Mary Lea Hill, FSP, has added a new book to her repertoire: The Church Rocks, an engaging and often amusing whirlwind tour of Church history. We caught up with the Crabby Mystic to ask her a few questions about it.
Your new book, The Church Rocks, gives young people an overview of Church history in a delightful and entertaining way. But… why do we need to know about all this?
We need to teach Church history to young people because it is our history, their history – it is a story in which we too are characters. The storyline will not proceed ahead clearly if we don’t know what is already written.
Do you see any common threads weaving their way through this long history?
One common thread is the lived faith. We can see how our Christian faith began, how our understanding of it developed, how it survived all sorts of difficulties, and how it came to us through so many wonderful people, including our own family, and how it is now in our hands to strengthen and guide us (and be passed on to the next generation through us).
Maybe it’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is, but do you have a “favorite” period of Church history as you’ve explored it, one that stands out to you as being particularly interesting?
Although there are many fascinating periods of Church history, I would say my favorite is the earliest days of the Church. In the first century the disciples really demonstrate what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They set the bar high for the rest of us through the centuries. They lived faith to the max, something most impressive especially among those who never met Jesus or any of the first apostles and disciples.
In the same vein, what are some of the outstanding events in our history that have shaped the Catholic Church?
I believe that the most outstanding events of our history have been the constant persecutions beginning in that first century, but occurring again and again in different centuries and in different locations. These are times that define faith for those who live through them and for those of us who reflect on them.
You’ve written books for young people and for adults as well. Is the writing process different for each? In what way(s)?
The general information gathering process is about the same for books written for young people and for adults, but the difference is in shaping the book. The appearance, content, and style will differ. Word choice and literary style, often focus, will also change, or, rather be directed to the age level for most projects.
What is the biggest misconception that people have about history?
The biggest misconception people can have about history is to have no conception of it. By this I mean that many people have no idea of history, of how we got to our present point. History is often considered boring or irrelevant. This we can see even more clearly in how the young regard their elders. This is so true today where every kind of progress is steamrolling through our lives. History, of the Church, of nations, of families, is so important to understand and deal with the present.
In your work on some of the saints, and in this book, you make characters from the past seem real and relevant to our times. How do you do that?
Thank you for saying this. I really make an effort to enter into characters in their own time and circumstances. I guess I have a good imagination which helps me do this. But, I also try to “modernize” the historic figure in my mind in order to imagine how they would see us, how they would speak to us.
The Church Rocks clearly took an enormous amount of research. How did you attack such a big topic? What’s your research process like?
Actually, The Church Rocks was a bigger project than I first imagined. However, I began by setting up the components of each chapter: the century, main events in the Church and in the world, important personages, movements, etc. Then I looked for some little interesting factoids, such as, an invention, a location, etc. to highlight in each chapter.
The world around me is strewn with notes in notebooks and on separate sheets. While I’m collecting all of these, I’m thinking of how to put it together well.
What inspires you—how do you choose what/whom to write about, and how does that come to you?
Usually I have a number of projects that I am dying to write so I keep notebooks going with ideas, and, if possible, I put aside source material. Meanwhile, I am composing and trying approaches in my head. When I am ready to present the proposal I send my ideas to the sisters in our Editorial Department. They make the choices while I sit at home praying. At the same time, the sisters in Editorial can propose a project for me to write that I have never even considered. This was how The Church Rocks was born.