaker, psychologist, and award winning, Catholic blogger Jean M. Heimann M. A., examines seven saints and the virtue each personifies. As readers of her blog know, Ms. Heimann's writing is eloquent and accessible. Included is a thoughtful foreword by Lisa M. Hendey discussing how we, inspired by the saints' example, can overcome sin and temptation; act altruistically and persevere in love. Through the pursuit of virtue one acquires an habitual and firm disposition to do good. From the foreword:
Faced alone, the ideal life of virtue may seem out of reach for a simple soul such as me. But the good news is that in this life and along this journey, I am never alone. I travel in the companionship of saints canonized, and those known only to their most intimate loved ones. I travel in the loving embrace of a Creator who made me, just as I am, to know, love, and serve him and those around me in my own unique way. I cling to the teachings of his Son, our Savior, who came to point the way to the Father. With his support, and confident in the destiny that awaits me, a holy, virtuous life is worth each tiny choice, each act of simplicity that forms my path.
Will we embrace lives of vice or lives of virtue? The choice is ours. …
In her introduction, Ms. Heimann illustrates that, contrary to popular imagination, the saints lived lives remarkably similar to our own. Living ordinary lives in extraordinary ways they were able to achieve heroic virtue. Such a life is possible for us today with grace, unrelenting prayer, the sacraments and the saints as our role models. The introduction’s title “Saints Show the Way,” is dispositive.

Those profiled include Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (charity), St. Agnes (chastity), Pope St. John Paul II (diligence), St. Joseph (humility), St. Catherine of Siena (kindness), St. Monica (patience), and St. Augustine (temperance). Each chapter includes; 1. quotations evincing the highlighted virtue, 2. a brief biography explaining how the saint exemplified the virtue, 3. someone not canonized who embodies the virtue, 4. advice on putting said virtue into practice in our daily lives and, 5. a selection of prayers relating to the saint.

Of the seven saints chronicled, I keep a personal devotion to Bl. Mother Teresa and Pope St. John Paul II, having met the former and served at a Mass celebrated by the later. Despite my familiarity with these well-known figures, Seven Saints... afforded new insights. Even well read, informed Catholics will gain valuable knowledge about the formation, motivation, struggles and sacrifices of the saintly men and women portrayed.

Seven Saints for Seven Virtues is enjoyable and informative, not the least of which because it answers some of the most vexing modern day challenges to faith. We might believe that holiness is the exclusive preserve of priests and nuns. We might think that living a holier life is something we will do tomorrow or in the future. Most common, we might see the virtues espoused by the Church and taught to her by Christ as antiquated and puritanical; hopelessly out of step with contemporary society.

All are called to sainthood, not just the consecrated and ordained. The stories from saints' of every era demonstrate conclusively that the times are never so bad that good people can't live in them. Even in the worst of situations, virtue can flourish. Moreover, in the words of St. John Paul II, "The future begins today not tomorrow." We shouldn't be caviler about our eternal salvation because the future is not guaranteed. The time to be holy is now. As to virtues being old-fashioned and outdated; Jesus didn't calibrate his teaching so as to be in sync with the Zeitgeist of his day. His follows must do likewise, even if it means being mocked and ridiculed. In this, as in everything, the saints are our constant guides and companions.

Ms. Heimann's book is a lessen in discipleship. Living their lives in imitation of Christ, the saints teach us that:

1. The spiritual journey is entirely dependent on God. It is a gift gratuitously given to us by our Divine Father. While prayer is indispensable, and the Mass is the Church's greatest prayer and repository of grace; going to Mass doesn’t make us holy. Neither does saying a million rosaries. God sustains us in life – in everything we do. We are entirely dependent on his mercy.

2. Our effort is necessary. Like the saints, we must respond to God's love by loving Him and others selflessly. What we can do to place ourselves in the presence of Christ we should do. Daily prayer is essential. Reading the scriptures is another key that unlocks the doors to eternity. God knows us completely. God loves us abundantly. Everything we say and do should be a response to that love.

3. There are painful dimensions to the path toward holiness. The saints had to bear innumerable crosses on their roads to sanctity. We’re all familiar with the expression “no pain no gain.” Expelling sin from our lives can be difficult even painful. Expanding our hearts, minds, and souls takes work. Letting go of lesser cares and filling ouselves with God’s love can be a challenge. The temptation may be to put off the heavy lifting until later.

4. Despite its painful dimensions, the journey toward holiness is worth it. The heroic virtue of saints requires courage, fortitude, and faith. To find the pearl of great price we must get rid of the sin, occasions of sin, temptations, and vices in our lives and cultivate virtue. Falling in love with God means letting go of the world. Whatever our difficulties, holiness justifies the effort.

Augmenting the saints' wisdom, the concluding chapter "Saints in the Making" reminds us that God wants our salvation even more than we do, that the saints are praying for us unceasingly, and that the joy of heaven — eternal happiness beyond our comprehension, is what we were made for.
Seven Saints for Seven Virtues is a a must have for any library. If you seek the fullness of truth, this book will enlighten and encourage. Reading it has made me a better person.

Below are the saints in Seven Saints for Seven Virtues, their affiliated virtue, a quote elucidating that virtue and a prayer associated with the saint (all taken from the text).

Bl. Mother Teresa
Virtue personified — Charity
By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.  
— Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Prayer of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Virgin Mary, Queen of all the Saints, help us to be gentle and humble of heart like this fearless messenger of Love. Help us to serve every person we meet with joy and a smile. Help us to be missionaries of Christ, our peace and our hope. Amen! 
St. Agnes
Virtue personified — Chastity
Chastity is the lily of virtues, and makes men almost equal to Angels. Everything is beautiful in accordance with its purity. Now the purity of man is chastity, which is called honesty, and the observance of it, honor and also integrity; and its contrary is called corruption; in short, it has this peculiar excellence above the other virtues, that it preserves both soul and body fair and unspotted.
— Saint Francis de Sales
Prayer to St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
O Little St. Agnes, so young and yet made so strong and wise by the power of God, protect by your prayers all the young people of every place whose goodness and purity are threatened by the evils and impurities of this world. 
Give them strength in temptation and a true repentance when they fail.  Help them to find true Christian friends to accompany them in following the Lamb of God and finding safe pastures in His Church and in her holy sacraments. 
May you lead us to the wedding banquet of heaven to rejoice with you and all the holy virgin martyrs in Christ who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen. 
Pope St. John Paul II
Virtue personified — Diligence
Diligence in prayer is the perfection of the Gospel. 
— Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

St. John Paul II's Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes
Hail Mary, poor and humble Woman, Blessed by the Most High! Virgin of hope, dawn of a new era, We join in your song of praise, to celebrate the Lord’s mercy, to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom and the full liberation of humanity.
Hail Mary, lowly handmaid of the Lord, Glorious Mother of Christ! Faithful Virgin, holy dwelling-place of the Word, Teach us to persevere in listening to the Word, and to be docile to the voice of the Spirit, attentive to his promptings in the depths of our conscience and to his manifestations in the events of history.
Hail Mary, Woman of sorrows, Mother of the living! Virgin spouse beneath the Cross, the new Eve, Be our guide along the paths of the world. Teach us to experience and to spread the love of Christ, to stand with you before the innumerable crosses on which your Son is still crucified.
Hail Mary, woman of faith, First of the disciples! Virgin Mother of the Church, help us always to account for the hope that is in us, with trust in human goodness and the Father’s love. Teach us to build up the world beginning from within: in the depths of silence and prayer, in the joy of fraternal love, in the unique fruitfulness of the Cross.
Holy Mary, Mother of believers, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. Amen.
St. Joseph
Virtue personified — Humility
Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.
 — Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
In self-knowledge, then, you will humble yourself, seeing that, in yourself, you do not even exist; for your very being, as you will learn, is derived from Me, since I have loved both you and others before you were in existence; and that, through the ineffable love which I had for you, wishing to re-create you to Grace, I have washed you, and re-created you in the Blood of My only-begotten Son, spilt with so great a fire of love. This Blood teaches the truth to him, who, by self-knowledge, dissipates the cloud of self-love, and in no other way can he learn. 
 — Saint Catherine of Siena from The Dialogue of Divine Providence

St. Catherine of Siena
Virtue personified — Kindness
And the natives showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all because it had begun to rain and was cold.
— Acts 28:2

Prayer to St. Catherine of Siena 
Dear St. Catherine, your remarkable life in service to God and His people is an awesome inspiration to us all. Help me to realize that I am to serve Jesus in others, especially the poor and those in need. Please pray to the Blessed Trinity for me to be granted the graces I need to be faithful to God’s holy will in my life. St. Catherine, pray for us and for all who invoke your aid. If it is in God’s holy will, please grant me (here mention your request). Amen.
St. Monica
Virtue personified — Patience

If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. ...

— Saint Thomas Aquinas

Prayer for Patience
Lord, teach me to be patient - with life, with people,and with myself. I sometimes try to hurry things along too much, and I push for answers before the time is right. Teach me to trust Your sense of timing rather than my own and to surrender my will to Your greater and wiser plan. Help me let life unfold slowly, like the small rosebud whose petals unravel bit by bit, and remind me that in hurrying the bloom along, I destroy the bud and much of the beauty therein.
Instead, let me wait for all to unfold in its own time. Each moment and state of growth contains a loveliness. Teach me to slow down enough to appreciate life and all it holds. Amen.
St. Augustine
Virtue personified — Temperance
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.
— 2 Timothy 1:7 

Prayer of St. Augustine to the Holy Spirit 
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

1 comment :

Jean Heimann said...

Thank you for this wonderful review! I appreciate your kind words and your insightful comments!

God bless you!