Catholic Teen Fiction That Teaches the Faith: Fire Starters, A West Brothers Confirmation Story
“Faith is a fire. A person himself must be on fire in order to transmit it.
Watch over this sacred fire! “
These recent words by Robert Cardinal Sarah perfectly illustrate the message of Fire Starters, volume six and, sadly, the last in Theresa Linden’s inspiring West Brothers series of Catholic teen fiction. Young readers will learn about the sacrament of confirmation symbolized by tongues of fire descending upon the disciples at Pentecost. This book makes a wonderful confirmation gift or supplement for confirmation classes.
The title "Fire Starters" refers to a teen prayer group meeting at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, the members of which have played greater or smaller roles in the previous five West Brothers novels. The story focuses on Caitlyn Summer and Peter Brandt, friends of the West brothers, who are confronted with big problems in their lives. Caitlyn’s mother needs to leave her husband and five children to take care of her sick mother, leaving her oldest daughter in charge of her siblings. Peter is worried about his beloved St. Michael’s Church which he fears may be closed to make room for city development. Peter also worries about his friend Roland West and his older Brothers Keefe and Jarred who are not happy to attend confirmation classes along with a group of much younger kids.
With the support of the Fire Starters, Caitlyn, Peter and all three West Brothers discover the significance of the sacrament of confirmation. At the same time the group tries to help their struggling parish to survive.
Fire Starters is a book that will deepen the faith of teen readers by weaving many aspects of Catholic teaching into an exciting story line. As in previous books in the series, there is a factual mystery to be investigated. However, the true mystery being revealed here is the mystical work of the Body of Christ. Theresa Linden is a master of explaining difficult theological concepts through the art of storytelling.
While reviewing the theology of the sacrament of confirmation along with the West brothers, Caitlyn, Peter and their Fire Starter friends realize how the graces of their own confirmations have granted them the gifts needed to face their problems. As in previous West Brothers books, I found myself learning along with the characters.
To be honest, I always found it difficult to answer the question Roland West asks Peter about the sacrament of confirmation: “I’m a practicing Catholic. I’ve been baptized and go to Mass. And Confession. Sometimes. Do I really need this?” I don’t know if I would have come up with a better answer than Peter: “It’s just what you do when you’re Catholic.”
Peter experiences a problem many Catholics are familiar with. Remembering his confirmation, he is disappointed about the lack of emotional drama, of perceptible tongues of fire descending on him. Following along in the West brothers’ confirmation classes, Peter is reminded that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not normally felt as emotions. Father Carson, the holy parish priest, teaches his catechumens: Live the virtues and the gifts will follow.
Reformed and penitent Jarred West, the bad boy of former books in the series, experiences another common error among Catholics: the feeling of unworthiness. Jarred is truly sorry for his past sins and makes reparation in a truly saintly way. However, he lacks trust in God’s mercy, a temptation many teens - and adults - will recognize.
Caitlyn Summer has a well-formed conscience which is put to the test by tragic events in her life. The reader shares her inner struggles. The sacrifices we see her make for others as she covers up her inner turmoil with a joyful face, make her an impressive role model. However, Caitlyn has her own lack of trust to overcome. She too, benefits from the small gruop of members of the Body of Christ, the Fire Starters, who study together and support teach other. She eventually succeeds in surrendering her will to Our Lord.
Caitlyn’s habit of imagining herself in the role of popular heroes, Maria von Trapp, Nancy Drew, Wonder Woman, makes for some humorous scenes.
Caitlyn, Peter, Jarred and Roland all discover what it means to practice the virtues first. Each in their own way experiences the fire of the Holy Spirit. At the joyful celebration of the West brothers’ confirmation, the friends emerge purified and strengthened, ready to go out and boldly share their faith. Having accepted the invisible nature of the sacramental graces, Peter is finally rewarded with a visible sign.
Fire Starters is an inspiring conclusion to the West Brothers’ series. Theresa Linden fills a great need for Catholic teens with her entertaining and profound novels that teach and reinforce the Faith.