Claire Bona, 30, stepped down from her teaching position at St. Agnes School in St. Paul to be a stay-at-home mom, but she jumped at the chance to write a play for the sixth graders. Now pregnant with her second child, she and her husband, Hank, belong to the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. Her production of ella, the Divine Mercy Passion Play, will be performed at St. Agnes School at 3:30 pm Holy Wednesday, April 13. The 45-minute one-act show is free, and no reservations are needed. Children are encouraged to attend. Doors open at 3 pm
Q) How did the play come to be?
TO) There was a St. Agnes tradition to do the living Stations of the Cross. When we moved it from the old gym to the auditorium, the question was raised: Should we re-write this to fit the new space? They asked me to adapt it.
Q) You pulled it together quickly!
TO) I wrote the play in a week. Honestly, I think the Holy Spirit did a lot of the work for me. I got the inspiration that instead of just doing the Passion, we could tell the story of St. Faustina receiving these visions of Jesus about divine mercy. The Lord said to her: You will understand my mercy better when you meditate on my Passion. Ninety eight percent of St. Faustina’s lines are directly from her diary.
You start to see: Where does divine mercy come from? What does it do? It comes from suffering, and that makes you more grateful for it. It’s not just mercy in the abstract, it’s mercy in a lived-out, incarnational way.
Q) You adapted the play for COVID, making it an audio drama. Are there any silver linings?
TO) It introduced me to a new passion! I really love audio editing. It makes me so happy. I love mixing music with voiceovers and sound effects and creating an auditory painting. That’s something I might never have done. As a kid, it was always my dream to be in an audio drama. We’d listen to Focus on the Family Radio Theater. Now to produce one is pretty amazing!
Q) Looking back on the early days of quarantine, do you see other blessings?
TO) We learned how to slow down. We learned how to just be, as a family — which was nice training. My son was born in June (2020). And I learned that being at home doesn’t mean losing your community. Community becomes even more important.
Q) You’d hoped to deliver at a birth center with midwives, but Dominic was having heart decelerations, so you went to United Hospital.
TO) You can feel like you failed because your plan didn’t go as planned, but truly, our plans are just outlines. There’s a lot of surrender.
There’s a novena of surrender that was given to a contemporary of St. Patrick, Don Dolindo. It’s unbelievable. I have friends who suffer from anxiety, and they say the entire novena on a daily basis because it takes away your sense of anxiety and gives you this trust — what we all need to have and find so hard to hold onto.
Pray it. It will change your life.
Q) What’s motherhood been like for you?
TO) The moment you receive your baby into your arms, everything changes. And always stays changed. I learned in a Netflix documentary that the portion of a mother’s brain that operates on surveillance and protection against danger lights up the moment her child is born, and it never shuts down again. It just stays lit up forever, into your child’s adulthood.
Q) We never sleep soundly again! How does your faith sustain you?
TO) Being a Catholic is so helpful with parenthood. You’ve been training your whole life for this, knowing that idea of laying down your life, and now you get to say it in a different way: This is my body, given out for you, and having the rosary to pray to keep you awake at 2 am feeding, that’s a gift.
Q) What’s it like seeing your idea come to fruition on stage this Holy Week?
TO) It taught me that humans do our best work when we do it for the greater glory of God. There’s this outpouring of grace and love.
Q) Has it emboldened you to just go for it and boldly pursue other creative dreams?
TO) And it is! I have a tendency to write and go, “Well, that’s not good enough.” But in this case, it just had to be done. I had to accept that it wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be good enough. That’s been encouraging.
My dream is to publish novels. I just decided this year — partly inspired by that — it’s time to take the bull by the horns and start sending the first novel out and fully expect that it’s going to get rejected a bunch of times, and I’m going to learn from that and I’m going to keep refining and refining. I’ll knock on enough doors and maybe one will open.
Q) How exciting—and scary!
TO) It’s nerve-wracking. It feels like a colossal act of conceit to say: “Well, I wrote something and I think it’s good enough to pay to read it.” But at the same time, it’s also humility. I read somewhere that hosting people in a messy house is an act of humility as well as hospitality, saying, “I don’t need my house to be perfect in order to experience community with others.” You could apply it to writing: “I don’t need this to be perfect before I share this with someone who needs to read it.”
Q) What sparks your creativity?
TO) History. When I learn little things about how daily life was lived, that’s where I get ideas. Like understanding that in the Regency Era, it became fashion for upper-class men to wear collars so stiff they couldn’t turn their heads. It was so starched that, once it was set, you had to turn your body to see things. Their clothing was a reflection of their views on work being for the lower class, not for them.
Every day Dominic and I listen to Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast. It’s full of interesting stories. The more you learn — it doesn’t take away from the sadness and brutality of the ancient world, but it gives you an understanding of how God’s goodness reaches into really broken situations.
Q) Life long learning is the answer! curiosity.
TO) When I’m tired, when I’m dragging through the day, learning something interesting or reading a good book keeps me going. Audio books are really helpful. I use Libby, the free library app. I listened to the whole “Confessions of St. Augustine” — a book I tried to read and failed at repeatedly — but I can press play and listen while I do dishes. And by the end, I was so glad. It’s actually super interesting.
Q) And then Dominic, who’s 22 months old, gets to absorb some of those stories!
TO) Right! He’s at least absorbing language. If I don’t play Father Mike’s podcast, Dominic will say to me, “Bible? mike?”
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