Saints of Sacred Madness, by Joyce Kessel

“We were in training to be little Soldiers for Christ — no questions, no doubts. Avoid temptations, kneel and pray, follow the lessons in the Catechism. March forward in blind faith.”

Built on a lifetime of reflection studying philosophy, theology, history and literature, Joyce Kessel’s poems are direct responses to the lessons, assignments and questions from the Baltimore Catechism of childhood. Haunted by the image of milk bottles that portrayed the stain of “actual sins,” the poet began to explore other lessons in this primary Catholic school textbook required before Vatican II.

In this verse reflection, sometimes sober, but often humorous, Kessel explores the everchanging lines between doubt and faith as the poems address the mysteries and challenges of daring to question what was presented as gospel, both as a child and later as an adult. Here is the existential wrestling match between wanting to believe and knowing what can be believed in the narrow teaching of her childhood.

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