Remembering Our Lady for Life Today {My October column @TheCatholicPost}

One of the finest documentaries of recent years is “Glen Campbell … I’ll be Me.” The 2014 film profiles the country legend after he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and how he embarks, with the help of his family, friends, & fellow musicians, on a “Goodbye Tour” in classic smaller venues across the country.

After Glen Campbell died earlier this summer, I re-watched it on Netflix and was impressed anew with the loving and yet unflinching look at memory loss and what that means for the person affected as well as his loved ones.

The moments of his forgetfulness, along with the tender, humorous care from his wife, family members, and friends, make this a lovely film for anyone who’s encountered loved ones with memory loss. That’s almost everyone these days.

One of the most amazing things about this is how Campbell, while gradually losing cognitive function, still maintained top-notch musical skills, from his guitar playing and pure singing ability, on his classics such as “Wichita Lineman,” “Gentle on my Mind,” “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

A neurologist interviewed in the film shared that Alzheimer’s attacks all parts of human function without exception. However, Campbell’s long “memory” of playing and loving music helped him stave off the disease longer, as well as not lose his musical prowess.

Essentially, what you are best at, and what you spend the most time on, is “the last to go” when enduring memory issues.

I noticed that reality at work in my mother, who struggled with a different form of memory loss in her last years. Of course it was heartbreaking to see the disease’s progression, but I was also struck by the things she remembered without trouble. For instance, as long as she could speak, she could say the prayers of the Rosary.

It was comforting to consider that Our Lady was still with my mother because she had stayed close to Mary, especially in later years, and her decades of praying the Rosary. It was also a challenge to me—to focus on the good I’d like to remember —love, gratitude, and prayers—instead of the admittedly many bad things in our culture and world.

That was the primary message from The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis by Carrie Gress, Ph.D. Focus on Mary, despite the troubles and concerns of our modern life.

As I wrote in a column earlier this year, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option offered an intriguing and yet flawed perspective of living “apart” as Christians in a culture that’s increasingly indifferent and even hostile to Christians. And Archbishop Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land offered a refreshing and more open perspective on living a robust Catholic faith fully in the world.

The Marian Option, which I discovered after reviewing both of those books, provides yet another and even more helpful perspective. Its focus on the history and influence of Mary in the world, and how individuals and families can use that to thrive.

The Marian Option is divided into four parts, each to focus on a different aspect of Mary’s influence in the world. Part I, “Mary and Creative Minorities” shows how Mary is present in virtually all aspects of the development of Western culture, and was a distinct element of especially in the rise of a civilized Europe. Part II, “Mary’s Geopolitical Influence,” explores how three appearances of Mary—at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima, show Mary’s unusual and connected presence to the entire world, and how many of them are strangely connected.

Part III, “Who is This Woman?” answers some of the objections to those who would say that focus on Mary takes away from focus on Jesus. This part especially outlines what a healthy devotion to our Lady looks like. Part IV, “Living the Marian Option,” argues that proper and well-ordered devotion to Mary is a great approach to living in our current world.

In some ways, the heart of the book is a late chapter called “Case Study on Pope St. John Paul II,” in which Gress shows the saint’s savvy and prayerful use of his own “Marian option” to overcome the religious persecution and obstacles he encountered throughout his life.

Gress shares eight tools or strategies that St. John Paul II practiced to do this: be not afraid; learn the enemies’ tactics and adapt; be mindful of who you are and who God is; keep a sense of humor; be vigilant and hopeful; pray; remember that God can work through the enemies’ vices; and build real culture. A thorough study and These tools would be a good focus for anyone seeking to live our Catholic faith in challenging times.

The appendix offers helpful specific ideas, large and small, for individuals and families to “live the Marian option,” such as praying the Rosary as a family; planting a Mary garden; filling your home with beautiful religious/Marian art; and being mindful of Mary’s constant presence.

During this month of the Holy Rosary, and during the 100th Anniversary Year of Fatima, readers will be well-served to consider the many fruitful ideas of “The Marian Option,” to live a healthy spiritual life amid so much confusion in our world.

You might also be interested in:

Recent years have seen a plethora of other different resources for increasing our devotion to Mary & the Rosary. Here are just a few:

*Praying the Rosary Like Never Before: Encounter the Wonder of Heaven and Earth, by Edward Sri, is a lovely and well-written companion to The Marian Option, with information about this powerful prayer. Excellent is a Scriptural Rosary appendix.

*For children, The Joyful Mysteries: The Illuminated Rosary is an excellent prayer aid, with sixty works of art alternated with the prayers of the Rosary to help focus the mind. It is made especially for children, but anyone who struggles with attention during the Rosary will find it useful.

*For those looking for a more physically active way to experience the Rosary, “SoulCore”  is a Catholic workout based on the prayers of the Rosary. I attended a leader discernment retreat in March for this fantastic outreach, and I was impressed by its novel and yet prayerful approach. SoulCore offers a unique and beautiful way to truly experience the Rosary. I tend (understatement) to get distracted while praying the Rosary, but this workout focuses my mind by keeping my body busy.

*Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope  by Father Andrew Apostoli is a classic . Here is my prior review of this recent classic. Fr. Apostoli’s focus on the hopeful message of Fatima is both refreshing and helpful for those weary of bad news. It’s well worth a re-read this Fatima centennial year.

*When my kids were small, we thoroughly enjoyed the CCC videos of saint stories, several of which have a Marian theme. My all-time favorite of these is the “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” and a close second is “Our Lady of Lourdes.”

Meet a Reader: Father Geoff Horton {@TheCatholicPost}

How you know me:

I’m currently parochial vicar at Holy Trinity, Bloomington; Historic St. Patrick, Bloomington; and St. Patrick, Wapella, along with being part of the chaplain team at Bloomington Central Catholic High School. You may have seen me in Lincoln, or Peoria, or Mendota and Peterstown, or Hoopeston and Schlarman Academy, or any number of other places where I’ve made a guest appearance. Or you might even know me from the almost 15 years I spent in Bloomington before entering seminary (I was ordained a priest in 2008).

Why I love reading:

I was sick a lot as a child, so my parents, who also love reading, gave me stacks of books to read. I’ve stopped being sick regularly, but I never stopped reading.

What I’m reading now:

Thomas Aquinas: Scholar, Poet, Mystic, Saint, by A.G. Sertillanges, O.P. St. Thomas is my confirmation patron, adopted when I came into the Church in 2001. I think I was first intrigued by him when I saw a sample of his handwriting, which is worse than mine. I’ve read many works by and about St. Thomas, and each one I read gives me a deeper insight into the life and thought of my patron.

My Favorite Book:

Searching for and Maintaining Peace, by Fr. Jacques Philippe. This is my go-to book whenever stress starts to get the better of me. It’s short, readable, and enormously helpful. I have given away probably dozens of copies of the years.

On the lighter side, I reread Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog every few years. It’s a time-travel screwball comedy of Victorian manners, and that description barely scratches the surface.

Every Soul a Story {My September column @TheCatholicPost}

In younger days, I felt guilty that I didn’t love all the saints equally. Far from it; I found myself attracted to some saints, holy people, and Catholic thinkers, and almost repelled by others. Not to mention the ones I’m indifferent to!

In theory, I knew that God doesn’t make us all the same, and this diversity is good. St. Thomas Aquinas is not St. Therese is not St. Gianna Molla is not St. Charles Lwanga. But in reality, I was regretful, mostly that I had strong reactions against some, almost as if I were against holiness.

For instance, I don’t like Flannery O’Connor’s writing. At all. I’ve joked with friends that I should turn in my “Thoughtful Catholic” card for even admitting such a thing. But there you have it.

Dorothy Day is another holy person—she’s currently designated as “Servant of God,” a step towards canonization—on my “tried to love” list. Day is the 20th century political activist, then Catholic convert, who, with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker community, to serve the poor and the marginalized. So when I heard there was a new biography of her by one of her granddaughters, I wanted to give her life and spirituality another try.

Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother by Kate Hennessy is beautifully and mournfully written—part memoir, part history, and part spiritual biography. Hennessy is the youngest of the nine children of Tamar, Dorothy Day’s only child. One of the things that makes her book so fascinating is her perspective of growing up and living throughout her life, in and out of the Catholic Worker community.

Forgive the 19th century idiom, but reading The World Will Be Saved by Beauty left me low in spirits. That’s not just because of my “dis-affinity” for Day. Actually, I have much more admiration for and love of Dorothy Day’s holiness now. Nevertheless, in many ways it’s a very sad book.

I was inspired by Dorothy Day’s strong personal prayer life that gave her strength and meaning for her work, as well as her extraordinary devotion to living out voluntary poverty. I also have enormous sympathy for her, her extended family, and friends and how they tried to live out the Gospel.

There is a candor in their interactions with one another, especially in the difficulties of community life. Hennessy writes about Stanley, a close friend and fellow worker of Dorothy, at the time she was often being profiled by news outlets as a “living saint.” He would say, half-jokingly, “There are the saints and there are the martyrs. The martyrs are the ones who live with the saints.”

But I was heartbroken to learn (spoiler alert) that virtually all of her close relatives practice no faith at all, much less the radical, prayerful, open hands Catholicism Dorothy Day embodied. I truly struggled with so much sadness for her and for those souls, since her Catholic faith was so central to her. And I also take hope in the knowledge that one’s spiritual journey is not static, and perhaps some or all of her still-living relatives will embrace the faith that meant so much to her.

That’s why reading another book at the same time gave me so much hope about the possibility of conversion for anyone, full stop: Surprised by Life: 10 Converts Explain How Catholic Teachings on Life Led Them to the Church, edited by apologist and longtime writer Patrick Madrid.

The title may seem self-explanatory, and it is, but the narratives themselves make that title an understatement: they are awe-inspiring and grace-filled.

Patrick Madrid has put together several projects like this, including the popular “Surprised by …” book series, three volumes with convert and revert stories. There’s something about these small, first-person slices of life that are edifying, but not in a cloying or superficial way. Each person shares his or her own personal story, offering a dramatic view of how grace influenced their journey to, or back to, God and His Church.

What’s different about Surprised by Life is that each of the 10 stories in some way relates to the Church’s teaching on life issues. So, for instance, in “ Aunt Amy Saves My Baby,” writer and blogger Heather Scheider writes about how the unconditional love and support of her aunt helped her choose life rather than abortion for her unborn baby, and how that love and support helped her mature and heal from her upbringing and bad choices. And in “Little Miracles Leading from Death to Life,” Doreen Campbell shares her family’s grief journey after losing their teenage daughter in a tragic accident and the sacredness of life at its end.

The titles of some of the chapters can seem almost sensational, such as “Call Girl to Catholic,” the story of a woman who works as a sex worker until the unconditional love of friends and the Church’s clear teaching on family leads to her conversion; or “From One Holocaust to Another,” the story of a lawyer, the son of a Holocaust survivor, who participates in multiple abortions of girlfriends before his conversion to Catholicism. But in reality, these narratives, and how the Holy Spirit worked and continues to work in the lives of these people, are astonishing and amazing. Readers who might despair over loved ones who have left the faith can be comforted to read the stories and know that God reaches people in strange and wonderful ways.

Not all readers will find each story compelling or “attractive,” but that’s the value of having a range of narratives. Like Dorothy Day’s unexpected conversion to Catholicism after atheism, each of the people profiled in Surprised by Life offer unique ways to see one’s faith journey.


You might also be interested in: 

*Even though I’m still not an enthusiast of the spirituality of Dorothy Day, I am glad I read The World Will Be Saved by Beauty. The phrase comes from Dostoevsky, but it’s been often quoted by recent popes, from St. John Paul II in his “Letter to Artists,” to Pope Francis in his first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei.” After reading it, and the context of the quotes from the popes, I realize that the “beauty” is the varied ways in which love is expressed.

*Are you active on Instagram? I am, and I’ve become slightly obsessed with the “Stories” or “InstaStories” These are Snapchat-like short videos combined that expire after 24 hours.  I’ve enjoyed following some accounts related to cooking, homemaking, health, travel, and of course, our Catholic faith. There is something fun and relaxing about seeing small and often beautiful slices of life from others.

One of my recent favorites is Heather Scheider, whose Instagram account, *honeychildforest is honest, crafty, and encouraging. Her Stories, in particular, are often just laugh-out-loud hilarious.

That is where I first found out about the book Surprised by Life. Scheider had posted a photo of a group of the books when she received her author copies, and so I immediately ordered it so I could read it.

 

A “Bucket List” for Catholic Travelers {My August column @TheCatholicPost }

Following is my August column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

Back when blogs were just becoming a thing, I had a great idea for a blog: Catholic Family Traveler. The blog would help families incorporate Catholic locations (churches, shrines, and other sites) into a family’s travel, so they could easily stop by on their travel either to popular non-religious destinations.

That’s because I’m a huge fan of travel of any kind, especially with our entire family—I’m our family “travel agent.” That means I relish the opportunity to figure out places to go, to stay, and to eat while we’re on the road. When we are traveling, my husband and I try to add in some Catholic places, whether it’s a church visit on a Sunday or for daily Mass, a Catholic college or historical site, or some Shrine or other location. And we’ve always been surprised at the huge variety of locales, large and small, that have a religious context and are worth a visit. I know we are not the only family to do this, since we get good suggestions from friends & family.

Obviously, that blog never came to be, though we still visit Catholic places when traveling. So it’s no surprise that I love a new book that combines travel & unique Catholic sites: 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic Guide by Thomas J. Craughwell.

Craughwell, a prolific author and editor, offers in 101 Places a well-researched and clearly organized companion for anyone who travels in the United States, or wants to know more about the Catholic culture, quirky sites, and unusual places that make up the great United States.

Our family, for instance, was in New Mexico for a family trip earlier this summer. Friends who live in Colorado encouraged us to visit the Cathedral in Santa Fe, which we of course did, but also recommended the not-very-well-known “El Santuario de Chimayo” an unusual shrine built in the mid-1800s and visited by thousands of pilgrims each year in rural northern New Mexico. We were very impressed with the setting and learning more about how the shrine came to be and collecting some of the “blessed earth” that pilgrims connect at the site of the chapel. We’d have gotten even more out of it if we had read Craughwell’s several-page story of the newer chapel before our visit, but we were all glad to hear the story. And now that we’ve read the entry for Chimayo, we have retroactively gotten even more out of our visit.

The book is organized alphabetically by states, and each state includes at least one and up to five sites for each state that are worth a clever, engaging description, history, and other details. Websites are often provided so readers can do more up-to-date research on Mass times or other details of a particular site, and readers are encouraged to search for the most up-to-date visitor info online.

101 Places to Pray Before You Die is not comprehensive look at Catholic sites in the U.S.—that would be a book more like 5001 Places to Pray Before You Die. Still, that is fine for several reasons.

One, the opportunity for sequels, based on the authors own research and suggestions by local travelers (I’d like to make a case for two of many in the diocese of Peoria: El Paso, the hometown of Venerable Fulton Sheen, and Corpus Christi Church in Galesburg, which houses the body of early martyr St. Crescent.). Second, the book offers a “taste” to inspire readers, to search out Catholic sites in their own communities, or wherever they travel. Finally, the book may encourage dioceses to make known their unusual or visit-worthy sites so that people can take advantage of the opportunity to experience Catholic culture without going to Europe.

Readers could consider 101 Places to Pray Before You Die a kind of “wish list” of sites to visit. Or, if a family is traveling in a certain direction, a detour to one of the interesting locations might be in order. Finally, I’ve been inspired to try to visit the sites listed for Illinois, our state. Even though I’m a “Catholic traveler,” I’ve only visited one of the four sites listed for Illinois, but my interest is piqued in the others, and we hope to visit them in the future.

I’m sure anyone reading 101 Places to Pray Before You Die will have their own additions to the book, and it’s likely Craughwell may plan some sequels to this book (tip: consider Canada—so many Catholic pilgrimage site!), but what a wonderful way to travel virtually through the pages of this book, and perhaps take a trip or two to in reality see some of these sites.

You might also be interested in:

There is no “Catholic Family Traveler” blog (my interests have focused more on the travel than on the writing), but here are some other resources for those intrigued in Catholic travel and culture:

*There  may not be a Catholic Family Traveler site, but there is a Catholic Traveler website, the popular tour guide Mountain Butorac, a Rome-based American who leads tours in Rome, in Europe, and in the Holy Land. His Instagram feed is especially interesting.

*Rick Steves  has a lock on all things European travel, from places to stay and eat, to what to see. He doesn’t approach things from a faith perspective, but in my experience with his television shows & some web research, he’s very respectful and curious of the myriad Catholic sites around Europe.

*Diana von Glahn’s The Faithful Traveler, is a great site for video series on US & European travel from a Catholic perspective. She’s an appealing host who educates and entertains viewers with lots of Catholic trivia and interesting notes. Some of her series have been broadcast on EWTN.

*Bishop Robert Barron’s video series, Catholicism: The Pivotal Players is not a travelogue per se, but all of his videos have a quality of seeing the world in the way a traveler does. In profiling various saints in the Church, Bishop Barron travels through Europe, and therefore viewers get to see some great sites that have been instrumental in Catholic culture. I’d love to see Bishop Barron do a series on North American Catholicism.

What are some of your favorite Catholic travel resources or sites?

 

Meet a Reader:  Susanna Prushinski {@TheCatholicPost}

Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.

How You Know Me:

I am married to Leo and we have four daughters, Genevieve, Suzann, Rebecca and Julia. We belong to St. Louis Parish in Princeton.  I teach first and second year Confirmation classes, I am part of the teaching team for Marriage Preparation Classes, and I am a notary/auditor for marriage cases for Office of the Tribunal. 

Why I Love Reading: 

I love to read in order to deepen my understanding, to ponder, to discover insights, and to be inspired in living more fully in Christ.  In my younger days, I loved to read biographies and mysteries, and I still do, it is just that now they are biographies and stories of saints and the mysteries of Christ and His Church.

What I am Reading Now: 

I just finished a “trilogy’ on St. Mother Teresa. 

First is “Come, Be My Light” by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., which offers great insights into her spiritual life and depth of her fidelity and trust in God.  Second is “Mother Teresa of Calcutta” by Leo Maasburg, beautiful stories of what her life looked like from the external – what people encountered when they came into her presence. Third is Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire by Joseph Langford, shows how she was transformed by God.

I am also finishing Who Am I to Judge? Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love by Edward Sri and beginning The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by Cardinal Robert Sarah.

My Favorite Book: 

I have many favorites, but I will keep it to three. I’ve drawn such great insights and inspiration from them that they gave me a new perspective.  The first is Uniformity with God’s Will, which is actually more like a treatise and is taken from a larger work of St. Alphonsus de Liguori. The second and third are authored by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), God is Near Us; The Eucharist, The Heart of Life and The Spirit of the Liturgy Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is my favorite author!

God’s Work, No Matter the Circumstances {My July Column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my July column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

I ran into a friend at Aldi the other day, and so I asked about her husband’s struggle with cancer. She outlined his progress, and also shared that their family has agreed, yet again, to be foster parents, this time to a sibling pair. When I expressed my admiration, her reply was, “We believe it is God’s work.” Did I mention her husband has cancer? I told her, “The way you live your whole life is God’s work.”

Seeing fellow Christians living in such a radically open and generous way is very humbling for an average believer like me. And yet when I want to feel discouraged about my lack of heroic actions, I recall that for all of us, our whole life is God’s work, even in the “small things” we do.

That is why it was ennobling to read a book about ordinary Christians doing extraordinary things in The Priest Barracks: Dachau, 1938-1945 by Guillaume Zeller, translated from the French by Michael J. Miller. It makes reader ponder, as one should every day, “How can I make my life more God’s work?”

The Priest Barracks tells the little-known story of the thousands of Catholic priests, seminarians, and non-Catholic clergy who lived and often died in the brutal conditions of the prototype among concentration camps, Dachau, in southeastern Germany. At first it was only German priests who were detained. Eventually, a variety of clergy, from members of the Resistance to priests who made modest statements in their sermons, from countries throughout Europe, were largely centralized into three large barracks at Dachau.

The gripping account of the lives of priests in the KZ (the German initials for concentration camp), living the Catholic faith, ministering to fellow prisoners, and maintaining humanity, is woven throughout this well-researched and fact-filled book.

Obviously, the conditions were horrific. And yet, the men endured, amid successes and failures—it wasn’t all perfect, but the priests, including at least two bishops, formed a kind of community that transcended nationality, religious order, Christian denomination, and spiritual temperament.

The Priest Barracks is divided into three sections of six to seven chapters each. First is “A Camp for Priests,” which outlines how the Dachau concentration camp was founded, and then later how it came to be a repository for clergy from all over Europe. Second is “O Land of Distress,” which details many of the horrific conditions, including hunger, death, typhus, and medical experiments. Third is “A Spiritual Home,” which outlines how sacramental life was lived, how the Eucharist existed even in the camp, and relates the improbable and nearly miraculous ordination of a dying seminarian in one of the barracks.

Each chapter begins with a Scripture verse related to its theme. So, for instance, in the chapter, “Anti-Christian Hatred,” is Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Most moving was the account in the “Sacramental Life” chapter on the secret ordination of Father Karl Leisner, a seminarian who, dying from tuberculosis, was ordained through the sacrifices and tactics of the clergy and their fellow prisoners, from the clergy who fashioned his vestments and the bishop’s mitre with cast-off fabric, to the Jewish musicians who played violins outside the barrack to distract the German soldiers from the ceremony. Bishop Gabriel Piguet, a resident of the camp, performed the ordination; as he wrote later, “Truly, in a place where the priesthood has been utterly humiliated and where it was supposed to be exterminated, divine revenge has been striking: one more priest had been born to the priesthood of Christ.”

Probably the finest chapter is “The Fruits of Dachau,” as Zeller outlines the lasting legacy of the priests’ time in Dachau: the importance of unity among the clergy, despite their various orders, nationalities, and practices; the presence of a healthy ecumenism among religions in the camp; how the apostolate of service was lived out; and how the clergy promoted the fundamental dignity of the human person, despite the conditions.

I was inspired to read The Priest Barracks after re-reading earlier this summer the classic He Leadeth Me, Fr. Walter Ciszek’s spiritual autobiography, including his harrowing years as a political prisoner in World War II-era and post-war Russia.


His successes and failures of faith, of perseverance, make the word “inspiring” an understatement. He Leadeth Me is for anyone who seeks to live a Christian life, but who feels unprepared for the task. Fr. Ciszek’s story shows us that “keeping on” and never giving up, is the important quality of the Christian life, all through the lens of the persecution he experienced.

In a similar way, The Priest Barracks offers inspiration for the average Christian, not because of the heroic feats of the clergy imprisoned there—and there were many— but in how normal they were, and yet how much good they could do, bit by bit, day by day.

It may be essentially zero chance that any of us will have to endure the conditions these brave clergy did, or have the opportunity to be heroic in the way they did. And yet, we, all of us, need to go “God’s work” with our lives, day by day. Learning how these ordinary Christians lived their faith can enkindle in us a desire to do the good we can every day.

Meet a Reader: Pamela Suresca {@TheCatholicPost}

Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.

How we know you:

In August I will celebrate two years of being a part of the Peoria Diocesan family. I proudly work for Students for Life of Illinois by building a culture of Life on college campuses all around IL. Currently serving University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as their Campus Mentor in the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center and am a parishioner at St. Matthews in Champaign IL.

Why I love reading:

Reading is a gift. I read to encounter.

Books are always inspired by some-one, some-thing, or some-time. We write to share knowledge, reflect, and imagine. There is always a muse, an inspiration. Each writer has a voice and deep perspective. It is through reading that allows us to sneak a peek at life through another person’s lens.

I am always looking for spiritual readings and books or essays that will help me grow in my Catholic Faith. It is through these writings where words do not just stay on the page but inspire a physical extension of self- a call to action. Some of my favorite reads have dramatically changed my life from the inside out.

What I’m reading now:

“The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”- Edith Stein

I’ve been on reading marathon dealing with any and all books on women. If it isn’t a book, it is an essay, if it isn’t an essay its an article, if it isn’t an article is a reflection, if it isn’t a reflection, it my old journal entries. I do this quite often these days ;).

But right now I am currently reading Essays on Women by Edith Stein later known as St. Teresa Benedicta. As a young catholic woman I adore the writings and reflections of Edith Stein. She has a rawness to life and a deep wisdom of the Church. Her writings are truly a gift to women for they highlight the very gift we are women and the crucial role we play in the church, home, and society.

My favorite book:

Every book has a season and every season I have a new favorite. In this season my favorite book is Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves by Helen Alvare.


After hearing her speak at the Given 2016 Forum in CUA (Catholic University of America) I knew I had to get my hands on this book. She highlights the daily struggles Catholic women face in this 21st Century. Each chapter is a new woman with a new story, new wounds, new cross, and new victory.

“Strangers in a Strange Land” Helps Us Be “Healthy Cells” in Society {My June column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my June column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

In the last year, there have been several important books about the need for sincere Christians to be much more intentional about living their faith and sharing it with their children, loved ones, and the wider community. I’d like to focus on two of those books.

The most well-known and bestselling is The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians, columnist Rod Dreher’s book-length argument that Christians need to live as the early Benedictines did. These first monks, led by St. Benedict, the father of monasticism, retreated from the world at large to focus on prayer, work, and community in a disciplined way. Dreher makes the case that committed Christians need to consider living that way now.

Dreher, once Roman Catholic but now Eastern Orthodox, is a gifted writer, and so The Benedict Option has a lot of food for thought, especially when he is profiling people and families living out faith in a robust way.

But the book falls short. Dreher’s particular insistence that sincere Christians need and in fact should not be in the political life, because those battles are already lost, is particularly short-sighted. I, for one, am glad there are honorable people involved in political and public life. The book is great for talking about and gleaning good ideas, but ultimately, something is missing.

Much more successful, and more hopeful, is Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, by Archbishop Charles Chaput. It also has a much more pastoral focus, probably because Chaput is an archbishop and long-time pastor. And that makes it more effective.

Initially, I felt skeptical about reading Strangers in a Strange Land. I didn’t want to read more bad news about how bad the world is, and how we as Christians need to withdraw from it as quickly as possible.

I am happy to report that I was really, really wrong.

Strangers in a Strange Land is far more about engaging the culture, while knowing and embracing our own Catholic culture, than it is about the evils of the world. And that is why it is so refreshing and encouraging to read.

Consider this quote:

“But (the earliest Christians) didn’t abandon or retire from the world. They didn’t build fortress enclaves. They didn’t manufacture their own culture or invent their own language. They took elements from the surrounding society and “baptized” them with a new spirit and a new way of living.”

Or this, probably one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Our task as Christians is to be healthy cells in society.”

Strangers in a Strange Land is divided into four sections. There is one chapter that’s an overview of the book; another chapter that is a summary of Catholic history in America; then five chapters that explain where we are as a culture; and five chapters explaining our reason for hope in the face of this cultural shift.

Strangers in a Strange Land is not a casual or breezy read, but it’s worth the modest extra effort it takes to read it. As Archbishop Chaput puts it, “Adults deserve adult food for thought, and in these pages I’ll try to honor that.”

The overarching message of the book is the vital need for Christians to be active about their faith life and also conscious of living it out within a community. As Chaput writes,

“That means cultivating in our clergy and laypeople a better sense of who and what the Church is, separate and distinct from the culture around us—a family of families; an intimate community of Christian friendship with a shared vocation to sanctify the world; a mother, teacher, and advocate; the path to eternal joy; and an antidote to the isolation and radical individualism of modern democratic life. It means recovering a sense of Catholic history and identify; a deepened habit of prayer and adoration; a memory of the bitter struggles the Church endured in this country; a distaste for privilege; and a love for personal and institutional asceticism.”

The book calls believers back to a childlike wonder about the gift of creation, the gift of our faith, and the gift of the world. Towards the end of the book, Archbishop Chaput— to illustrate the importance of inculcating a sense of the sacred in children— tells the story of an older woman who still remembers how her father would marvel at lovely things in the world with the sentence, “God made the world beautiful because He loves us.”

May we always remember that truth, and share that message with our families and all those in the world.

Meet a Reader: Teresa Gwardys {@TheCatholicPost}

Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.

Teresa Gwardys

How you know me:

I’m currently serving as the team director for the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) team at the University of Illinois. I’m finishing up my third year as a missionary and will be returning for a fourth year when school starts again. I’m originally from the Diocese of Rockford and graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

Why I love reading:

I love reading because it allows me the opportunity to step outside of myself and encounter new worlds as well as gaining new knowledge. I think being a constant learner is important in life because we can always grow in our understanding of everything around us.

What I’m reading now:

I’m currently reading the Bible and Catechism of the Catholic Church because it’s part of the reading plan FOCUS encourages all missionaries to read. It’s fascinating to realize how much I both know and don’t know about the Bible. I’ve been Catholic my whole life so some stories are engrained in my head but reading the Old Testament gives me a better understanding of how Jesus in the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. The Catechism enlightens me in the richness and depth of the Catholic Church. If you’ve never read the Catechism, I really recommend starting a few paragraphs a day!

For fun, I’m hoping to start rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy this summer.

 My favorite book:

I have a favorite author more so than a favorite book because in college I did a lot of work with Flannery O’Connor. I read her works in literature classes from a literary perspective as well as in theologically based classes from a religious and Catholic perspective. Her short stories are thought-provoking on anagogical and moral levels.

Staying Catholic Everywhere {My May column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my May column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

It’s graduation season, and time to consider gifts for students in your life. A new book, How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students is a standout among potential gift book ideas. 

But despite its title, the book is not just for students going to Harvard, or students going to college, or students. It’s for everyone.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is a genuinely helpful and charmingly written guide for anyone from high school on up, wanting to living a faithful, balanced, joyful Catholic life in the midst of our busy, diverse culture and world. As I look through all the quotes that I pulled from this book, each one is applicable and practical not just to students or grads, but to every Catholic.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is written by Aurora Griffin, a recent Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar. I would be inclined to buy this book just for the following quote, in which Griffin talks about distraction in prayer:

“A friend of mine once said that when we focus on the mystery in a decade of the Rosary, we give Mary a flower. When we get distracted, we give her a frog. That may be, but we are lucky that moms love us so much that they still like getting frogs.”

As you may be able to tell, the book is not written in a super-scholarly way, but informal and friendly, like a conversation with your bookish, agreeable friend who’s serious about her Catholic faith and wants to encourage you in yours.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is full of great little nuggets of advice. For instance, in a brief discussion about fasting, Griffin makes the case that refraining from good things we like is not just a virtue and character building practice, but can also help open us to God’s grace:

“The important thing is that if you wish to grow in your spiritual life, you have to get used to saying no to yourself in small ways so that you can be open to God’s grace in big ways.”

After a basic introduction about Catholic life, the book is divided into four major sections: Community, Prayer, Academics, and Living it Out. Each of the 40 “tips” is in one of these four sections.

Griffin puts “Community” first because she considers it the most vital aspect of living out a Catholic faith. But that can be true in life in general—so many studies have shown that people do better in physical and emotional health with social support. She also encourages Catholics to recognize and embrace the diversity of how people live out their faith:

“If you find yourself in a leadership position in a Catholic organization on campus, you’ll need to accept that there are other ways of looking at the Faith apart from your own. If you try to force your views on everyone else, you will waste time and damage the community. Instead, try to appreciate the incredible diversity that comes from being part of the universal Church.”

What I love best about the book is that Griffin is intensely practical about so many things, and yet also calls readers to go deeper in their faith. Even for those who aren’t in college, being intentional about practicing faith is a big part of progress in the spiritual life. Griffin especially recommends a daily “routine of life” for prayer and spiritual practice.

In the tip, “Read Catholic Literature,” Griffin writes that “reading good stories makes us better people: it’s humanizing.”

While it is applicable to everyone, there is a lot of Catholic college-specific advice that is sound and important to consider. For instance, in the “Living it Out” section, Griffin writes about how living one’s faith can be a countercultural act:

“The secular world tells us that college is about getting all our wild days done with before we enter the real world and have responsibilities. It’s absurd, but I’ve even seen parents buy into this myth. The truth is that you never get to put real life on hold—not even in college. Your actions have as many, if not more consequences in college as they do later in life.”

I would consider How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard a great book not just for high school graduates, but those in college, as well as those earlier in high school, so they can begin to consider and integrate some of these ideas into their own developing faith life.

You might also be interested in:

I also highly recommend another book for college-bound students. It’s Your College Faith: Own It! by husband-and-wife team Matt & Colleen Swaim. You can read my reviews of this book here and here, among others. Turns out I’ve mentioned this book (and gifted it) a lot.

Book reviews, author interviews, and more.

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