By Sarah Damm
Welcome to WINE’s Summer Book Club where we will read and discuss Blessed Are You: Finding Inspiration From Our Sisters in Faith by Melanie Rigney! We’re so happy you are joining us! We pray this book club will bless you and give you tangible ways to live the Beatitudes in your daily lives. We look forward to hearing from you in the comments section, throughout our time together.
To kick-off our summer book club, it is my pleasure to introduce you to the author of our book club selection, Melanie Rigney, who lives in Arlington, VA, and feels most at peace at her parish’s perpetual adoration chapel.
Q: Welcome, Melanie! Please briefly introduce yourself to our book club participants.
A: I’m a cradle Catholic who left the Church when I was nearly 16, then spent 33 years without a faith life. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t believe in God as that I didn’t think He believed in me. My life, including my 20-year civil marriage, started crumbling. In 2004, I ended up in Washington, DC, a city where I knew two people, in my first federal government job. On Christmas Day 2005, I returned to full communion with the Church, thanks to a lot of God and people. I am grateful every day to be a daughter of the King. I grew up in South Dakota, as one of four children, and lived in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio before landing here in northern Virginia.
Q: How did you first begin your career as an author?
A: I always considered myself a competent writer and an excellent editor, and I’ve been paid to do both, mainly the latter, since I was in high school. But oh, that crazy God; He had other plans. I felt called to write about my return to faith in a memoir that ultimately wasn’t published. But the experience opened the door for me to write for Living Faith and to coauthor with my friend Anna LaNave When They Come Home: Ways to Welcome Returning Catholics, a how-to manual of sorts for pastors and lay parish leaders to establish programs to help “away” Catholics interested in coming back. Then, a good friend and I pitched a devotional book to Franciscan Media. The editor ultimately wasn’t interested, but asked if we’d do one on women saints. It wasn’t my friend’s cup of tea, but I loved the idea and so Sisterhood of Saints was born.
Q: Please share with us how you first heard about WINE and your participation in it.
A: Oh, WINE! Pat Gohn is my go-to spiritual writing mentor. Beautiful, Blessed, and Bodacious rocked my world; it put on the light bulb that I truly am a “spiritual mother” to others, and did a lot to deepen my relationship with Mary. Anyway, so Pat has become a friend, and she mentioned there was this national group, based in Minneapolis, that celebrates women’s unique gifts and seeks to bring them closer to the Lord and to each other. I started reading the WINE blog and following WINE women on Twitter, and loved the sense of community. I was humbled to be asked to write a devotion when Pat’s book was the book club pick, and humbled further to have Blessed Are You selected for the current session. Oh, and of course there was the 90-minute phone call with Kelly Wahlquist, founder of WINE, where it turned out we have a zillion things in common! I’d be in Italy right now for the pilgrimage if I weren’t in the process of selling the condo my sister and I own … and moving a whole block away.
Q: Let’s talk about the book that we’ll be reading this summer! How did you develop the idea for Blessed Are You?
A: I had thought about writing a “brotherhood of Saints” devotional to accompany Sisterhood, but I was asked to come up with some concepts involving women saints. During that time, I was studying the Beatitudes and thought, “The language is so beautiful, but living the concepts is sooo hard.” Then it occurred to me … It’s always been hard to live the Beatitudes, for everyone. But all of us, saints and saints in the making, are called to do it. Jesus did His best work when He told us stories, and so I thought, maybe sharing the stories of how some of these women lived the Beatitudes will help people today … both in drawing closer to the Lord and in seeing that saints are more than icons and prayer cards. They breathed. They loved. They helped. They were persecuted. They persevered because of faith. And we can too.
Q: And how did you decide on the specific saints we will meet in your book?
A: Wow, good question. I knew a bit about a lot of saints, thanks to the gift of writing Sisterhood of Saints. So with Blessed Are You, I wanted to share the stories of women from a variety of time periods and countries with a variety of vocations—wives, mothers, working women, women religious, social workers, martyrs. I also wanted the stories to be somewhat different from what people would expect. For example, while I greatly admire Teresa of Avila as a Doctor of the Church for her writings on prayer, in this book, the part of her life I wanted to share was how she took the Carmelites back to their roots, how the person who sought popularity and admiration when she was young went on to focus on righteousness and gently leading others in her community back to it.
Q: As you were writing Blessed Are You, what beatitude did you feel closest to? And what beatitude challenged you the most?
A: I felt the closest to “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). I think of Peter when he says to Jesus in Mark 10:28: “We have given up everything and followed you.” Every time we “give up” something, it costs us in worldly ways. If we give up on gossiping, it may cost us a spot in the “in” group. If we give up on a dream, as one of the women in this chapter did, it may take us awhile before we understand that God’s plan, or the way He uses our mourning, can bear more fruit than we had ever dreamed. I also felt close to this chapter because it includes Elizabeth Ann Seton, and one of her relics spoke to me back in 2013. As someone who has felt abandoned and alone, her conversion story, the way in which she was comforted, resonates profoundly with me.
I probably struggled the most with Matthew 5:10-11, on persecution. Only one of the women I wrote about was a martyr in the traditional sense; the other three lived through situations that were very difficult and yet continued to trust in the Lord.
Q: As our WINE friends begin reading Blessed Are You, what do you hope they will take away from it?
A: I hope they will take away that we truly are all saints in the making. The women saints want to help you, want to intercede for you. Go back and spend some time with your confirmation saint or another saint you’ve always admired or perhaps always found difficult. What challenges or joys did she have that are similar to yours today? How did she pick up her cross every day and follow? Let her help you. Let your friends here on earth help you. Let Christ help you. While the Beatitudes are daunting, they can be lived, and lived well, if we place ourselves at the Lord’s feet. Learn from the saints, canonized and otherwise.
Q: What’s next for you personally and professionally?
A: Short term, my sister and I are moving, as I mentioned, so that’s top of mind personally. I guess this is a cross between personally and professionally—some friends and I, with approval from our diocese, will be putting together a conference for Catholic women over the age of 40 this October in northern Virginia. I’ve got kind of a quirky idea for my next writing project (yes, it involves women saints) but still discerning whether/how to go about it. I’m also excited that Creative Communications/Bayard asked me to write a booklet that comes out this Advent called Mercy From the Manger. It was a gift to integrate some of Pope Francis’ writings on mercy with the Advent readings and come up with an accompanying prayer.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts you would like to share with our WINE friends?
A: Celebrate the gift of coming together as community that this book club provides. I hope you like the book. I hope you find a new friend among the women in it. But most importantly, I pray you open yourself up to the sistership opportunity WINE offers … and to confidence and trust in the everlasting life the Lord offers.
YOUR TURN: Why are you excited about being part of our summer book club? What do you hope you will take away from it? Share your answers in the comments box below.
Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 1: Spiritual Poverty. For the complete reading schedule and information about our online book club, visit the Read Between the WINEs Summer Book Club page.