Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series: Faith

Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

I think it’s safe to say that faith plays a fundamental role in all Christian fiction, even if the virtue is an underlying theme. You have to have faith in some capacity, otherwise the fiction itself would not be Christian.  But what is faith?

Faith is not a virtue easily defined. In one way, faith is our belief in God. In another way, faith is the trust we have in Him.  Faith doesn’t come from what we Catholics have seen as evidence. Instead, faith comes from what we have learned from scripture, the apostles’ evidence, our church teachings, saint stories, and so on.

Faith is also the belief in the goodness of God’s plan. So, we place our life and our worries in His hands with complete trust in the outcome.  Faith is relying on Him, not money, success, or fame. Faith is putting God in the forefront of our lives and allowing Him to lead us.

“…And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:22)

Faith is easy in good times. When we’re happy, and all is well, and life is going exactly as we “planned,” if not better, we’re more than happy to give thanks to God and put our trust in Him, right? But what about when things are not going our way? What about in times when you can’t even see the end of your struggle; when you cannot fathom a way out; when it seems completely impossible that any good, or any light, or any break will come your way? What about when our prayers are not being answered? What then?

Faith is so much more difficult in times of struggle. I mean, how can we easily believe in a loving God when bad things happen? How can we believe that this same God loves us when adversity consumes us? Wouldn’t He make sure that His faithful are protected from suffering? Wouldn’t He at least answer our prayers?

These are the questions that ten-year-old Benedict asks himself in The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch.  It’s very apparent that Benedict struggles with his faith.  He just doesn’t get it, because in his world of abandonment and pain, he never felt the arms of a loving God. He listens to Martha and David speak of God, and having faith that everything will be okay because God loves them, but it’s a language he doesn’t comprehend; especially when things start looking bad for everyone. Then ten-year-old Micah comes into the picture.

Now, Micah has suffered too by losing everyone that he’s loved, and yet he’s devoted to the Lord. He believes that everything works out for the good, and he understands that God always answers our prayers; and sometimes by not giving us what we ask for because His plan is so much better.

Again, Benedict cannot wrap his mind around this. He doesn’t believe it. He refuses to believe it. In one scene, he says to Micah:

“You think that it’s going to be okay because you don’t know what it’s really like. You haven’t been sent from one messed up house to another. You haven’t been hit, or spat at, or punched for taking an extra cracker at lunch. No, you’ve had grandpa who fished with you, and a mother who sang to you every night. You had it good, so no wonder you have so much faith.” (pg. 111 TDSR)

Micah is the epitome of faith. He remains devoted and thankful to God even when his world is dark. He just knows that God has a handle on his life, and he’ll happily take the good with the bad in the world, because he’s been taught that eternal joy is waiting.

 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will. (Mark 11:22-24)

Freeing Tanner Rose also introduces a character who lacks faith. Tanner Rose has been corrupted by Hollywood from a very young age, and although fourteen when she meets Gabriel, she’s lived an adult’s life. She’s lost in her world and blindly happy for it. She’s afraid of her real self and uses her fame and addictions to hide. But Gabriel introduces her to the Lord, and his faith inspires her. When things get too much for her, she seeks to know, love , and serve Him, but doesn’t know how. Gabriel’s mother tells her, “I had to learn how to believe, but faith seemed to come naturally to him.” (pg. 76-77)

Tanner puts her faith in herself and her own actions, and the stress of this leads her to her addictions. She doesn’t know how to let go. Near the end of this story, when Tanner visits Gabriel and his mother, the boy tries to explain the fundamentals of faith in his own unique style:

“Faith is not a drive-through restaurant, Tanner. You don’t say a prayer and pick it up from the window.” He heard a soft laugh and looked at his mother, who shrugged. “Well, it’s true. God knows what you need, Tanner. You have to trust that He’s taking care of it.” He goes on to say, “You know,” he added, “If you truly believe, whatever you pray for will be yours. Just don’t expect it to come packaged the way you want it to. It will come on His time and in His way. That’s where the faith comes in.” (198-199)

Times of struggle are a real test of our faith, for as we all know, we easily fall apart when things go south in our lives. The best way to get through the dark times is to remain focused on God. But in a world that thrives on immediate gratification, our patience wears thin quickly and our will is weak.

Having true faith is not going to be easy. But it’s not supposed to be. However, it does solidify our devotion to God. If we can remain strong in our faith in the midst of our darkness, our eyes always on our God, then He will be able to guide us out of the darkness. Martha in The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch and Gabriel in Freeing Tanner Rose work hard at trying to convince Benedict and Tanner of this truth. They know that without this faith, we can easily lose our way.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.   Selah (Psalm 62:8)

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The books referenced in this post were The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch and  Freeing Tanner Rose from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of faith? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers 

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Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series: Forgiveness (Mercy)

Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

Forgiveness is the virtue of mercy. When we have the ability to forgive others for the hurts that they inflict upon us, we have the strength of assurance, not just in ourselves but also in God. We’re basically saying, “Yes, you hurt me, but I’m not going to let your hurt bring me down and I’m not going to hold it against you. I understand that you’re human like me, and that you’re prone to sin, like me. And so I will forgive you, because my God forgives me, and who am I not to do for you what my God has already done for me.”

Wow! Imagine being so confident in ourselves and who we are in our own eyes and in God’s, that we aren’t easily hurt, and when we are, we recognize that the flaw is in the one that hurts and not in ourselves.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)

Forgiveness is unconditional. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We do it because God asks us to do it. So regardless of what someone does to us, we forgive them, even if they’re not sorry for the pain that they caused us.

In my debut novel, The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, a lot of forgiveness is necessary for the foster children at the Ranch. They have all been hurt by at least one parent. They’ve been abandoned, and that causes so much hurt and bitterness. This is especially true for the protagonist in this novel, Benedict. In the following snippet, he’s speaking with his foster father, David about their biological parents.

“Don’t do what? Be mad at them?” Benedict asked. He could feel his face reddening.

“No…no, you can be mad at them,” David said. “You can be mad all you want, but at some point, you need to let it go. You need to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter anymore. You need to forgive them for what they did and did not do, and you need to move on.” (DSR p.84)

The children in this story have to forgive their parents for their own sanity, but even beyond that, forgiveness is a huge sacrifice. In essence, forgiveness is a gift.

In addition to forgiving his own mother for deserting him, Benedict has to forgive himself for squandering his younger years. Even as an adult he holds in so much bitterness and anxiety, and he realizes that he simple can’t move on with such angst in his heart. He can’t go on allowing it all to “eat him alive,” as David had described it to them as children.

Forgiveness doesn’t negate the action that caused the pain. And often this is the reason why the majority of people have trouble forgiving others who have hurt them. They feel that in forgiving them, the person who receives forgiveness will be vindicated; their past transgressions will be null and void.

Later in the same book, Sebastian is faced with his estranged father who asks for his forgiveness (DSR p.92). His father can’t take back what he did and both he and Sebastian understand that.

Forgiveness is not meant to be easy, and that’s why it’s a virtue.

It’s easy to forgive someone we love. In Saving Faith, The second book in my Faith & Kung Fu series, Nina has to forgive her best friend, Faith. “In a heartbeat,” Nina said softly (p.108). Faith then has to forgive Christian for what he did to her, and she’s quick to give it because she has feelings for him (p.176). But forgiveness is often not that easy. Adam, Faith’s brother struggles with it, even when the pain comes from his sister being hurt. But he gives it anyway. Christian also struggles to forgive his father (p.161), but that’s only because his understanding of his parents’ divorce was conjured up by his own imagination and not the truth that finally comes to light as the story progresses.

We’re not always going to get forgiveness right. But it can always be fixed. The reality is that if we don’t forgive, how can we ever expect to be forgiven.

Forgiveness doesn’t place us above the person who hurt us. Because ultimately, we are all guilty of hurting someone at some point in time. So, who are we not to offer forgiveness when we expect it from others, and most importantly, when we were given it by Christ Himself for all our transgressions.

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The books referenced in this post were The Destiny of Sunshine RanchFreeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of forgiveness and mercy? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers 

Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series: Chastity

Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

The Virtue of Chastity is not an easy one to approach with our teens. However, after discussing modesty last week, it seems fitting that chastity be the next virtue to discuss. To be chaste is to aim to be pure. Next to modesty, chastity is likely the most ignored of the virtues, and not just by teens and young adults.

Chastity is considered one of the seven heavenly virtues in the Catholic faith. And it’s not just about being pure. It’s not even about not having sex. That’s abstinence. Chastity is about seeing our sexual selves in the way that God created us. For the sake of this learning series, I’ll be discussing chastity in unmarried teens and young adults. Although it would certainly relate to all unmarried people.

In our overly sexual culture, promiscuity and deviant sexual interactions is considered cool, and it’s promoted in the media and in our society. It’s become extremely difficult to teach our children Christian values when it comes to relationships. In contrast, being chaste is treated as embarrassing. It’s ridiculed, and those who practice it are led to believe that their convictions are archaic and pathetic.

High school crushes, peer pressure, and hormones are a constant battle against our Lord’s design when He created man and woman. Regardless, scripture is clear about being chaste and pure. So why is it so hard for those who love the Lord to follow His commandments?

Well, it’s time to change that damaging mindset about chastity, and fiction can help. In all the fictional novels that I have written so far, purity is both good and cool.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

CHASTITY IS PURITY OF THE BODY. This seems pretty obvious when we consider the physical manner in which a person is impure. So, one way to remain chaste through the body is to refrain from all physical aspects of intimacy that often leads to the act itself. This begins with something small such as tempting others.

In The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, Tommy has a crush on Faden, and vice versa. She is aware of his feelings about purity by the ring that he wears. When they reveal their feelings to each other, they’re alone and share a kiss (p.96). However, when David and Martha find out, they are told that they have to wait until they are older to date (p.137). Teens can easily create romantic moments for themselves in which chastity is quickly forgotten, which is why it’s important to avoid them.

Chaperones are a big thing in Freeing Tanner Rose. Tanner is annoyed by them (p.41) and makes fun of them (p.79), but Gabriel is not embarrassed. However, Tanner’s world is the one that we live in today. When we first meet her, she’s flirting and getting close with Jason Allan (p.2).

Tanner flirts with Gabriel too, but he contrasts her behavior in the way that he is very conscious about not being physical or flirting, (p.55). Even when Natasha flirts with him at the post-show party, and he is obviously attracted to her, he still remains chaste in his actions (p.176).

In Saving Faith, there are many suggestions that Christian and his friends are promiscuous (p.) This is evident also for Maria and her friends (p.71) and the conversations that they have.  At one point, Christian offers to “fix” Gabriel’s virgin status with a “sure thing.” But Gabriel’s response is priceless:

“And then what?” Gabriel looked at him and waited.
“What?”
“And then what?” Gabriel’s expression was serious as he stared back at Christian. “After the sure thing? Then what?”
“I don’t know, man.” Christian laughed. “You really that naive about the ways of the world?”
“No,” Gabriel said. “Just more interested in the will of God.” (p.64)

PURITY IN THE MIND AND IN THE HEART is another aspect of chastity that we ignore. But what we allow into our minds and hearts can easily affect our actions. We can conjure up thoughts about intimacy with a crush, or we can read books that offer all kinds of impure scenarios that lead us to lust. Tanner watching Gabriel on the camping trip is an example (p.46). But impure thoughts won’t lead us closer to God and what He desires for us.

Purity in the mind is often dictated by purity in the heart. It’s a desire instilled within our hearts that solidifies our decision to remain pure. If it’s strong and honest, then it cannot be corrupted easily. But if we say all of this to a teen, it sounds old-fashioned and prudish. Which is why fiction is a better method in teaching virtues. Let teens fall in love with a virtuous character.

PURE AND PROUD. This is what Faden boasts about himself to Tommy in The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch. (p.96) To be truly virtuous, you have to be confident in yourself and unashamed of your convictions. We see this so often with Gabriel. When Tanner and Gabriel are in the limo waiting outside Rick Vonn’s house, she asks him about his purity (p.129). He’s cool and confident in his response and this surprises her. This is the lesson we should teach our children.

The fictional stories offered show how the coolest characters are pure and proud. And those who have been taught otherwise need further educating.

Faith sees this when she compares Gabriel and Christian. She has to come to a decision in Saving Faith. She realizes that her actions have led her to a point in her relationship with Christian:

There was no doubt that she liked him, but to like him meant to compromise her convictions more than she already had,  because it was evident now that he would accept nothing less.  (SF p.132)

Faith’s actions have consequences. As did Christian’s. But what she is considering a consequence, for him is the icing on the cake. “It doesn’t take much,” Faith says to her brother about how a person’s life can be destroyed in an instant. Yet, she is neglecting to realize that in the same way, it doesn’t take much to give the gift of virginity away in a moment of unchaste passion. It’s one act, yes. But it’s one that changes everything. And like her first kiss, it’s something she cannot get back.

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The books referenced in this post were The Destiny of Sunshine RanchFreeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of chastity and purity? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers 

Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series: Modesty

Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

The virtue of modesty plays a huge role in my novels. Before we start, let’s be clear that modestly is a close relative to humility, but they are not the same. Ironically, modesty is very much understated in our world today, yet immodesty is overly defended by those with a “If you have it, flaunt it” attitude. And not just in reference to clothing.

In the first book of my Faith & Kung Fu series, Freeing Tanner Rose, the subject of modesty is most evident; although the virtue is carried through to the second book, and likely will continue throughout the series. Gabriel is the main protagonist in this book series, and he is the epitome of modesty.

A boy? I hear you ask. Isn’t modesty reserved for girls? Well let’s find out!

MODESTY IN APPEARANCE. Let me explain something here. Gabriel is gorgeous. He’s got dark hair that falls into his crystal blue eyes. He has a face that takes your breath away, and a smile that quickens the heartbeat. And he has an athletic physique. He’s an expert in kung fu, after all. But what makes him the most attractive? His amazing modesty. He knows that God gave him his face and his physique, and so he takes no credit for it. Faith and Tanner discuss this on page 48 of Freeing Tanner Rose. Faith says, “Personality is what really defines a person, and even a beautiful person can be ugly if they’re horrible inside, and vice versa.”

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Dressing modestly. This isn’t just reflected in the fact that Gabriel doesn’t go around showing off his abs or flexing his biceps (FTR p. 47), and you know he could if he wanted to. And it’s not because he’s ashamed of his body. He just doesn’t want girls ogling at him and conjuring up lustful thoughts about him, and yes, girls do that too! Gabriel knows that when God created man, He made something good; something beautiful. And we can’t take that creation and flaunt it or allow it to be lusted after. Tanner comes to realize this later in the story when she returns to the city and poses for a photo shoot, (FTR p. 156) .

Gabriel knows that his body is a temple of God and that he carries the Lord within him. He knows that in carrying Jesus on the inside, he should reflect Jesus on the outside. Let’s be clear, in dressing modestly, we’re not hiding ourselves from people. Instead, we’re presenting ourselves in a dignified way so that people see us for who we are in our hearts, and are not distracted by our physical selves. In essence, modesty means asking ourselves how much we’re willing to reveal for the sake of our dignity. Miss Ruth explains it to Tanner when she says, “I have noticed that you’re not a spinster, Tanner. Just be careful about what you are saying about yourself.” (FTR p. 27)

MODESTY MEANS REFRAINING FROM FLAUNTING our wealth or possessions. When we’re focused on our wealth and we live for the latest trend or fashion, -and Tanner evidently does- we create for ourselves a false god. We live for something outside of God. We define ourselves by our wealth. Additionally, when we flaunt our wealth, we put focus on ourselves, and that is the opposite of modesty. Tanner does this on page 31 of Freeing Tanner Rose when she “pulls out a wad” of money trying to impress the sales ladies at the malls following a senseless shopping spree (FTR p.29). Flaunting is also the same as flirting, and again we see this with Tanner. We also see this with her friend Emma (FTR p.87-88), and later with Natasha (FTR p.176).

“Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; 4 rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

MODESTY IS REFLECTED IN SPEECH. Gabriel is quiet and reserved, and sure he gets frustrated and raises his voice sometimes or says something mean, but he knows when he’s wrong and he apologizes for it (FTR-p.77). He is dignified in his speech. Tanner is the opposite. She’s loud and obnoxious (FTR p.21-at the fair), and she is often rude without apology (FTR p53-camping and p.81-in the limo). In the second book in my Faith & Kung Fu series, Saving Faith, you meet Christian. And this character is also the opposite of Gabriel. He often speaks immodestly. “You know what they say about Maria,” Christian says to his friends on page 71. He’s clearly talking about a girl they are all familiar with and causing scandal in his discussions about her. Modest speech does not cause scandal. Gossip is also considered immodest speech.

MODESTY IS BEING DIGNIFIED in your demeanor. Gabriel is not a show off. He has a lot of reason to be one according to the world’s standards. But he’s not. In fact, his humility is evident when his mother or Tanner praise him and he doesn’t relish upon it (FTR p.35, p.146). He’s modest in his successes. He doesn’t boast. He doesn’t flirt or make a dramatic entrance. He does not try to be the center of attention. Again, Tanner in contrast elevates herself to a very height and self centered degree (FTR p.14, p.61, p.94). And then there’s the beginning of chapter 23 of Freeing Tanner Rose with Natasha who is brought back to earth by Gabriel’s modesty and his recognition of it’s adversary.

When we speak and act modestly, we are in turn treating people in a modest manner. We’re treating them respectfully. We’re not putting them down or making them feel bad about themselves. We’re lifting them with our words and our deeds, even if we’re not aware of it. There are many examples of this in Freeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith, but more predominantly in the latter when you look at the difference between Christian and Gabriel. It all begins in the first tournament at the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. The fighting styles between the two are reflective of their personalities in general, and more specifically in how Gabriel is more modest than Christian.

MODESTY IS BEING CONSCIOUS about what we expose ourselves to. The shows or movies we watch, the books we read, and the places we go.  It’s what we allow into our minds. Tanner’s favorite place to go is Rick Vonn’s house where all forms of immodesty present themselves. But when she tries to share the experience with Gabriel, he doesn’t understand it (FTR p.74). If we see, read, or surround ourselves with immodesty in a manner in which it is celebrated and promoted, we become immune to it.

In all its ways, modesty is about self-control. Controlling ourselves in the way we act and in the things that we do, even in tiny instances that don’t seem to matter. An example of this is a moment between Gabriel and Tanner in Freeing Tanner Rose:

Gabriel moved toward her and bent down to retrieve the paper, and as he did, he glanced discreetly at Tanner’s black patent stiletto shoes. She wore a thin gold chain on her left ankle. He stood up quickly and turned away, denying his eyes their natural tendency to gaze up. (FTR p. 12)

Modesty is about stepping back and putting the focus on God. It’s about living the way the Son did and pleasing the Father. It’s about giving Him the glory instead of yourself. The Son of God was born in a manger in a barn. He lived a very modest life. And we should do the same by living for Him and not ourselves. When people see us, they should see Him.

“Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24

LET’S BE CLEAR! Modesty is NOT about putting ourselves down or staying quiet in the corner of a room. It’s not about believing you’re inconsequential or nothing special. On the contrary; modesty shows that you have confidence in yourself, you’re strong, and you’re not pressured by your peers or by current worldly fashions. Gabriel clearly proves this. It means that you don’t have to put yourself above others of push others down in order to be relevant. You already know that you are a jewel like everyone else, because God said so.

So you see, modesty is not a girl thing; it’s a virtue that we instill within ourselves as Christians, and it should reflect all aspects of our being and our lives.  And so modesty is everything we as Christians should strive for.

 

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The books referenced in this post were Freeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of modesty? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers