It's a wonder that not many people know about St. Camillus, who built an order of priests who cared for the sick and dying on battlefields. These ministers wore red crosses on their black cassocks, symbols of hope in places of brokenness. Susan Peek's young adult novel helps us remember the story...here is my review.
In another great addition, A Soldier Surrenders, The Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis, from the God's Forgotten Friends Series, Susan Peek challenges us and her protagonist, Saint Camillus, to search in our hearts for the true meaning of courage. The book opens at the heart of the story, introducing us to the most important person for Camillus, his father, who is battle-tested and inspirational. The two have been on a journey as mercenary soldiers.
Interrupting his brawling ways, due to a wound that won't heal, Camillus becomes an orderly at a hospital in Rome. Some of my most favorite scenes took place here, and I would have liked even more details of how healing would take place in the 1500s. Here, another orderly, Curzio, challenges Camillus' soldierly definition of courage as strength and honor, instead pointing out that it is mastering oneself and following the call of God. I love Peek's realism here in how she portrays characters. There isn't an easy answer for Camillus, and he can't listen fully to his friend's words at this time in his life.
With a quick pace and plot turns, Camillus sinks back to old ways of fighting and gambling as readers look into a soul, that like Camillus' wound, struggles to heal. I wondered how Camillus could ever make his way back to the places I believe he needed to needed to go.
In summary, this beautiful novel left me with two images of courage: crescent-shaped swords clashing against men paid to fight and a man simply comforting another, a stranger, in his dying moment on a battlefield. This second image is the cornerstone of Saint Camillus' eventual legacy. As Camillus follows both paths, the reader does as well, a unique reading journey. Highly recommended.
Not only has award-winning author Annemarie O'Brien created World Reads, a blog of international-themed books (see my last blog post), but she has also collected an amazing virtual library of books about kids' best friends, dogs, along with wild counterparts, wolves, foxes, and coyotes. There are stories about friendships between children and Shetland Sheepdogs, Border Collies, St. Bernards, almost all types the dogs you can think of, and my favorite, wolves.
I met Annemarie at the Bay Area Book Festival 2016, and she invited me to share The Wolf and the Shield: An Adventure with Saint Patrick, over at Dog Reads. Please see the interview at https://annemarieobrienauthor.com/2016/08/q-and-a-with-sherry-weaver-smith-the-wolf-and-the-shield/
Award-winning author Annemarie O'Brien has created World Reads, a vibrant blog of interviews from writers who have written stories set in 38 countries all around the world. Click from Afghanistan to Japan to Yemen to discover children's adventures that will inspire cultural awareness and travel dreams.
I met Annemarie at the Bay Area Book Festival 2016, and she invited me to share my latest book, Search for the Hidden Garden: A Discovery with Saint Therese, over at World Reads. Please see the interview http://annemarieobrienauthor.com/2016/08/q-and-a-with-sherry-weaver-smith-search-for-the-hidden-garden/.
"I still feel the profound and poetic impressions that were born in my soul at the sight of fields enameled with cornflowers and all types of wildflowers. Already I was in love with the wide open spaces. Space and the gigantic fir trees, the branches sweeping down to the ground, left in my heart an impression…" From Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux
In Search for the Hidden Garden: A Discovery with Saint Therese, I wanted to plant the landscape where the characters have their adventure with some of Therese's most favorite symbols. A dream I have is to bring some of these into my own garden. One of the easiest would be to paint a symbol on a white stone.
Here are some garden flowers, trees, and decorations that Therese mentions in her autobiography. You can consider adding these to your own green space, even a potted plant on a desk, a container garden, or a backyard:
Older teens and adults can discover a forgotten saint, and his lost values, through reading The Last Viking by Susan Peek. Peek offers one of the wonderful promises of historical fiction, guiding us in understanding what we have in common with those in the past. But also critical to sound historical fiction, she challenges us to consider if we've really made progress, when we compare how we might make our moral decisions with those made by compelling characters of the past, especially her hero, Magnus, an Orkney prince. I know a book resonates with me when I still am contemplating it days later, and the steps and the course the main character takes at the end challenge me.
Throughout the suspenseful plot, readers trace the paths of other characters who are well-drawn, especially Magnus's brother, Aerling, and Norwegian noble, Kol Kalison. Peek does much of this shading through a winning way with dialogue. At times, some action scenes take place "off camera," which I might have preferred to have described real time, but the author may have done this to create more suspense and to keep the pace going. I also would have liked to read a few more details of setting: the landscape, the warships, and their weapons, but again Peek's great way with dialogue and quick pace won me over. A last point about the writing is that since there is a particularly violent scene toward the end of the book, parents of younger teens who are a bit more sensitive might want to read ahead to ensure it's appropriate.
In short, Susan Peek has found her calling—to allow us all to discover and now remember holy men and women through her God's Forgotten Friends series. Through the gift of her storytelling, I'll always remember St. Magnus's singular strength, not the triumph of battle but the mercy of forgiveness.
Year of Mercy: It seems that St. Magnus can be a wonderful guide for us in this Year of Mercy. This novel is also particularly appropriate for young men—who might not otherwise be connecting to this theme. It could be a great gift.
Tracing History: The characters in the novel travel from Orkney to the coastal waters off Norway and Wales. Even Scotland is a setting. Other islands are mentioned. Teens can research history and geography as a jumping off point from the novel. Just a quick Google search revealed at least several churches in Britain dedicated to St. Magnus, and I'm eager to try to find at least one on my next trip!
4/27/2016 0 Comments
Happy Saint Zita’s Feast Day on April 27! To celebrate her, I’m sharing a “Saint Sorter” activity I’ve created with Google Drawings.
Kids can learn about four different saints, including humble Saint Zita, who always found time to pray. As they hear the saints’ stories, they can sort through fun symbols of each saint’s life.
If they have access to computers, they can easily drag and drop (or if the class has one computer, the class as a whole can work together). Detailed instructions follow:
Prepare the Activity:
Go to this link to get the “saint sorter” featuring St. Patrick, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Juan Diego, and St. Zita: https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1gd1-jwWfwx8Mujgui0Yb2g2Czl3WIBVeMvaokFr5LKU/edit?usp=sharing
Make a copy: Go to the File menu and make a copy.
Are you using a computer, either as a whole class or individually? If so, then you can move the symbols with a mouse. If not, print out copies. The print button is at the top.
Get information about the four saints. I’ve prepared quick stories you can read below after the "Read More" click. Or feel free to bring in your own resources.
Do the Activity: Four Saints and Symbols from Their Stories:
Read only one story at a time. Pause.
"We have to save the earthworm," three children with shovels shouted. As excited as the kids were to dig a hole wide enough for the planting of their Earth Day peach tree, they all stopped when one boy spotted the wiggly, mud colored-explorer. With careful precision, he lifted the worm and a pile of dirt out. "Brother Worm," Franciscan Brother Mike said as he nodded. The other children cleared a space for the rescued creature.
Earlier at Danville, California's San Damiano Retreat Center' Earth Day event, the children had heard from Brother Mike how St. Francis felt all creatures, no matter how small, are our brothers and sisters. Right away, as they dug in the ground, the kids had a chance to become that family with all created things.
I pray that this spirit continues to grow in their hearts as the peach tree they planted reaches to the sky.
In the Year of Mercy, at the Feast of Divine Mercy, it felt the right time to say a new prayer, a commitment to merciful love. I felt like I was taking a big step even though it could only be small as I was inspired by the Little Way of St. Thérèse. I am finding the more I become friends with her, the more she seems like the saint of opposites: young but wise, a little flower but with faith as strong as stone. And I know her way is little, and I have to keep trusting that Jesus is providing the wonderful, merciful, grace-filled big answers to the little steps I take.
During Thérèse’s life she offered herself to Merciful Love, just as I’ve tried to do. This offering is one of the main inspirations for Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy. A group of individuals at our church participated in this self-study retreat. So there I was on Divine Mercy Sunday at Mass saying my prayer.
I could ponder Fr. Gaitley’s book for 330 days. But for me, there are three things that I really love from the book after 33 days—plus one prayer experience I had that has guided me.
Perhaps you’ve seen the image of Divine Mercy shown to St. Faustina. Rays of white and red light shine out from the heart of Jesus. At the bottom is written, “Jesus, I trust in you.” It’s hard for me to do, since I tend to want to control my life. Early in the retreat, Fr. Gaitley speaks of asking a mentor, Fr. Seraphim Michaelenko, how he can live with trust.
You will love the simple answer of how to live with trust: “Praise and thank God in all things. That’s what the Lord said to St. Faustina.”
I thought that I had to go out and immediately do large works of mercy. Of course, I want to increase these. But I’ve found that thanking God for good weather, pretty flowers, and other small things throughout the day is increasing my trust.
Most importantly, I’ve started looking people in the eye and smiling—really thanking them by noticing their presence and their uniqueness. Every interaction becomes more of a chance to acknowledge that God is present in everyone and to thank God in a way for making that person unique.
In Thérèse’s offering to Merciful Love, she wants to console the sacred heart of Jesus. I want to find out more about this devotion, especially since June is coming up and is the month of the Sacred Heart!
Prayer to Want to Pray
Sometimes I don’t feel as faithful. I can’t find words to pray. Or I’m at Mass, and I find I’m just thinking about what I have to do next. Thérèse’s words can help me. At our weakest, we can just pray to want to pray.
My Inspirational Prayer Experience
During a faithful time, the prayer experience that set me on the way to the retreat happened on Holy Thursday during Adoration. While watching a young teen pray, I felt all the way through my fingertips, “There is an ocean of mercy without judgment, and hardly anyone knows.”
Whenever I doubt, I return and return to this space of prayer, this memory.
My daughter and I have dug up some Irish potatoes—See’s Candies Irish potato candies! We couldn’t believe how realistic they were, in terms of how they looked and felt. Here are our real-time comments as we tasted and reviewed the candy:
Commenting on the cocoa on the outside, “It’s like actual dirt on your hands.”
“The things on the outside, the eyes I guess, are soft.”
“It tastes sort of bland like a potato.”
“The texture is like a heated potato.”
“This looks exactly like a potato. The wrapper makes me think of grass. It’s so festive.”
“I’m impressed with the realism.”
“I think the ingredients are nougat, nutmeg, nuts, and cocoa.”
“This is a great food disguise.”
So what are See’s St. Patrick’s Day Potatoes? Here is the official description from the box of these joyfully creative candies:
“Fluffy white chocolate and English walnuts, coated in milk chocolate, cinnamon and cocoa powder. With pine nuts ‘eyes’.”
We recommend this fun tasting experience.
St. Patrick loved the shamrock, since its three leaves in one plant reminded him of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit together making up the Trinity. So I’ve become inspired to celebrate the shamrock as many ways as I can this St. Patrick’s Day: through a prayer, food, a word search, and a hike to search for a shamrock-like plant.
My new St. Patrick’s Day Activity Page, http://www.sherrysknowledgequest.com/saintpatrickactivity.htm, on my wildlife viewing site gives all the details:
But after all this, my daughter and I want to check out another dirt-dwelling Irish symbol, the potato. We’ve heard rumors that See’s Candies has a potato candy for sale this time of year. We’ll report back if we find it.
I'm Sherry Weaver Smith, author of The Wolf and the Shield: An Adventure with Saint Patrick. I like to have adventures in getting outside in nature, crafting, and cooking as I explore our Catholic faith with my daughter. We want to be inspired by the saints!