Review: A New Look at the Saints

Unbreakable: Saints Who Inspired Saints to Moral Courage

On July 24, 2023, TAN Book released Unbreakable: Saints Who Inspired Saints to Moral Courage written by Kimberly Begg with Forward by Leila Miller. While working on a review of Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus: An Introductory Latin Missal for Children, I received a copy of Unbreakable.

The premise of the book is that modern society will present challenges to our children we never dreamed of. The forward by Leila Miller lays out these concerns directly.

But are we at war?

I’m not generally one for battle language. The polarizing us against them turns me off. I’m the “let’s hear each other’s stories and live and let live” type of person. But I’m also a freelancer that works from home in California while homeschooling my children in a Catholic accredited program. We live on a rural acre outside city limits. My husband owns his own business, from which he also works from home, except when he’s playing the organ at our parish.

So while I don’t generally go in for the battle language, I recognize my family isn’t facing the pressures of the workplace or the school place. We don’t have to navigate all the rapid changes that have occurred in language and ideology at the risk of censure.

So maybe her language isn’t all that out of place.

As I sat with the discomfort of my very sheltered, not too curious twelve-year-old reading the reality of her own country promoting abortion, I replayed the words by Beggs early on. We must do all we can to shelter them early, but then we must help them also build the virtue of courage, moral courage.

For my morning prayer, I’m working my way through A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation written by Thomas More as he sat in the tower. In speaking about persecution, he advises that we talk early and often about the lives of the saints, about suffering, about the idea of giving it all up for God, so that children can form these ideas in their minds while they are still safe and comfortable. This will prepare them should the time arise when that comfort is forcibly withdrawn.

Otherwise, we leave them to the utter shock of it should it come unexpected.

Now, I relish the idea of handing my daughter this book.

But that language rarely makes it into the rest of the work. In fact, Begg proceeds with the fantastic tactic of teaching through storytelling.

Great storytelling

Beggs takes the higher, more subtle approach in Unbreakable.

With just enough historical context, Beggs’ storytelling flows extremely well. Without taking too long, she pauses her story of the subject to explain something about the saints who inspired the subject. As we continue reading, we discover how relevant those models were.

The stories are about as long as a lengthy children’s picture biography. Chapter lengths are accessible. The text goes in more mature detail without being too graphic, blunt or long-winded like we might see with a book targeted towards adults.

The connections she draws are remarkable.

Beggs writes with a purpose: to help inspire moral courage in our youth and to instill moral courage in the home educators and parents as they raise youth in a world that is drastically different.

I like the way the author approaches this and her preface. Unbreakable shows without telling, avoiding preaching at the reader. This is the best way a saint story or any story should be written.

But do we need another book of saints?

I say yes.

The three of the four saints presented are young, courageous saints. Beggs argues by demonstration that great faith is not grown in isolation. We are connected to and inspired and encouraged and prayed for by those who have come before us. This aspect of the book makes it stand out. I never asked who St. Margaret was or which St. Catherine appeared to Joan of Arc or why it was St. Michael and not anyone else. And now I know.

Mother Teresa takes up the final story and hers is an important edition. She was neither burned nor tortured. Rather, Beggs highlights that as times changed, and as Mother Teresa addressed different audiences, her messaged changed in an important way.

So our work may be one thing, but when we see a culture suffering so deeply, when given the platform, it is our duty to speak up, out of love, with love, and through love of God and love of neighbor.

We have to tell the bold stories.

As I grew in the faith the emphasis was on demonstrating how relatable saints were to our lives. It was good to read about Therese crying on the staircase, the way Augustine dilly-dallied on his way towards purity, or to read about modern saints who skied and worked.

But, I think the period is coming to a close when we praised the domesticity of lay saints. The ministers I speak with who work with youth tell me it’s the big stories, the big saints, the gigantic roses and lilies in Therese’s garden that captivate teens today.

In this relativistic culture, the willingness to die for truth is revolutionary. No matter what our children will face whether it’s the internal openness of accepting another child with joy, difficulty standing ones ground in the workplace, or refraining from answering questionnaire in a leading way. There is an intense effort to make others conform to a set of beliefs that are at odds with Christian tradition. Navigating those will take prudence, gentleness and probably some cunning.

And we have a tradition, be it Thomas More, the 2015 Coptic martyrs, and the saints portrayed in Unbreakable.

The Greenhouse Effect

Without our roots, we cannot be grounded, when pushed, we will falter. The author presents us with four diverse saints: one medieval female from France, one teenager from Mexico, one teenager from Poland, and old woman from Albania. Four very different governments that each targeted the faith in the specific way.

The more I read, the more I looked forward to handing this book over to my daughter. As I finished the final pages and closed it, Unbreakable left me with the conviction of my responsibility as a parent, not only to raise them in the greenhouse of our home education and faith tradition, but then to pay attention to when the time comes to start hardening them off before they go out into the world. Little by little.

Find Unbreakable: Saints Who Inspired Saints to Moral Courage at TAN Books, Bookshop, Amazon, or request at your local Catholic bookstore.

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