During a recent family gathering, my husband, my brother-in-law, and my uncle regaled the gathered group with tales of childhood games. In particular, one that all three of these men, now in their late 40’s through mid 50’s, played was “Church.” Each man took turns relaying how he would use a Ritz cracker or a Necco wafer as communion and the different apparatuses that were used as the paten. Clearly these men had enjoyed those simple games of make-believe even if they never envisioned themselves actually becoming priests. They each grew up in homes that revered the priesthood and recognized it as a sacred call upon a man’s life.When Harriet Sabatini presented Joseph’s Hands to me for publication I could see that Harriet, too, was brought up to honor the priesthood. Harriet, herself a mother of many sons, did not necessarily expect that any would become priests, but rather that each of her children and grandchildren would understand how priests serve God in an anointed way.
I read Joseph’s Hands, which is endorsed by Archbishop Foley of Alabama and Catholic author Bert Ghezzi, and cried. I cried because of the simply beauty in the story and captured in the pictures and also the realization that maybe I hadn’t always valued my own parish priest for the way in which he answered God’s call Joseph’s Hands has that effect on people who read it. While intended to foster vocation awareness among young Catholics in our communities, “Joseph’s Hands” is also a gentle reminder that whether our young sons become priests or not, the vocation deserves our respect.
When Pope Benedict XVI spent time, recently, in the United States, he made a point of privately meeting with victims of the terrible scandals that have rocked our Church. As the mother of three sons I cannot honestly say how, or if, I would be able to come to a place of forgiveness had such an abhorrent act been perpetrated upon any of my boys; however, I also know that there are many priests who have been affected by this for no other reason than the collar they wear.
I am now a fifty-year-old woman who serves as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. I recently had the great honor to bring Communion to my grandfather while he was in hospice care. I am humbled to be part of my church in such a blessed way and yet know, from the depths of my heart, that my church needs more. My church needs young men to respond to God’s call for vocations. My church also needs everyone to gather round her current clergy with love and honor and respect. These men serve God in ways in which none of us are capable. My church, your church, needs us to value and respect the vocation of the priesthood once again. Harriet’s book seems to address all these issues with love and gentleness.
When my youngest son goes off to school each morning he has a ritual. He says, “I love you. Have a good day. God be with you.” And I respond, “And also with you.”
Is God calling my high school freshman to the priesthood? I simply do not know.
What I do know, however, is that our church needs books like Harriet’s in the classrooms, in the religious education programs, and in homes. I was a bit taken aback at an Amazon reviewer of Harriet’s book who said that buyers of Joseph’s Hands should be aware that the young boy in the story becomes a priest. She stated that she felt people ought to know this happens in the story; apparently making it, the story of God giving each person special gifts, less appealing than if the young boy became, let’s say, a baseball player or a doctor or a teacher. I found the comment quite sad and yet indicative of why we may not be making the headway into our priest-shortage problem that needs to be made.
It is my opinion that Benedict understood that his very public apologies, along with meeting victims, was a necessary first step in healing. It seemed obvious to me that these actions stemmed from his heart and not any other agenda. We are being shepherded by an incredible man of God. We are blessed as Catholics with Benedict’s papacy and his call to each of us to embrace our priests while setting the foundation for the future of the priesthood as well.
Harriet’s book, Joseph’s Hands, truly captures both aspects of Benedict’s call. She has also just released it in Spanish and has given permission to offer it for sale in bulk purchases for schools and religious education programs. For more information on bulk purchases of Joseph’s Hands, in English or in Spanish, please contact me at BezalelBooks@gmail.com. Let’s work together to shine God’s light upon the Catholic priesthood.
The following is an author interview with Harriet Sabatini
Your book, Joseph’s Hands, is a beautiful book! Both the message of God’s love for each and every child and the quiet message on the beauty of vocations are so necessary for today’s Catholic children. It is such a timely book, based on what Pope Benedict has said about building vocation awareness in our children. What inspired you?
Primarily, the priest, Fr. Joe Culotta, who I worked with in the parish. Some of his best homilies described personal experiences he went through. This book was inspired by a homily about hands, about fixing things, doing things, using what God has given us. He said with three older brothers that he was always the “go-fer” and consequently never actually fixed anything and the great concern he had about that as a youngster. As I saw him lift the Host up at the consecration I was struck by what his hands were doing – surely the most sublime partnership a human can have! I thought as I left mass, “Someone ought to write a children’s story about that.” Seven years later I sat down and did. As all stories do, it evolved into its own entity – including all vocations and not just the priesthood.
This book is perfect for diocesan and religious education programs for Catholic children. How did you come about receiving Archbishop Foley’s endorsement for Joseph’s Hands?
Archbishop David Foley was the excellent shepherd of the Birmingham diocese and I had the privilege of meeting him at many diocesan functions. His friendliness, his approachableness if you will, encouraged me to write him and ask him for his endorsement. As a tribute to his memory, I had written him weeks before and had not gotten a response when he came to ordain deacons at our parish. At the reception he greeted my daughter, Lara Marie, the illustrator. When he heard the name Sabatini he instantly said, “I received your book and letter from your mother! Tell her I will send her a letter very soon!” He was never too busy to notice anybody or neglect any of his people.
You’ve been on Catholic radio, have received other endorsements from such wonderful Catholic authors as Bert Ghezzi. Did you expect such a reaction to your book?
I put this whole project in God’s hands. When the temptation to be anxious came, and still does come, I have to remind myself that if God wants this to go forward then it will. So I am supremely grateful for all the people who have welcomed and encouraged me — Bert Ghezzi who graciously gave me an encouraging quote, Lisa Hendey of Catholic Mom who wrote such a great review, Teresa Tomeo and Al Kresta who granted me interviews and so wonderfully gave me encouragement! There is a freedom in giving all to God — and I have to laugh at myself when I trade it for anxiety! I didn’t expect the reaction but am powerfully grateful for it and for all the people who have taken the time to give me feedback.
The beauty of Joseph’s Hands is two-fold. It is in the story and in the incredible artwork that your daughter, Lara, provided. Tell us what it was like working with your daughter on this special project.
This question is so close to my heart! Lara is my youngest and truly a friend as well. To work with her on this and our second book, “Isabel’s Sister,” has been a true delight. When she showed me the preliminary sketches of Joseph, I realized that the true art of the book was realized. It was more than I could have asked for. We have a good working relationship — we don’t hold our work so high that we can’t critique it and get it better. This goes for words as well as pictures. Lara has the ability to take what is in my brain and make it so much more expressive. That is truly a source of joy for me.
Joseph’s Hands is also available in Spanish and I understand you work and live in an area with a high number of Spanish speaking Catholics. Please tell me why it was important to you that Joseph’s Hands be translated and available in Spanish.
Our family has been intimately connected with a Mexican couple who have emigrated here. We worked through our “Spanglish” days together — witnessed their growing family and even have a privileged status as godparents. I feel that the influx of our Hispanic brothers and sisters is a great boon to our nation — especially the example of their piety. It is such a great blessing to make this book available to them so that parents can have a tool to guide their children through the maze of opulence in our country. There is great opportunity here but also too much materialism. So I hope that it can influence all children to seek God for their purpose in life.
In coming to know you, Harriet, I have found you to be a humble servant of God. Is there anything else you would like to share regarding your work as an author or your own goals as a Catholic woman?
I don’t know how long I have left on this earth but I am determined to devote it all to God’s work. To this end my husband and I are moving toward a Catholic community here in Trinity Alabama. Our farm is called Marygate — devoted to the love and care of Our Blessed Mother. If God wills, and I underscore that, we hope to build a Catholic chapel, have daily mass and glory of glories a bell tower and to ring the Angelus. We already have the bell! Hopefully Marygate will be here for all people who need healing, love and respect. I personally hope that my love for animals will play a part in this.
My love for writing and the many ideas I have for children’s books makes me grip very hard to my plan. I want it so badly that I have learned to thrust it away — to absolutely give it to God so that He might use it if it is useful. I am so very grateful for the two books that have been published AND most importantly the personal feedback I have received. If they can influence just one person then God’s will is done. If He allows me to write more – wow!