Q&A: Look Again, Thomas!

The Sisters of Life help 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 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.

DC: 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.

Sister Elizabeth Ann: 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?

Sister Elizabeth Ann: 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?

Sister Elizabeth Ann: 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 Any Mountain for You (Softcover, $12) are available at: sistersoflife.org

COMING UP: Meeting Christ in the Mass and sacraments

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As Catholics, we recognize Jesus’ Eucharistic presence to be the source and summit of our faith. Nonetheless, we can take His presence at Mass and in the tabernacle for granted. We pray through our liturgical rituals, but our words and gestures can lack meaning when we simply go through the motions. When we use the beautiful ritual of the Mass and sacraments to guide our prayer, however, they can lead us into a deeper encounter with Christ.

Two recent books can help us to understand the Mass and sacraments better and to approach them with fresh eyes: Christopher Carstens’ A Devotional Journey into the Mass: How the Mass Can Become a Time of Grace, Nourishment, and Devotion (Sophia, 2017) and Msgr. Nicola Bux’s No Trifling Matter: Taking the Sacraments Seriously Again (Angelico, 2018).

Carstens takes us on a “devotional journey into the Mass” to approach it in “a more profoundly spiritual way” (29).   He writes with a broad sacramental vision which embraces not only the Mass but also the symbols surrounding it. A great example of this comes from the first chapter, “how to enter a church building,” which reflects upon how to approach the physical building of the church itself. “So the door to the parish church, which stands before us now — is no ordinary entrance. It appears different because it is different: it is a mark of God’s house and a sign protecting those within, as at that first Passover. It is an entrance into the Great King’s city and His Temple . . . where we touch God, as in Jerusalem” (13-14). Carstens uses a “sacramental principle” to help us recognize “how God communicates with us through sensible signs” (9).

This devotional journey takes the reader through the stages of the Mass to perceive the deeper reality that we access through faith. In order to reap the fruit that God wants to give us at Mass, Carstens teaches us that “proper disposition . . . is paramount” (88). Through all of the outward actions, signs, and rituals, God aims at “something deeper:  . . . the heart of man. . . . the undivided love of man” (60; 61). For this reason, in the need for intimacy with God, “silence is an essential ingredient for both individual and corporate prayer” (35). The participation and prayers we offer at Mass should foster our relationship with God. The “conversation should take the form of prayer — a prayer of surrender” (92). Taking a devotional journey through the Mass, with Carstens’ help, should prepare us to enter into this conversation of surrender more fully each week.

Msgr. Bux, an Italian priest and professor, takes us deeper into the sometimes-forgotten history, theology, and liturgy surrounding the Mass and the sacraments. He walks us through each of the sacraments, building upon the teachings of the saints (especially St. Ambrose and Padre Pio), but also the difficulty of experiencing the spiritual reality of the sacraments in the modern world. He also leads us deeper into the Mass, “the greatest and most complete act of adoration,” noting the “interdependence between the Eucharist and the other sacraments: . . . they flow forth from the Eucharist and flow together into it as to their source” (86). The centrality of the Eucharist comes from the fact that through it we enter the heart of God.

The other sacraments reinforce this contact, as “we touch Christ” through them. This entry into the divine life begins at baptism and deepens in confirmation. Bux supports restored order confirmation, speaking of the need for strengthening and equipping for battle at an earlier age, rather than giving into the flight that usually occurs after it is received in the teenage years. When it comes to confession, Bux speaks of how “Christ pardons everyone who recognizes himself to be a sinner,” though the sacrament aims at “sincere, overwhelming interior repentance that brings the soul to be reconciled with the Creator” (103; 104). He also speaks beautifully of how through the sacrament of marriage, “spouses participate in the power of [Christ’s] love” in their love for each other. “Their love, responsible fecundity, and humility, their attitude of mutual service and their mutual fidelity, are signs of Christ’s love, present in them and in the Church” (166).

Both authors teach how to appreciate and enter into the Mass and sacraments more fruitfully, so that, in Bux’s words, we can experience “a prolongation of the liturgical life of the Church” in our own lives (196).