A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles
by Justin Calanoso

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Let’s hear it for mediocrity

Monday, March 29th, 2010

A year ago, a reader wrote to congratulate me on being, as I accuse myself late in my book, “a mediocre Catholic.” I thought it a strange thing until he explained: if there were more people of mediocre faith, the world would be a much less violent place….Another example:

WASHINGTON, March 29 — Nine members of a Michigan-based Christian militia group have been indicted on sedition and weapons charges in connection with an alleged plot to murder law enforcement officers in hopes of setting off an anti-government uprising.

First anniversary

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

One year ago today, My Cousin the Saint was released across the United States and in Canada. It was a pretty thrilling day, and has been a very gratifying year. I’ve had the opportunity to give more than three dozen radio and newspaper interviews, had an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, stories published in Catholic and Italian-American magazines and have made more than 60 book talks to groups in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and in New York City.

And through this web site, I’ve received heartwarming notes from readers across the country (and a few farther than that). The book has even connected me with Catanoso relatives I had never met before in the United States, Argentina and Brazil (Thiago Catanoso of Sao Paolo even visited me in NC last summer!). I am enormously pleased that my story of faith, family and miracles has resonated with so many people.

With the paperback due out in about a month, I am hopeful it reaches even more. Thank you all for reading and being in touch.

Online review

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Kate Wicker, who writes a popular blog on themes of faith and family, offers a thoughtful and thorough review of My Cousin the Saint today. The review is here.

An excerpt: “Catanoso describes himself as a ‘mostly lapsed, mostly doubtful Catholic’ and considers his spiritual life as little more than an afterthought. He remembers the ‘forced march to Mass every Sunday.’ He questions some of the Church’s teachings and in fact does indulge in a bit of rationalization by citing Garry Willis’s Why I Am a Catholic, a book that criticizes some of the core beliefs of Catholicism. At first, I admit I ‘tsked, tsked’ at the few passages that seemed to trivialize some of the Church’s teachings. But then I stopped myself and realized I had no grounds to scorn this seeker. Really, who am I to judge? Haven’t I, like Catanoso, been Catholic in name only during parts of my life?”

What C.S. Lewis meant

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

A clear and compelling essay by Joseph Schriftman on the nature of miracles, as defined by C.S. Lewis, one of the great Christian writers and thinkers of our time.

Schriftman writes: “Thus C. S. Lewis wrote Miracles, where he presses the question about the reliability of the Gospels to an even more essential question: ‘Can the events told in the Gospels – including their miracles and predictive prophecies – happen at all, or are they absolutely impossible?’ ” The entire essay is here.

A blog review: Happy Catholic

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Julie Davis, who skillfully and lovingly manages the blog Happy Catholic, reviews My Cousin the Saint today. The review is here. It’s also here at Catholic Media Review and here at Catholic Online. Julie has generously invited me to contribute a guest post to her blog next week. Here’s an excerpt from her online review:

“In some ways, Catanoso’s story is the dream of every American whose family lost their roots when they came to this country. He receives an email one day from a woman who wonders if they might be related. It turns out that the American branch of the family has long been missing a deep heritage rooted in the Italian countryside. As well, Catanoso discovers that his grandfather’s cousin, Padre Gaetano Catanoso, is being considered for canonization. This unbelievable news, prompts a family visit to Italy where they are lovingly embraced by their newly found relatives and where they begin hearing stories about ‘the saint.’ “

Kind words

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Happy Catholic, a blog where I will soon have a guest post, has some nice things to say about My Cousin the Saint in today’s post — here. Scroll down to “Stacked up.”

Answering questions, part II

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

As promised, here are the answers to more questions left last week at the blogs bleeding espresso and My Bella Vita:

Q: Had you lost your faith…and did this make you find it again?” (oops that’s a two part question. Because I also wanted to ask: Did your wife slap you upside the head when she read the above passage [referring to the posted story I wrote "Almost like falling in love]? LOL Sorry. Couldn’t resist./This eclectic life

A: Last question first. No, my wife didn’t slap me. She laughed. We’ve been to Italy several times together, and she’s pretty used to me swooning over the beauty that seems to be everywhere. She swoons as well! How could we not? As for my faith – lost and somewhat found – this truly is a major theme in my story so I don’t want to give away too much here. Let’s just say that I fell completely away from Catholicism after high school and it took a canonized relative to draw me back.

Q: Before your trip to Calabria in 2003, did you spend a lot of time Italy? What role did religion play in your day-to-day life? Nyc/Caribbean ragazza

A: When my wife and I married in 1984, we spent two months traveling through western Europe, 10 of those days in Italy — Venice, Padua, Florence and Rome. It was a glorious experience, and we vowed to return when our children were old enough to take it all in. Our return to Italy took 19 years. I’ve been back four times since then. Regarding religion, it played only a minor role in my life prior to researching and writing my book.

Q: Can we hear the NPR interview somewhere [this commentary led to me being able to write the book]? Fern

A: Yes, just click here. It’s less than four minutes long and aired Oct. 20, 2005, three days before the canonization.

A: In 1984, during a two-month honeymoon tour of Western Europe, my wife and I spent 10 glorious days in Italy – Venice, Padua, Florence and Rome. We didn’t return for 19 years, but that time with our three daughters. Prior to writing this book, religion played a very small role in my day-to-day life.

Q: If you return to Italy again, please promise that you will take your wife and daughters. I, too, am catholic, and wish I knew more about my religion. Question for you: does it all make sense now? Marmie

A: I’ve taken my wife and daughters to Italy, including Calabria twice since 2003. And we were all together for the canonization in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 23, 2005. And last March, my wife and I went back to Calabria so that the relatives could see the book (I had galley copies to share). I have every intention of visiting my Italian relatives as often as possible, and no intention of ever going back alone. As for Catholicism. I feel like I am a few steps down a very long road. Some things make a bit more sense to me – the rituals of the Mass, the meaning of saints, the tangible comfort of prayer. But the great mysteries of the Church remain mysteries to me.

Q: Has your Italian improved in the past years since visting Italy and doing your research? Carla

A: Yes, relatively speaking. When I made my first trip to Calabria in 2003 with my family, I had no Italian. Upon my return, I started studying on my own, settling on the Pimsleur language training system. I found it extraordinary. Over the next four years, I completed all three levels, some 90 30-minute lessons. I am far from conversant, unfortunately, but I can enough to communicate at a basic level.

Q: When Dorthy Day was called a saint her response was “I won’t be dismissed so easily” (That’s one of my all time favorite quotes). So Justin, What do you think St Gaetano’s response would have been if someone called him a saint?

A: I think Padre Gaetano would have said, “I am not worthy of the honor.” Among his many virtues was his humility. He called himself “the little donkey of Christ.” My Calabrian relatives who knew him tell me would not have approved of the fuss and expense expended over 25 years to ensure his canonization. But like Dorothy Day, Gaetano Catanoso was a saint in the truest sense of the word. He and she lived lives of heroic virtue in service to others.

Q: What does it feel like to be related to a saint? Joanne

A: One of the central questions in my book is this: what does it mean to have a saint in the family, does it mean anything at all? I spent the better part of 300 pages addressing that fundamental question. I wasn’t sure there was a compelling answer when I started my research for this book, but I learned otherwise after spending the better part of a month in Calabria in the summer of 2006 with my Italian relatives there, many of whom knew the saint personally (he died in 1963).

Q: Do you think you reconstructed the episode exactly or do you think you were guided in part from Saint Gaetano who motivated you to write your book? Thanx From Australia

A: It’s hard for me to separate out how hard I had to work for so long to complete this project, with the great luck and good fortune I experienced along the way to make it actually happen. Did St. Gaetano play a role? I won’t argue against that.

Q: Did your trip to Calabria, finding new/old relatives, discovering Italian lifestyle and the research about your cousin the Saint change your attitude towards religion? Do you believe in God (now?/before?/at all?) suzie

A: To answer these questions here would be to reveal 85 percent of the book!

Q: I think what you are doing is brave and admire your goal and aspirations. Today so many people criticize the Catholic church for so many things. How do you think this book will help other Catholics be brave? And able to open up more about there lives in the Catholic church? Thanks, Lainey

A: I don’t know how brave I’m being, but I did strive to be honest, as honest as possible about some deeply personal things when writing my book. The Catholic Church gives many reasons for someone like me to walk away and stay away — particularly when church leaders become politicized, exclusionary and judgmental. I have been fortunate. I have found a church where I feel welcomed, which focuses on the true meaning of the faith, which doesn’t make socio-political demands which exceed its moral authority. I am comfortable there.  But I still wrestle with many questions, concerns and doubts. In college, I had a mentor about whom I write about in Part II of my book who told me — “it’s ok if you don’t believe everything the church teaches, just believe what you can.” That piece of advice has resonated with me for more than 25 years.

Q: What’s changed for you (faith-wise) since your book was published? Donna

A: I joined a church – St. Pius X in Greensboro, North Carolina. That’s an enormous change.

Answering questions, part 1

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

My new friends in Calabria who hosted me this week on their blogs bleeding espresso and My Bella Vita have been fielding some great questions for me about My Cousin the Saint. I’m going to provide some answers in the coming week starting now:

Q: How did your research change or confirm your belief and thoughts of miracles? Andrea

A: My research changed my notion of miracles dramatically – not only my reading, but the interviews I conducted with priests at the Vatican in the pope’s office of saint making. These days, I no longer use the phrase “it’s a miracle” lightly or randomly. The Catholic Church’s definition of a miracle is precise and exacting. A miracle is never luck, never a coincidence. It is, as a great saint once said, “beyond the order commonly observed.” Sticking with the definition, miracles are divine and supernatural, gilded by grace and understood only through faith – like Lazerus rising from the dead. The church tells us that only God performs miracles, often through the intercession (call it lobbying if you like) of those close to Him – the saints.

Now – do I believe this stuff? I can’t say that I always do. I’m still skeptical and doubtful. But I’ve studied the miracles attributed to Saint Gaetano, I’ve met an Calabrian woman who the Vatican said was the recipient of a miracle, I’ve heard moving miracle stories from my Italian relatives. My research and my experiences have challenged my skepticism. Today, I am far more open to the idea of miracles than I was before this saint wandered into my life a few years ago.

Q: My question is…are you a victim of Stendhal’s Syndrome, or do you feel that you are able to take an objective look at Italy, Catholicism and saints in general? (Maybe I have to read your book myself to find the answer to my question!) saretta

A: Once I looked up the meaning of the syndrome, I must confess, I suffer from it on every trip to Italy – in the best way! I’m dizzy and delirious and eager to absorb far more than I can take in at once. I get over it before too long, and when I do, I can see the country more objectively – like it’s myriad aggravations and faults, especially in the south.

Q: My question is this: What has this whole experience done to and for your children and has it changed them at all? Susan

A: More than anything, my daughters are enormously proud and knowledgeable about their Italian heritage. I was far older than them before it came to me.

Q: Of all the stories you heard as you did your research, which one affected you the most, and why? Jen

A: Learning about my immigrant grandfather, Carmelo Catanoso of Chorio, who died long before I was born was extraordinary. But hearing a miracle story from a favorite cousin in Calabria, Patrizia Catanoso, gave me chills. Her moving story starts the book.

Q: Had you prayed to saints before you found this out about your family? Suebob

A: Never. But now I do regularly, at least to the one I know best.

(more Q&A to come)


Book club questions

Monday, September 29th, 2008

As I receive reader feedback, I am hearing that book clubs are reading My Cousin the Saint. That’s wonderful! To help with the discussion that is the heart and soul of every book club (until it veers off into good friends catching up with each other’s lives!), here is a set of questions to consider:

1.      How would you describe southern Italy at the turn of the 20th century? How did Catanoso’s description of the land, the long history and the people surprise you? What role did those conditions play in the “great wave” of Italian immigration to America between 1880 and 1920?

2.      The central characters in Part I are cousins Gaetano Catanoso, the eventual saint, and Carmelo Catanoso, the author’s grandfather. How does the tenor of the times influence both men as they pursue their own profound, interior callings?

3.      My Cousin the Saint is divided into three parts – Faith, Family and Miracles. Each part begins with a short miracle story. How do those miracle stories set the tone for the chapters to follow in each part?

4.      Why does the Catholic Church, which has been doing so for 2,000 years, name saints? What is your reaction to the intricate, complex nature of this process?

5.      Pope John Paul II is still criticized by some for naming so many saints. This point is addressed in the book. Do you believe the criticism is fair?

6.      If you learned you had a saint in the family, someone whom the Vatican declares has actual miraculous powers, what would you pray for?

7.      Did reading this book temper your views on the Catholic Church or Catholicism?

8.      A central theme of Part I is America as a land of opportunity, and of biases and prejudices against recent immigrants. How does this story illuminate the current controversy over legal and illegal immigration?

9.      Catanoso, a lapsed Catholic, returns to church following the canonization of his relative and eventually comes to see that being lapsed, skeptical and doubtful is far more common in the church than he imagined. How does this story prompt you to reflect on your own faith or lack thereof?

10.  Catanoso goes off in search and faith and finds his family – scores of them in another country, most of whom don’t even speak English. It was almost as if they had been expecting him for 100 years. How much do you know about your own family history? If you connected with long-lost relatives in another place or country, what would expectations be? Is this something you would like to do?

Enjoy the discussion!


Sarah Palin: fact and fiction

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Sarah Palin has made her conservative faith and ideological beliefs a prominant campaign issue. She was selected in part because of those beliefs, which appeal so strongly to the Republican base which neither likes nor trusts John McCain, who has long been a moderate on most issues until a few months ago. As more information comes out regarding the real Sarah Palin, it’s important for eveyone to consider her candidacy very carefully.

On the New York Times web site now: “Ms. Palin walks the national stage as a small-town foe of “good old boy” politics and a champion of ethics reform. The charismatic 44-year-old governor draws enthusiastic audiences and high approval ratings. And as the Republican vice-presidential nominee, she points to her management experience while deriding her Democratic rivals, Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden as speechmakers who never have run anything.

“But an examination of her swift rise and record as mayor of Wasilla and then governor finds that her visceral style and penchant for attacking critics — she sometimes calls local opponents “haters” — contrasts with her carefully crafted public image.

“Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials.”

The entire story is here.

UPDATE: And this from the Washington Post today: “Palin says her time as mayor taught her how to be a leader and grounded her in the real needs of voters, and her tenure revealed some of the qualities she would later display as governor: a striving ambition, a willingness to cut loose those perceived as disloyal and a populist brand of social and pro-growth conservatism.

“But a visit to this former mining supply post 40 miles north of Anchorage shows the extent to which Palin’s mayoralty was also defined by what it did not include. The universe of the mayor of Wasilla is sharply circumscribed even by the standards of small towns, which limited Palin’s exposure to issues such as health care, social services, the environment and education.”