Q&A: Look Again, Thomas! by the Sisters of Life helps children see the world, people through God’s eyes

Roxanne King

“Left and right, up and down, straight and crooked, and all around they went…” so goes the delightful new children’s book by the Sisters of Life, Look Again, Thomas! In it, armed with special “seeing glasses,” the boy Angelo leads his stand-offish neighbor Thomas on a journey that helps his little friend to see the world through God’s eyes and to discover the beauty, good and love in it and in people.

Although authorship is given to the Sisters of Life, the order founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York to protect and promote the sanctity of human life, Sister Elizabeth Ann Binder, 53, wrote and illustrated Look Again, Thomas! and the order’s previous storybook, the tender I Would Climb Any Mountain for You.

Originally from Milwaukee, Wis., Sister Elizabeth Ann graduated from the University of Dallas and worked as a graphic designer for 12 years before entering the Sisters of Life in 1997. She currently lives in her order’s new convent and house of prayer in Washington D.C., where she designs and does the layout for the Sisters of Life magazine, Imprint.

Sister Elizabeth Ann was recently interviewed by the Denver Catholic. The interview has been edited for space.

Denver Catholic: What prompted the book?

Sister Elizabeth Ann: The book was inspired by a young boy named Angelo Pio. Angelo’s mother, Gina, discovered during her pregnancy that her child had Down Syndrome. Experiencing unbelievable pressure, Gina called a priest friend who encouraged her to call the Sisters of Life.  She moved in with the sisters soon after and gave birth to her baby boy. Angelo Pio was beautiful from the time the sisters first saw his little sweet face. Since that day, Gina and Angelo have been bright lights in all of our lives.

When I first began thinking about the message I wanted to communicate through a children’s book, Angelo immediately popped in my head. Angelo has this amazing ability to delight and wonder in the beauty and goodness all around him.  He sees goodness everywhere. Like other children with special needs, every day he greets people with a purity and innocence.  I’ve often thought that Angelo is not the one with the disability — we are. His love isn’t conditional. He sees people and the world around him through God’s eyes — and he calls each of us to see with that same “God vision.”  And I think his blue glasses added just the right touch to the story.

DC: The story centers on two boys and unfolds over one day; describe that day.

EA: Two boys, Angelo and Thomas, put on their “seeing glasses” and take a wonderful trip through forests and ponds, hills and deserts.  As Angelo and Thomas later reflect on their day, Thomas begins to realize the importance of looking beyond the surface of things to seeing the deeper realities within. And most especially “looking again” at the people he meets, beyond what someone looks like, what they can do, or what they have, and finding the goodness within their heart — and then encouraging another in that goodness.

DC: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

EA: The realization that each person is a unique, beautiful, unrepeatable gift to the world. We can judge people so superficially by what they look like, what they do (their capabilities) or what they own. We fail to meet the real person inside when we do this. And we deprive ourselves of discovering and delighting in that unique “something” that this person holds within that reflects some aspect of God never before seen. We deprive ourselves of the gift. See them as God sees them. He loves them unconditionally. He desires to be close to them. He wants them to grow and become more of who they ARE each day. The gift of encouraging others in their goodness. The gift of being that “shooting star” that leads others to Christ. The reality that YOU are good. As St. John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us.” In a world that has lost a sense of the unrepeatable beauty and sacredness of every human person, we need to be people with eyes that see.

DC: Why the Sisters of Life authorship?

EA: The books communicate a message that every Sister of Life desires to communicate — that you are good, beautiful and sacred. That you are loved by God who had you in his mind and heart for all eternity. And because of this your life has tremendous meaning. People desperately need to hear the truth of that today.  If you are called to be a Sister of Life you simply have a burning desire to share that with everyone you meet. The children’s books simply express what is on the mind and heart of us all — this charism of life. The book is from us all!

To purchase Look Again, Thomas! (Hardback, $25) and I Would Climb a Mountain for You (Softcover, $12), visit sistersoflife.org.

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA