Have you ever encountered a story – whether in the form of a book, film, television – that seemed written especially for you? As I immersed myself in the fictional town of Narbrook, PA, page after page left me marveling at the magnificence and relevance of “The American Tragedy” trilogy – Fatherless, Motherless, Childless – authored by Brian J. Gail.
Beginning in the 1980s and concluding around 2030, Gail journeys through the real-life ramifications as his characters face conflicts surrounding the sexual revolution affecting their professional and family lives. Father John Sweeney serves as the spiritual guide to his beloved parishioners, among whom are Maggie Kealey, Joe Delgado, and Michael Burns.
It was a delight to journey with the characters along their unique trials, so excellent was Gail’s character development. I found myself laughing, sorrowing, and even at times perplexed at these seemingly real humans.
Maggie, oh Maggie – how I delighted in her gradual transformation from a wife and mother who struggled with migraines all the way to the founder of a NFP clinic and takes on Planned Parenthood (called Proper Parenthood in the trilogy) in a lawsuit for the crime of refusing to provide the abortion pill to a young girl.
Through the characters of Joe Delgado and Michael Burns, I received insights into the cynical, at times creepy business world.
Father Sweeney allowed me glimpses into the life of a parish priest and provided me with deeper appreciation for all the priests with whom God has blessed me. I very much related to his discovery/realization of the fullness of truth as described in Fatherless: “For the first time since he was ordained he truly hungered and thirsted for truth — the simple timeless beauty of it, the raw yet ineffable power of it, the magnetizing allure of it” (Fatherless, 469). In the epilogue of Motherless, Father Sweeney shares with a brother priest where he finds his peace and joy:
“In being permitted to walk the walk with the people of God. In helping to facilitate their sacramental encounter with Christ. In watching as He reveals Himself to them, and them to themselves… Earning their trust by challenging them to live as they know they ought. Exhorting them to give themselves away, to accept suffering, to seek the will of God in their lives, and to find their peace… their joy… in their crosses.” (Motherless, 508)
While I personally usually prefer non-fiction books regarding Catholicism, this rare gem in Catholic fiction provided “real-life” insights not found in theological works. It’s one thing to explain the reasoning of various Church teachings, but sometimes, illustrations prove much more powerful in depicting the “how’s” of living out the Catholic faith in the familial and professional spheres of daily life.