Saints and Virtues, All in One New Book

One of the attractions the Catholic Church has always held for me is the communion of saints. I don’t pretend to understand it, but it resonates with me: this group of heroes who had their own faults and failings and still overcame them to reach the prize of heaven.

In the years I’ve been Catholic, I’ve made friends with quite a few of them — there’s no shortage of friends in heaven for almost anything.

What I’ve struggled with, though — and from what I gather, I’m not alone in this — is applying the lessons of the saints to my own sloppy and messy life.

In Seven Saints for Seven Virtues (Servant Books, 2014), Jean Heimann has given readers a close-up of seven saints who are, all too often, distant in their “perfection” to those of us struggling in the pews. As a bonus, each saint is paired with a virtue and an “everyday hero” (a real-life non-saint who’s not inaccessibly holy).

From the chapter on St. Monica, the model of patience, Heimann writes,

[P]atience is a virtue that helps us, out of our love for God, to calmly bear our trials and persevere peacefully amid the sufferings of life. Patience tempers sorrow and prevents excessive anger and complaining.

Each of us experiences trials and sufferings in our lives; physical, mental, and emotional pain are crosses we all carry. If we carry our crosses with patient and humble endurance, uniting our sufferings to those of Jesus on the cross and suffering bravely with him without becoming bitter and resentful, then we grow in holiness. …

The virtue of patience is that habit by which we endure hardshipo so that we uphold the course of action set out by reason. The patient person is not greatly saddened by the things that hurt him. The patient person is able to remain calm in difficult situations and not act out in frustration or anger.

She continues a few pages later, tying St. Monica with the virtue of patience:

Monica witnessed her son, Augustine, living and immoral and decadent lifestyle, which caused her great sorrow and pain. None of the information in St. Monica’s biographies suggests that she had any unforgiveness in her heart, but I am certain that Augustine’s choices must have bothered her a great deal. Her biographies describe her as sobbing, wailing, and pleading with God to convert her son and to release him from a life of sin and debauchery. It must have been quite difficult to see her brilliant son publicly proclaim heresy. Perhaps she had a lot of guilt; maybe she blamed herself for his wicked ways. We don’t know all the details, but we do know that she prayed unceasingly for seventeen years for his conversion. A patient and persistent prayer warrior, Monica never gave up on Augustine, a great sinner, who later became so strongly drawn to the faith that he was made a bishop and was eventually canonized.

The modern model of patience, Heimann’s “everyday hero” approach, is her own father. “While he was kind and gentle,” Heimann writes, “he was not by nature a patient person. However, over time, with practice and the desire to do God’s will rather than his own, he developed the virtue of patience. After all, how can a man who lives in a house with five women and one bathroom not learn patience?”

These are all great elements, but what ties it all together for me is the question at the end of each chapter, “How can we practice the virtue of (in this case) patience?”, followed by “Patience in Action,” a list of practical (and sometimes personally challenging) actions the reader can take.

Pray for the grace to cultivate the virtue of patience. God is more than willing to give us this grace if we just ask him and persevere in prayer. God loves us and desires to give us good things. He tells us: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

What Jean Heimann has masterfully done in this book is something that you’ll value more with each rereading…because yes, this is a book you will reference and revisit and reread. Not only is it a lesson in the virtues, but it’s a close-up of seven saints and an examination of the virtues in light of those saints’ lives. Heimann walks with the reader, sharing her struggles and encouraging us to turn to the saints in specific ways and to take specific actions to begin practicing the virtues.

This is a book for everyone, whether you’re new to the faith, an old hand, or just wondering where you fit in.