Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Jake Martin, SJ — Part Two

Previously on Random Acts of Momness, I spoke with Jake Martin, SJ about comedy and faith (two things he knows well).   Here’s the rest of the interview.  (And if you like what you read here, check out his great book What’s So Funny About Faith?  A Memoir From the Intersection of Hilarious and Holy).

 

 

If you could meet any spiritual giant, dead or alive, whom would you like to meet?

Again, I’m going to go with two, male and female.  Therese of Lisieux and Ignatius of Loyola.  I’ve pretty much devoured everything that can be read by and about Therese, I just find her “little way” to be incredibly practical; she’s truly a contemporary saint for contemporary times, despite what the superficialities of her story would lead you to believe.

Ignatius is just my hero, I identify with his story so much, moving from a place of desire for fame to a desire to serve God.  Again, I just find him very relatable, and he really does seem like he would be really cool to hang out with.  To steal a phrase from my high school students, he seems like he would be “very chill”.

I’m a mom, and lots of my blog readers are moms.  If you could thank your mom for any one thing, what would it be?

Giving me a deep and profound understanding of what love is.  My mother’s love for me is astonishing, when I think about all that she’s given me, her protection, care, concern, guidance, if I think about long enough I’m stunned and humbled by the depth and constancy of her love for me.

You talk about how comedy is often a way for us to vicariously enjoy the world the way it should be, to get a satisfying glimpse of just desserts (like the snobby rich person getting a pie in the face).   You write, “What comedy does – however fleeting and momentary it may prove – is empower the vulnerable and give a voice to the voiceless.”  Is it a stretch to call comedy a path towards social justice?

Not necessarily.  I do think that shows like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show do hold a mirror up to our world and ask us to take a hard look at the behavior and the decisions being made by people in positions of power.  Of course on the first level these shows are entertainment, but I don’t think you can walk away from them without in some way questioning the things that our society values.  It’s certainly not “in the trenches” so to speak, but these type of shows definitely raise questions that—for those willing to seek answers—call for action. 

When it comes to comedy, I think we all have a favorite movie scene/episode/standup routine that never gets old.  What’s yours?

Probably the stand-off sequence between all the various news anchors in the movie Anchorman, it consists of so many really funny people: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Dave Koechner, Steve Carrell, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and the scenario is hilarious and its played out perfectly.  I’ve seen the film too many times to count and some parts of it aren’t as funny as they used to be, but that one still gets me.

What’s one thing you know now about God that you didn’t know ten years ago?

Ten years ago I was a agnostic posing as an atheist so…I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that God loves me (and you) in my brokenness, that God’s love transcends all of my preconceptions, and ideas about what God is and what God is supposed to do.

What’s so funny about faith? — Part One of an interview with Jake Martin, SJ

A few weeks back, I wrote about Jake Martin’s terrific book   What’s So Funny About Faith?  A Memoir From the Intersection of Hilarious and Holy.   Jake is a professional comedian who followed the call to enter the priesthood, and the book features all kinds of fascinating insights into both comedy and faith.  Jake is  a Jesuit comedian and writer whose work has appeared in America Magazine, Busted Halo and the Huffington Post. He is currently studying theology in Berkeley, California, and it’s a pleasure to share Part One of my interview with him below. Thanks, Jake!

In a few sentences, give us a sense of what your book is all about.

In the most simplistic sense, the book is about my attempts to reconcile my life as a comedian with my life as a person of faith, more specifically as a Jesuit.  But in a broader sense it’s about the apparent disconnect I think that all of us encounter between the world of popular culture and the world of religion/spirituality.  I’m not unusual in that television and film were a huge part of my personal development, but at the same time Catholicism also played a huge role in shaping who I am, and this book is about bridging that gap.  It never felt right to me that these two things (faith and popular culture) had to exist in separate spheres, I felt that there was some overlap, that just in the same way someone could encounter God in DaVinci’s The Last Supper, so too could someone also find God in an episode of Roseanne.

 Are there aspects of life as a professional comedian that prepared you well for the priesthood? 

Well, I think the obvious one is the public speaking part.  Everyone would always say to me when I was discerning my vocation to the Jesuits, “Oh well, you’ll give great homilies because you’re a comedian.”  The jury is still out on that one.

However, another thing that I don’t think is as readily apparent about comedy is that the truth is always there…well at least in good, comedy.  I was taught improv by some pretty amazing folks who always emphasized the importance of “truth in comedy,” how what is funny is what is true, that you don’t have to manufacture things to get a laugh.  The fundamental honesty of who you are and what life is, is much funnier than anything you could  make up.  And I think that honesty, that authenticity, has served me well as I became a Jesuit and prepare for the priesthood.

There’s definitely a stereotype that people who are religious have no sense of humor.  Where do you think that stereotype comes from? 

Well, I think it’s the matter of reverence, at least in the Catholic tradition, that idea of standing in awe before God.  Being raised Catholic I know that going to Mass when I was a child was always about paying attention and being quiet and doing what you’re told when you’re told.   I don’t think that’s a bad thing either, there is definitely a time and place for it.  But I guess when it becomes “God is serious business all the time” that problems arise.  I think it’s an easy trap to fall into, but with it you lose a lot of the joy that’s there.  Joy and humor go hand in hand and I think it’s an important to remember.

If you could meet any comedic giant, dead or alive, whom would you like to meet?

Well, from my own personal experience of comedians, sometime it is better not to meet them face to face.  Being funny on stage does not necessarily equate with someone you ever want to spend time with; but if I had to choose, it would probably be Gilda Radner or Richard Pryor.  I don’t think I could pick between the two.  Gilda was the first person I ever saw on television who made me laugh and watching her old sketches today she still does.  Pryor was just a genius, who had such a difficult life and while he probably wasn’t a delight to be around, I would like to know how his mind works.

Come back Thursday for Part Two, in which Jake shares his thoughts on comedy as a path to social justice and reflects on the best gift his mom gave him.

Interview with Mary Curran Hackett, author of Proof of Heaven

A boy with a rare heart condition, a single mom who will try anything to save him, a cynical but loving uncle, a doctor who has suffered his own personal tragedy: these are the four main characters in Mary Curran Hackett’s thought-provoking new novel Proof of Heaven.  

It’s a book with a fascinating premise:  the little boy Colm has a rare condition in which his heart and his brain are at war with each other, which causes him to “die” at random moments before being resuscitated.  This dying gives him a certain perspective on faith, one that is at odds with the beliefs of his mother Cathleen, who hangs onto the Catholic faith of her childhood as a way to find solace for herself and healing for her little boy.   It’s a beautiful read; the plot (especially the ending)  really made me think about spirituality, about what it means to believe in heaven and how exactly to define heaven in the first place.   There’s a lot to chew on in this story, and I love how the characters each bring a different perspective to the big questions we all ponder.  (I’ve also decided that I want a doctor like the fabulous Dr. Basu!).

So it’s an  honor to have the author Mary Curran Hackett here as a guest, sharing some fascinating insights about the experience of writing (and in some cases, living) the novel.  Welcome, Mary, and congratulations on the new book!

As you explain on your website, the story of Proof of Heaven was inspired in part by your own heart condition, as well as by a terrifying experience in which your infant son suddenly lost consciousness. What was it like to write about real-life experiences as fiction? 

I have always found it much safer to write fiction than nonfiction. I feel a bit more free to express my feelings, because I don’t have to worry whether or not I am remembering things perfectly or if I am causing some harm to another person whom I know and love by revealing too much. So whenever I need to process something I turn the real into the unreal and remove myself completely. Once I let my characters take over, I find it so liberating. I actually wrote the first chapter of my book, as somewhat of a purge, an exercise really. I didn’t even see it as a “chapter” of anything. I had no intention of writing a book. In fact it was entirely coincidental that I found the file several years later.

What was the most challenging part of writing the book? 

Staying awake. I wrote the book in a two–week burst after an agent, who read what is now the first chapter, asked for the entire book. Only problem: I didn’t have an entire book. I knew I had to take advantage of a “yes” from an agent, and so I told her I needed a couple of weeks to “tidy up the manuscript.” (What I really needed to do was write the book.) Long story short: I worked every night for two weeks and wrote straight through 2 weekends. I also did it all with my children underfoot. I still had to drop them off and pick them up at school, go to work, make meals, move laundry––and everything in between you can imagine a mother needs to do on any given day. I also was working as an editor and teaching two classes at University of Cincinnati at the time too. My husband was super helpful though and stepped in every night at 6:30 after he arrived home from work. He cleaned up after dinner and helped with the kids’ homework and their nighttime routine. I wrote till dawn, slept a couple of hours, got up and went to work––and started all over again each night. I finished the book two weeks after I started it on October 31st, 2009, just a few minutes before I took the kids out to Trick–Or–Treat. (I promptly crashed sideways on my bed afterward and slept for 18 hours).

I really love your descriptions of Assisi, home of St. Francis. Was that section based on a real pilgrimage? 

Thank you! I loved writing that chapter. Assisi made it easy. I just had to write what I saw. And magic just happens––because, well, it’s Assisi. I had traveled there several years ago for my job as a book editor for St. Anthony Messenger Press. The Province was kind enough to send me there to understand the Franciscan mission and history. Because I spend a lot of time editing books about Francis and Clare, I initially saw the trip less as a pilgrimage and more as a “research” trip for my daily work. But it turned into being so much more. I made wonderful friends, fell in love with Italy, and as it turns out, I came home with a lot of material for a novel I had not even known I would one day write.

Faith is such a huge part of the book, and it’s something that so many of us struggle to understand and hold onto. If you had to share one thing that you know for sure about faith, what would you say? 

You know, I think this is a fascinating question. While I think faith is part of the book, I actually think it plays a small part. Funny? I know the title itself might lead people to think I am going to telling people what to believe, and perhaps some are hoping I prove heaven’s existence (or at the very least my proof matches up with theirs), but I had an entirely different objective and perspective. The characters all have different experiences and paths, and therefore different ideas about what faith, love, and life is or isn’t. To answer your question though: For me, the only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing. (Yes, I ripped that from Socrates. But it’s true.) That’s why I tend to say “I believe” and not “I know” when it comes to talking about faith. All I can say is I’m in it with the rest of the world––I am just wishing, hoping, praying and trying to do my best every day to be a good person and not mess up my kids (and the world) too much while I am trying to figure it all out.

 In the book, Cathleen’s faith is instilled in her by her mother, and Cathleen in turn tries to share that faith with her son. What’s one spiritual tradition that you learned from your mom and are now passing to your own kids? 

Oh, wow. My mom is big on tradition and spirituality. I am afraid I am a terrible protégé in that regard. She prayed the Rosary every day, went to Mass nearly as much. She also went through a stack of prayer cards before she even got out of bed in the morning. She worked for the church, and spent most evenings when she wasn’t with her eight kids at some church–related event. She also had more Jesus and Mary going on in our hallways and bedrooms than most modern churches do today. As a kid, I thought it was all a bit much. She was entitled to her devoutness though and that’s what worked for her, but it’s not something that works for me and my family. In fact I did try to put a statue of Mary in my bedroom and my husband thought it was a bit freaky (Full disclosure: the statue was encased in glass, lace–trimmed and gilded! He had a point. Needless to say, my mom took it off my hands last time she was in town.) While I don’t say the rosary with my kids, we always say a prayer together at dinner and we always talk about something going on in the world––just like my mom did with us. I love to hear what my kids are praying for, what they’re thinking about, what their doubts are, and how they’re learning how to be compassionate, grateful, and a part of the world that is so much bigger than them.

For more information on Proof of Heaven, visit Mary’s website.  

Saints and motherhood: An interview with Lisa Hendey

As you know, I’m a huge fan of the saints, and I’m always eager for new ways to connect with them.  That’s why  A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms by Lisa Hendey (founder of CatholicMom.com)  is pretty much a dream come true.

In the book, Lisa looks at fifty-two saints through the lens of motherhood, showing how each one can enrich the lives and spirituality of today’s moms.   This is what makes this book so wonderfully different from the other saint stories I’ve read: it’s totally geared towards the spirituality of motherhood.   I would never have thought that single guys like St. Patrick or St. Jerome could have direct relevance to my life of microwaving chicken dinos and tripping over toys, but Lisa’s marvelous book shows me that they do.   (Her book has also introduced me to some pretty fabulous mom-saints I’d never heard of before.) At first,  I’d  intended to treat the book as a devotional (it can be used that way, meditating on one saint for every week of the year). Once  I started, though, I was so captivated that I couldn’t stop; I kept reading and learning and getting inspired, which is what I’ve learned to expect from Lisa’s writing.  (Over the last year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with her several times, and she’s just as engaging and wise in person as she is on paper).

As if the book itself weren’t treat enough, I got to ask Lisa some questions about the saints, and I’m thrilled to share her answers here.    Thanks for being my interviewee, Lisa — and enjoy the launch of your book!

 I can imagine a mom saying, “The saints were nothing like me … they lived hundreds of years ago, many of them in convents and monasteries, and didn’t have to juggle the demands of raising kids, running a household, and working outside the home at the same time.  How can they possibly relate to my life?”  What’s your response to this?

I’d invite them to read the stories of amazing women like St. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Margaret of Scotland, both royalty but also mothers concerned with the souls of their spouses and children and with living faith-filled lives themselves. I’d introduce them to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a physician, and St. Margaret Clitherow, a businesswoman, both working mothers who faced many of the same challenges we face in our daily lives. And finally I’d point them to the Blessed Virgin Mary — the ultimate mom — who knew so many of the joys and sorrows we mothers face every day in raising our children. The saints were every bit “real” people who often stumbled along their paths to heaven, which is what makes their stories and their examples of faith even more compelling.

Who is one saint whom you wish were more widely known?  Why?

There are so many “hidden” saints! One of my absolute favorites is St. Josephine Bakhita who was born in Darfur in 1869. Bakhita was kidnapped away from her wealthy family, enslaved, and ultimately taken to Venice, where she eventually found her freedom and a religious vocation. One of the reasons I so greatly love St. Josephine Bakhita was her ability to forgive her tormentors. So great was her love for the poor and the elderly that she served, that she actually gave thanks for the circumstances of her enslavement that led her to find her vocation. We all have things in our lives which “enslave” us — some face bigger challenges and addictions than others. St. Josephine Bakhita teaches me that in trying to live out the Beatitudes in my own life, I can find the path to grace and strength.

 If you had to explain the saints to someone who is not Catholic, what would you say?

The saints are not “magic” or a superstition for Catholics. They are everyday people just like you and I who lived their lives in extraordinary ways, often against the most challenging of circumstances. Their choice to pursue lives of virtue, to seek Christ and to share him with others, often hold great relevance for the obstacles you and I face in our daily lives. Catholics look to saints as role models, and also as prayer intercessors — we don’t pray to them in the same way as we would pray to God. Rather, we ask for their “intercession” on our behalf, knowing that they are a part of the Communion of Saints.

What was challenging about writing this book? 

The same thing that made this book challenging also made it a great joy — the research! Learning intimately about the lives of fifty four people (two chapters feature husband and wife saints) is a daunting task. Historical documents on the lives of the saints are often in conflict, and there is a great deal of “tradition” and mythology that surrounds the accounts of many of the saints. In the end, I did my best to find the most consistent details about their lives. But more importantly, I chose to dwell on my own relationship with each of them, to share the personal aspects of my own friendships with them that make them a special part of my life.

What’s one surprising thing you discovered in the course of writing this book?

I mentioned it above, but I found it surprising how many “wives tales” there are about the saints. I also found it very surprising that so many of the more recent saints had such similar life circumstances to my own. I think it will be fascinating to watch in the next several years as saints who have lived in our times and even have been active in social media are canonized!

Is there a particular saint with whom you’re developing a new relationship?  What is it about him/her that speaks to you at this point in your life?

I have discovered a beautiful new relationship with  Saint “Mother” Theodore Guerin. I discovered Mother Guerin in my research and learned that she is a patroness in my birth state of Indiana. Mother Guerin desired a vocation to the religious life, but the murder of her father in France left her caring for her family and she was a relatively late vocation. Her life as a missionary sister took her all the way to Indiana, where she founded health facilities, orphanages and schools. She was — like I am — likely the last person anyone would have predicted to accomplish the amazing things she did in life. But she fervently believed in God’s providence. She said something which gives me great purpose and hope in my own life: “What must we do to become saints? Nothing extraordinary — only that which we do every day — only do it for the love of God.”

I’m the mom of two boys, just as you are.  Are there any saints that you feel are particularly relevant to mothers of boys?

I am perpetually in conversation with St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine! St. Monica spent years praying for a son who was venturing down a very unholy path in his life. She never gave up hope that her son could find true faith and conversion, and in the end her trust in God was confirmed. St. Monica is a companion for me when I worry about my sons (which I do every day of my life) and her trusting perseverance reminds me that praying with and for my boys is probably the most important thing I do each day.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the saints, or motherhood, or faith in general?

Ginny, I thank you for your hospitality in this wonderful place and for allowing me to share a few stories with your readers. I hope your family of readers will enjoy learning a bit more about the saints and that they will also consider A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms not only as a tool for their own spiritual renewal, but also as a way to pray with and for their families. I also invite everyone to visit me over at www.CatholicMom.com, which is not just for Catholics or for moms! We have fun discussing topics related to faith and family and all are welcome!

A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms is published by Ave Maria Press, who kindly sent me a copy of my own.  They also published Lisa’s terrific first book, The Handbook for Catholic Moms.

In which I interview the fabulous Sarah Reinhard

When I started blogging three years ago, one of the very first people I connected with was Sarah Reinhard.   And I have to say, there are few people in the blogosphere who are more supportive than this talented gal.  Over the years, she’s been a great source of techie advice, spiritual inspiration, and online friendship.  Read on for information about her new book, her life in the country, and her [well-justified]  distaste for a certain winged creature.

You’re a writer with many, many irons in the fire!  Tell us a bit about your projects.

My first writing love is my blog, SnoringScholar.com. It’s where I got started and where I keep my writer self rejuvinated, because it’s all fun.

I’ve been working on a number of book projects in the last year, and the first of these is Welcome Baby Jesus: Advent and Christmas Reflections for Families. It’s available through Liguori or on Amazon. Parishes receive special discount and quantity pricing. It’s designed to help families EASILY observe the Advent season, with the goal of welcoming Baby Jesus at Christmas with a new wonder and appreciation for the Incarnation.

What are three things that people should know about you?  (any three!).

1.  I’m a big Catholic geek. This means that yes, I have read the Catechism for fun and yes, I know what “transsubstantiation” means.

2.  I love horses (and so do my husband and kids). Of course, if you’ve followed me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know that. :)

3.  I hate wasps. Lucky for me, God sent us a new house and I can cross “finding wasps in the house on a daily basis” off of my “things to pray about” list.

I’ve lived in urban or suburban places all my life.  You live in a farmhouse,  which to me sounds wonderfully evocative. Am I right to think that living “out in nature” is good for one’s spiritual life? 

Well, Ginny, the good news for me is that I no longer live in that old farmhouse that inspired so many of my, ahem, less joyful moments. (Ah, having to find a new topic for writing…but it’s worth it!) We only moved across the road, and we still own our farm property, so it’s been the best of all worlds for me.

I find God so close to me in the cornfields that surround me and the animals grazing in pastures. I see him in the brilliant sunsets across the vista and in the bright colors of the changing seasons. I find myself growing close to Mary as I consider, while I hang out my clothes in the backyard, how she must have had a very hands-on life so many thousands of years ago.

For me, the space of living in a rural area is refreshing. It gives me room to stretch my mental muscles. Incidentally, I also find that I have had to teach my kids that they have three voices: inside voices, outside-in-town voices, and outside-not-in-town voices.

I’m not sure if I addressed your question or if I recreated it to suit myself, but you should come visit sometime. We’ll let the kids run in the backyard and sip some lemonade on my back porch. Then you can tell me what you think! :)

I met you through the blogosphere because we are both Big Mary Fans.  What are some key words or images that you associate with her?

Mama. That’s the biggest one. In that affectionate term, I find myself reminded that she was–and is–HUMAN, every bit as human as I am. She was a wife and mom who faced challenges. When my kids call ME “Mama,” I think of her, and I think of how, even as imperfect as I am, I can always look to her to help me, guide me, and love me.

What is one thing busy moms can do to enrich their spiritual lives?

As you do that which you hate the most, say a Hail Mary. Don’t stop what you’re doing, but imagine yourself standing beside Mama Mary, working alongside her as you would a favorite aunt or a good girlfriend. Have a conversation in the context of that prayer, and let her lead you closer to her Son.

And then smile. Because there’s something spiritually enriching about smiling.