Sunday, March 9, 2008
My interview with Heidi Hess Saxton
Interview with Heidi Hess Saxton
Behold Your Mother:
Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi Hess Saxton about her newest book, Behold Your Mother. Many of you may know Heidi through her many blogs and as Editor of Canticle magazine. I am delighted to have a copy of Heidi’s book, hot off the press! It’s a beautiful book, colored in Blessed Mother Mary blue and even bears an endorsement from me on the back cover. My endorsement reads, “In Behold Your Mother, Heidi Hess Saxton invites us to tug on Mother Mary’s apron strings to get her attention. Through personal and scripturally based reflections, Heidi offers us a glimpse of our Blessed Mother’s eminence but also her humanness to alleviate our fears of approaching her.”
I think Heidi has crafted a beautiful reflective book about our Blessed Mother that is suitable for both those who may be just getting acquainted with Mother Mary and those who may already feel close to her heart.
Before our interview, here are the words from the inside back cover of Heidi’s book:
"Heidi Hess Saxton converted to the Catholic faith in 1994, after spending thirty years actively participating in a variety of Christian traditions. Having pursued graduate studies (MA.Theo.) at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, Heidi lives with her husband and family in southern Michigan. She is editor of Canticle magazine, and adoptive parent columnist at CatholicExchange.com and CatholicMom.com.
Would you like to read more of Heidi’s work, or invite her to speak at your parish or women’s retreat? Contact her via e-mail at email@example.com, or go to
"Behold Your Mother" for more Mary stories, quotes, images, and reflections from all over cyberspace.
“Mommy Monsters Inc” for “perpetually challenged” parents, especially adoptive and foster parents.
“Silent Canticle” for Catholic writers, especially those who want an inside look at “Canticle” magazine.
“Streams of Mercy” for converts and those who want to know more about God and the Catholic Church."
Heidi begins her Introduction with words from Pope John Paul the Great: “It is certain that just as Mary, the first among the redeemed, was especially close to the Cross of her Son, so she also had a privileged experience of the Risen One.” (Pope John Paul II, A Year With Mary)
Now for our interview:
Donna: Heidi, it’s very exciting that you are releasing your second book, titled, Behold Your Mother just in time for Easter! Would you please tell us a little bit about your book?
Heidi: Behold Your Mother is a kind of love song to Mary, our spiritual mother by adoption. The first section tells the story of I came to know Mary, first as a convert to the Catholic faith, and again as an adoptive mother. The second part consists of forty-eight reflections based on the titles of Mary and the images of her we find in the Scriptures. It’s just a little book – only about 70 pages. But it’s just the thing for someone who wants to understand why Catholics are “wild about Mary.”
Donna: I agree, I think it’s a perfect book to learn more about our Blessed Mother through a nice balance of Scripture, personal stories, reflection and prayer. Would you please tell us about your experience and journey writing this book and why you decided to write about the Blessed Mother?
Heidi: Many Christians – including new Catholic converts – have difficulty understanding or accepting why Catholics honor Mary. They think of her as a woman who “just happened” to be the one God used to bring His Son into the world. She turns up every year in the Christmas crèche, and gets put away with the wise men and shepherds. I was like that, even in the years immediately following my entrance into the Church. But over time, as I took a closer look at what the Church teaches about Mary, I found myself being drawn to her. And when I turned to her, even a little bit, she responded as only a mother can. This book is the result of those years of studying and pondering.
Donna: I like your description about how some people; even Christians view Mary and your analogy with the Christmas crèche. Do you plan to speak or write about the Blessed Mother after the publication of your book?
Heidi: Lord willing, I’d like that. One of my favorite talks to give is the “Seven Words of Mary in Scripture,” and how those seven “words” can lead us to cultivate a deeper prayer life. The reason for this is simple: true devotion to Mary always leads us closer to Jesus and His Father. She never keeps it for herself.
Cheryl Dickow and I are talking about putting together an online study group based on this book. Anyone who would be interested in participating in such a study can contact me at hsaxton(at)christianword(dot)com.
Donna: That is so true that Mary only leads us closer to Jesus and His Father and never holds our honor of her to herself. I know you touched on this a bit already, however I wonder if you think that there are Catholics who may not feel inclined or may even be leery about getting close to the Blessed Mother? If so, why might that be?
Heidi: I’ve met Christians who don’t feel Mary is a necessary part of their spiritual walk simply because they’ve always gone directly to God with their requests (although they see no harm in asking for a friend’s prayer support from time to time). Many such Christians confuse prayer with worship, when the essential character of worship involves sacrifice. (Perhaps consequently, those with the greatest difficulty with Mary tend to be those who struggle to believe in the Real Presence.)
Another group that resists Mary’s maternal efforts is those who are so enamored with the “Queen of Heaven” that they forget she was also Jesus’ human mother. She is not divine by nature (though she is full of the divine life because of Jesus). For that reason, I’ve tried to capture some of the more maternal, human moments in Mary’s life, to remind people of the ordinary life of this extraordinary woman.
Donna: Yes, and I think you do that well in this book and that is why I wrote what I did in my endorsement about Mary’s apron strings and her human side. Do you feel that your book, Behold Your Mother will help the average Catholic to learn more about Mary, possibly even help them to feel more inclined to beseech her?
Heidi: I’ve met people who have told me that the first edition of this book, in which I tell the story about Mary sending someone to sit with me in church three weeks in a row, inspired them to try it (with amazing results!). I hope this will be true for many people.
God loves all His children equally, and knows what each of us need to reach the next step in our spiritual journey. For many of us, that involves a bit of nurturing, something that comes to women naturally. And so, it is no wonder that Jesus gave His mother to us, to help us along. Fortunately, the fact of Mary’s maternity has nothing to do with our response. Whether or not we are ready to receive her ministrations, she stands ready and full of love, just waiting for that first moment of turning toward her.
Donna: That’s a beautiful explanation, Heidi. Was there any point in writing the book when you had to be especially careful that the creative process did not cause you to contradict Marian dogma?
Heidi: I can think of one time, when someone questioned whether it is proper to suggest that Mary had a natural labor and delivery. While we must absolutely assent to those aspects of Marian dogma that have been declared by the Church, including her Immaculate Conception and Perpetual Virginity, there remain some issues connected with the Holy Family that have were debated by the Church Fathers, but have not been declared dogmatically.
One example would be whether Joseph was a widow or a virgin; while many apologists today explain the Scriptural references to Jesus' brothers and sisters by asserting that Joseph had children from a previous marriage, St. Jerome believed that Joseph, too, was a virgin all his life. St. Jerome wrote: "...I claim still more, that Joseph himself on account of Mary was a virgin, so that from a virgin wedlock a virgin son was born. For if as a holy man he does not come under the imputation of fornication, and it is nowhere written that he had another wife, but was the guardian of Mary whom he was supposed to have to wife rather than her husband, the conclusion is that he who was thought worthy to be called father of the Lord, remained a virgin" (Jerome, The Perpetual Virginity of Mary Against Helvedius, 21 (A.D. 383).
I believe the question of how Jesus was brought into the world without violating Mary's perpetual virginity falls in the same category. That she remained a virgin cannot be questioned; how God accomplished this is a mystery. Some of the early Church Fathers believed she could not have experienced these things because she was without original sin, and so they concluded that she would not have fallen under Eve's curse ("In pain will you bring forth children...").
However, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was like us in every way except sin. God, who planted the Word in Mary’s womb miraculously, could have delivered the Infant Christ into the world just as miraculously, without damaging His mother’s hymen. Mary could have endured the natural bodily processes of labor and still remained virginal for the simple reason that God willed it so.
To me, Mary’s virginity and her suffering are really flip sides of the same “coin” of obedience. She was not spared other pain in connection with her motherhood – including having to watch her own son die a criminal’s death. A few hours of labor seem like a trifling thing by comparison … and a natural delivery would have been one more way that the Incarnate Christ was truly “one of us.”
Donna: That is really interesting. Thank you for that detailed explanation. Would you also please tell us a little bit about the process of writing this book?
Heidi: I was asked to write this little book by Jim Manney, now editorial director at Loyola Press. He knew that as a Catholic convert I would handle the subject differently than a cradle Catholic. First, I mined the Scriptures for anything about Mary, and then I scouted around for honorific titles that have been bestowed upon her over the centuries. Finally, I began to meditate on each of the Scripture passages, trying to place myself in the scene. From there the book practically wrote itself.
When the book went out of print, I was disappointed. But then I became a mother myself, and suddenly gained new insight into what it means to be a part of God’s “adopted family” (or, as we call it, his “forever family”). My early experiences of motherhood provided a new dimension to my own relationship with Mary. And as I began to journal about it, I realize that this was the other half of the book … the half that didn’t make it into the original edition. The most important part!
So, when I discovered that Cheryl and I would be speaking at the same women’s conference in April, we sat down and decided that this would be a good time to bring out the book, with the new material and title. I see it as God’s hand orchestrating the circumstances … It’s exciting to see the little book take off.
Donna: That’s really wonderful that when the first door closed (after your book went out of print) the next door opened wide in perhaps an even more perfect manner, because you could then include that whole new dimension and all of the elements that became so alive for you after you became a mother. Heidi, would you mind telling us a little bit about your background and your family life?
Heidi: I was raised in a Christian home, by two parents who believed God answers prayers. I was taught to talk to God every day, and expect that He would both hear me and answer me. Early on, I understood that God loves me and wants me to love Him, too.
Unfortunately, I also became extremely proud of my “relationship with God,” which led me to conclude that I didn’t need anyone else to help me grow. Because He is the best Father, God does not allow His children to remain for long in this condition. Instead, He orchestrated circumstances to bring me off my spiritual high horse. I had to become a child again, ready to receive from God anything He wanted to give me. One of the most important ways He did this was by leading me into the Church.
As I went through RCIA and learned about the “communion of the saints,” I found it an interesting piece of information, but not personally relevant. After all, I felt that I had an “inside track” with God. I had no need for rosaries or for Mary. Or so I thought. Finally, God brought me to a place when I was absolutely alone – across the country from all my friends and family – to make me see that I needed my spiritual family as well. As I allowed myself to get close to Mary, I realized what a gift I had been given. This realization hit me in a new and fresh way after I became a mother, by adoption, to two beautiful children. It was then that Mary’s motherhood to me “clicked.”
Donna: Our Lord, the Divine Physician knows exactly what we need and when we need it, doesn’t He? These really profound experiences oftentimes occur when we are a bit vulnerable and in a position where we must depend only on Him and not our friends or family, I find. Heidi, are there any experiences that you may want to share that may have been responsible in nudging you to write this book?
Heidi: Yes … I write about it at length in Behold Your Mother. My initial tentative efforts to get to know Mary were amply rewarded. A series of events, culminating in the experiences I had with my own children, helped me to understand the adopted love that God has for us, and how that love was demonstrated in a special way when Jesus gave us His loving mother to intercede for us.
The relationship that we build with Mary does not detract from our relationship with God, any more than the relationship my children build with me detracts from their relationship with God. God knows we are not strong creatures, and that we need a lot of help to get us where He wants us to go. So He provides for us these human relationships so that we have the support we need to stay “on track” all the way to heaven.
“I am the Vine, you are the branches,” Our Lord told us. “If you remain in me, and I remain in you, then you shall bear much fruit.” In this life and the next one, we are all one family in Christ … the communion of the saints connects all three branches of the Church (militant, suffering, and triumphant). If we remain close to Jesus, we will continue to bear spiritual fruit in our own lives … and stay connected to our brothers and sisters in faith in this life as well as the next. God is pleased when we stay close to our spiritual family, for in this way we reflect the divine nature, which is a communion of love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Donna: That is indeed a very meaningful Scripture passage. Could you share with us your favorite Scripture passage if you have one?
Heidi: My favorite Scripture passage is Psalms 107:23-30
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works of the deep.
For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men,
and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
I love this passage for many reasons, but especially because I think it's such a beautiful metaphor for the human condition. Only when circumstances
are such that we reach the end of ourselves, stumbling and staggering in utter futility, do we think to cry out to God, who hears and delivers us.
Maybe I love it so much simply because it paints a fairly accurate picture of my own life. (If you read my article in the Lent issue of canticle magazine, you know what I mean.)
For this reason, "Mary, Star of the Sea" resonates with me. She takes pity on her staggering, swaggering, whiney children, and tugs on the sleeve of her Son
saying, "There! Can't you see? DO something!"
And he does. He always does. He draws us to the haven our hearts crave ... he drives us to himself.
Donna: I love your explanation and description of Mother Mary prodding her Son on to help us whiny children! On a personal note, may I ask how your family feels about the fact that you are an author?
Heidi: My children are still young enough that they are happy to see their names in print, and don’t get embarrassed if I talk about them. They like to hear the stories I wrote about over and over, because it is part of their family history. My husband Craig, the world’s most supportive husband, is happy to see me using my gift.
With extended family, the reaction can be a little more complex. No one else in our families are practicing Catholics, and it is difficult to share with them as freely as I can with those who are genuinely eager to hear what I have to say. But I was tickled when my Baptist sister told me that she stayed up all night to read it! “I think I’m beginning to understand why you love Mary so much,” she said to me. “I’m not there yet, but I get it why you are.” That was the greatest compliment I’ve received to date.
Donna: Wow! That’s great! I’m sure that Mother Mary will accomplish the rest in time. Heidi, is there something you’d like to add that I have forgotten to ask you?
Heidi: It’s important to remember that asking the saints – even Mary – to pray for a particular situation isn’t like sticking a quarter in the gumball machine. It isn’t magic, manipulating cosmic forces to do our own bidding. When we ask the saints to pray for us, we are asking them to walk with us as we follow the path God has chosen for us. Sometimes that means you get your miracle. Other times you simply get the strength to endure.
Having said that, God is incredibly generous with His children. He can handle our honest questions, and responds to the heart that is open to receiving from His hand anything He wishes to give. When we ask Mary to pray for us, we must be willing to trust that the answer that comes – even if the answer is “no” or “not yet” – is the answer that best fulfills God’s will for us here and now. Our human experience is one long lesson in trust and faith, and of letting go of things that are keeping us from the perfection God wants to work in us. That means we must continually be ready to offer our “Yes” to God … just as Mary did when the angel appeared to her two thousand years ago.
Donna: Heidi, thank you very much for doing this interview with me at a time when I am sure you are so very busy! I pray that Behold Your Mother may help inspire countless people to come closer to the Blessed Mother who will in turn bring them closer to her Son, Jesus!
You may purchase an autographed copy of “Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert” through Heidi’s website: Heidi's website. Heidi tells us that all copies ordered prior to 3/15 will receive free shipping (if ordered in the continental U.S.). For non-US customers, she asks to please order through Amazon.com.