When I was asked to review Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s memoir and latest book published through Ignatius Press, The Kiss of Jesus – How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross, I felt honored and wanted to do my best. I approached this project like I did any other project – mathematically – it’s just the way God made me. I noted that the book has 181 pages and did the math. With ten days to complete the task, I set out to read 20 pages a night and reserved day 10 to write the review. Two evenings later, I was finished with the book.
I have spent the remaining eight days re-reading and considering how to distill a book with such profundity to a review of 900 words. BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) – Read this book. Pray for Donna-Marie’s ministry. Pray that God gives us all the grace to thirst for Jesus amidst whatever adversity we face.
If you have not met Donna-Marie in person, she is soft-spoken and gentle. She makes an impact in her gentleness, so much so, that my two-and a half year old son saw the book cover with Donna-Marie’s face several months after she visited my family, and remembered her, saying, “Dat’s Donna-Mawie! I want her to come back to me.” Her personality is imbued with a genuine care for others, so it’s not surprising that she states often, “I think I was born to be a mother.”
The first time I met Donna-Marie, she was giving a presentation to a group of army wives and active duty women. One woman began to leave the room, and Donna-Marie interrupted her own talk and said with a concerned tone, “I hope I haven’t offended you.” The lady smiled and replied that she just had to use the restroom! Just as it did during her presentation, Donna-Marie’s concern and love for others comes through loud and clear in her memoir.
However, there is a juxtaposition in Donna-Marie’s story, which I think makes her story so relatable and important for everyone who seeks to stay in relationship with God, and that is the contrast between Donna-Marie’s gentleness and loving personality and some of the horrific struggles she describes in her memoir. Donna-Marie confides in the world about several violent and abusive relationships, a divorce in which power, money, and manipulation threatened her very right to mother her five children, and caring for her beloved siblings as they withered from cancer. Her story makes me cringe at times. If you have experienced anything like what Donna-Marie has lived, her story will take you back to the emotion of those experiences.
What makes Donna-Marie’s story so important is the way that she offers up her suffering to God and knows that God was working with her all the time.
I think many of us trudge through adversity with a mind-set of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and soldiering on. We know that God will make sense of the situation at some point. We murmur, “God has a plan” dutifully, or even sarcastically, but without real confidence. Oftentimes, only in hindsight, do we see that the hand of God was present the whole time.
In contrast, Donna-Marie’s reflex is to drop to her knees to offer her suffering to God and to ask for God’s blessing and the Blessed Mother’s intercession. She runs to the Blessed Sacrament to cope when many would run away from God. I believe that her reflex of praying at all time is exactly how God has preserved Donna-Marie’s gentleness and loving spirit. Her prayer life resolves the juxtaposition of her gentleness and loving spirit with some horrific life experiences.
Donna-Marie’s story shows authentic love. It shows how Donna-Marie loves others, but it also shows how our Catholic Church has loved Donna-Marie.
Donna-Marie’s Catholic communities saw Jesus in her brokenness. When some might have judged her poor decisions, or financial state, or openness to life, her Catholic community love her. Had Donna-Marie’s Catholic community not embraced her, who knows if she would have begun the writing ministry that she shares with the world.
Donna-Marie was blessed with two spiritual guides – Fr. John Hardon, the Jesuit founder of the Marian Helpers, and Blessed Mother Teresa. In fact, Donna-Marie shared a ten year friendship with Mother Teresa, and they exchanged dozens of letters. In one such letter, shared in this book, Blessed Mother Teresa distilled the essence of loving through suffering like this:
Christ calls us to be one with Him in love through unconditional surrender to His plan for us. Let us allow Jesus to use us without consulting us by taking what He gives and giving what He takes.
The title of Donna-Marie’s memoir comes from another one of Mother Teresa’s remarks about suffering. Mother Teresa said that in our suffering, we are blessed because when we suffer, we become so close to Jesus on the cross that he could lean down and kiss us. The Kiss of Jesus is thus, a love story between Donna-Marie and Jesus.
To our MCCW community, I encourage you to read this book. Donna-Marie will be a keynote speaker at our conference Our Roads Lead Home in Washington, D.C. in April 2016. She’ll share more of her story with us then!
Here’s more praise about The Kiss of Jesus!
“This candid and poignant account pierces the heart and leaves the reader changed.” — Johnnette Benkovic, Founder, Women of Grace ®
“A courageous, stunningly personal memoir.” — Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress at Patheos.com
“Allows us to accompany her on a remarkable spiritual journey.” — Brian Patrick, Anchor, EWTN News Nightly
“This extraordinary story will bring hope to all who are suffering.” — Dan Burke, Executive Director, National Catholic Register
“A gripping spiritual adventure telling of God’s faithfulness in times of terror and abuse.” — Mark Shea, Author, By What Authority
“Runs the gamut of virtue and vice, flesh and spirit, demonic and holy. Her extraordinary life gives hope to all.” — Jim Pinto, Co-Host of EWTN’s @ Home with Jim and Joy
“This book knocked my socks off! I never expected that such a sweet, joyful and soft-spoken woman lived such a perilous life.” — Gail Buckley, President, Catholic Scripture Study International
“‘The Kiss of Jesus’ – A Love Story” book review submitted by Elizabeth Tomlin.