Pencil in the Hand: “A Call to Mercy” Offers Insight on Mother Teresa’s “Lived Theology”

braceyourselves

This month’s column for The Catholic Post is one of my series this year on “Year of Mercy” books.

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One of my favorite songs of the band Popple, the self-described “Catholic acoustic humor folk beard rock duo” is called “Pencil in the Hand,” and it is based on the quote of Mother Teresa.   

That’s why I was dismayed to read that it was a “significantly paraphrased” quote of hers. Could this be true?

I am the first one to be skeptical of quotes attributed to famous people.  (And a Peoria diocesan priest, Father Geoff Horton, has a clever blog to debunk such “fauxtations”). That’s summed up in a clever t-shirt in the gift shop the Peoria Airport gift shop: an image of Abraham Lincoln and the words “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet —Abraham Lincoln.”

It looked a little something like this:

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But this Mother Teresa one seemed true, and it also had a song to go with it. A little more digging (thank you, Internet) discovered that she did say the essential lines of the quote.  In a 1989 Time interview, Mother Teresa said:

“I’m like a little pencil in His hand. That’s all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used.”

It’s so interesting that Mother Teresa, who was canonized on September 4 (earlier this week), used a writing imagery to describe God’s work in our lives.  One of her earlier books is a day book published in 1986 and titled, Jesus, The Word to be Spoken: Prayers & Meditations for Every Day of the Year.

Yet what’s most compelling about Mother Teresa is not the words that she spoke, but the way she lived her life in service to the poorest of the poor.

So why read a book about her life? Two reasons: one, to understand the context in which she lived her vocation and her love of Jesus, as well as the Gospel message, and two, to be inspired to live that out in some way in our own lives.  Mother Teresa in many ways symbolizes the works of mercy, and so it’s particularly appropriate that she is being canonized towards the end of this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

An important new book stresses this mercy perspective in her life.

A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve, is edited and with an introduction by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC.

As Fr. Kolodiejchuk, the postulator for the cause of her canonization, writes in the introduction: “In Mother Teresa ‘s life, as in the lives of many saints, we are offered a lived theology.”

This “lived theology” is evident in A Call to Mercy, as each of the 14 chapters is titled with the work of mercy, both corporal and spiritual.  For each work of mercy, the chapter offers five elements: a short introduction of how Mother Teresa lived the work; a section of “her words,” including excerpts from speeches, letters, and interviews; “her example: the testimonies” with numerous quotes from those who were involved in her work, from fellow Missionaries of Charity and others; a reflection for personal use; and a prayer, which are chosen from prayers that Mother Teresa  had a devotion to or herself wrote.

A Call to Mercy is a treasure for any reader who would like to understand Mother Teresa and her work better, as well as contemplate her life and the ways in which an “average person” can live those out.  It’s also an excellent way to continue a focus on mercy as the Jubilee Year of Mercy enters its final months.

I have enjoyed and read many other books by Mother Teresa and about her, and I could fill a year of columns with excellent sources.

But to celebrate her canonization this month, I recommend three other works that capture her life, her personality, and her spirituality in total.

First is the award-winning 1986 Mother Teresa, the finest documentary or video of any kind about Mother’s life or work.  It was produced by sisters Ann and Jeannette Petrie, and has never been equalled for impact or beauty. 

Second is the coffee-table book, Works of Love are Works of Peace, by photographer Michael Collopy. The 1996 book has been recently republished in an affordable softcover, and contains dozens of luminous photos of Mother Teresa, her homes around the world, and the people she and her community serve.

Third is the small volume by British writer Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God.  It is a beautifully written and captivating portrait of Mother Teresa’s life, as well as Malcolm Muggeridge’s own faith journey as a recent Christian. When he wrote the book in 1971, he was not yet Catholic, but a recent Christian, having lived most of his life as an agnostic.  The shortness of the book and simple vignettes of her life make it a classic.

Meet a Writer: Marie Taraska {@TheCatholicPost}

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This month, the book page of The Catholic Post features a local Catholic writer, her new book, More Than Heaven Allowsand her love of writing and reading.

How you know me: Most people know me as the Spanish teacher who taught at Peoria Notre Dame High. I also set up Spanish programs at St Mark’s School, St. Thomas School, St. Patrick School in Washington and St. Mary School in Metamora. I have also tutored the sisters from Mexico in English at the Spalding Center for many years.
Why I love writing: I have always loved writing. I write in a diary every day. I’ve also published two children’s books:Villie the Germ and The Crust Fairy. I’ve written many other children stories, had them professionally illustrated, and gave them to my grandchildren, who always have a lot to say about them. Since I was a teacher for nearly 30 years, my children’s books always teach a lesson. The Toe Ring and The No-No Boy were about some of my grandchildren.

My current book: More Than Heaven Allows was my first memoir/novel, and it’s the story of my and my husband’s life.

My journey begins with having met my husband in college and continues with our lives in medical school and through his residency with little money. It talks about the birth of our five children. It encompasses our struggles when a horrible explosion endangers the lives of two of our children leaving scars both physically and emotionally. The story continues with my journey of forgiveness, love, and faith in Our Lord and the family’s ultimate triumph over adversity.
What I’m writing now: I am working on another book about my husband’s life having grown up during the Depression and his endeavor to become a pathologist.

What I’m reading now: At present I am reading Treasure in Clay the wonderful autobiography of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheens life. I find it fascinating.

The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl {Kidlit Corner}

It is really hard to get Catholic fiction “right” for younger readers, especially for tweens and teens. That’s why it is so satisfying to finish a book like The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl.

The Perfect Blindside is a fast-paced mystery/romance told through the lives of two teens in a small Colorado town— Jake, an Olympic medalist snowboarder who’s new in town, and Sophie, an honor student who’s judgmental and skeptical of Jake’s intentions.  The book is an excellent novel, period, and it also happens to weave in Catholic themes.  That’s a win.

“Mystery” is the primary focus of the novel, as the two teens, often at odds, improbably work together to find out what’s going on in a nearby abandoned silver mine.  The romance is a subordinate, but lighthearted aspect.

At times, The Perfect Blindside reminded me of a Nancy Drew novels, which I adored as a young reader.  What I loved was all the excitement of solving a mystery by yourself, or with the help of a few trusted same-age friends.  When I began to introduce Nancy Drew to my children when they were young, I was momentarily horrified to see how much Nancy put herself and her friends in danger solving mysteries.  But the situations she puts herself in are so improbable that it’s not really an active inspiration to younger readers.  They just enjoy the stories and the excitement, as I did as a kid.

In the same way, the teens in The Perfect Blindside make over-adventerous decisions when it comes solving their mystery, but it’s so far “out there” that it wouldn’t inspire younger readers to be reckless in solving their own mysteries.  Instead, it’s just a diverting and an entertaining plot device to move the story along.

A “blindside” in snowboarding is a trick that a boarder makes without being able to see the path, and this book improvises on that theme to explore how the teens try to make their way without being able to see the path ahead.

While the primary enjoyment of this book is in the mystery and the perilous situations, it is also present in the very natural progress of both teens’ spiritual and emotional development.  Both Jake and Sophie learn where they’ve been wrong, where they can improve, and how to avoid rash judgment and rash decisions.  Catholic life and faith is woven seamlessly throughout the book without seeming “preachy” or moralistic.

Leslea Wahl has written in an interview (here) that she “simply wanted to write good, moral, young adult novels full of adventure and excitement.”  Consider that goal richly fulfilled in The Perfect Blindside.

Meet a Reader: Sister Catherine Thomas, O.P. {@TheCatholicPost}

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

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How you know me:

I am a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. I have been teaching theology at Peoria Notre Dame the past three years and living with four other Sisters of my community at St. Jude Parish in Peoria. I am moving this summer to an assignment in Texas.

Why I love reading:

I have always, always loved reading. On the one hand, reading is an escape from everyday reality. As a child always loved exploring the worlds that authors created and accompanying the characters on their many adventures. On the other hand, great literature, far from being an escape from reality, takes you deeper into reality, into the depths and the greatness of the human condition. The classics of the spiritual tradition, especially the writings of the saints, take you deeper into THE Reality, the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Plus, Dominicans love searching for God in books and I am a Dominican to the marrow of my bones.

What I’m reading now:

I’m reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens for fun, Scripture for my current spiritual reading, and A History of Israel by John Bright for study.

My favorite book:

This is impossible without categories. When you read Scripture you are in conversation with the living God who speaks to you personally. You have before you the great love letter from the Father and you are drinking from the fountain of truth, goodness, and beauty Himself, and every other adventure, every other history, finds its center and fulfillment in His story. For novels or short stories, I love anything by Tolstoy. For the books that have changed my life, I point to St. Augustine’s little dialogue On Free Choice of the Will,” the Compendium of Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, and Bl. Raymond of Capua’s Life of St. Catherine of Siena. Among the books that I have read more times than I can count, there are Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, and The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? {My August column @TheCatholicPost }

In a word, no.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is the title of an award-winning graphic novel/memoir by the artist and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s an amazingly funny, poignant, unapologetically honest account of the decline and death of Chast’s parents, and how she processed it both emotionally, physically, and artistically. If you’ve been through caring for elderly parents, you will find yourself nodding at this book.

For obvious reasons, the title of that book was prominently in mind when I began to review an important new book about at the scourge of pornography on our culture.

Believe me, I’d much rather talk about something more pleasant. As frequent readers of The Catholic Post  can tell from the books normally reviewed here, I genuinely try to focus on the positive aspects of life as a modern Catholic. And there is plenty of positive to focus on. But every so often, a cultural moment making it vital to tackle uncomfortable truths.

The tipping point for me was the open letter written and read in court earlier this year by the young woman who was raped by a student at Stanford University. The details of her account convinced me and many others that there is a huge crisis of depersonalization in our culture, and that sexuality is the center of that struggle.

If you don’t think this kinds of event is directly related to the epidemic of porn in our culture, you haven’t done even the tiniest bit of research on how pornography affects the brain, especially those of the young. And some of the generation growing up right now are, to put it mildly, adversely affected by easy access to pornography.

Cleansed: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn by Marcel LeJeune is a sobering, but ultimately hopeful, book about the cancer that is pornography.

LeJeune works in college ministry—he’s the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, the largest campus ministry in the country. LeJeune writes candidly about his own struggles as a young man with porn, but much more importantly, he writes both about the ways that people who struggle can break free from this pernicious addiction, as well as the ways people can avoid and help young people especially stay away from it.

Cleansed first outlines the incontrovertible evidence that pornography is highly addictive and corrosive to healthy relationships, families, and society at large, and why that matters. LeJeune then shares a Catholic vision of combatting porn, from virtue development, to accountability groups, to prayer and penance, to protecting those under one’s care. He points that in extreme cases, professional counseling may be needed, as porn is widely recognized as a “process addiction” such as gambling.

Cleansed isn’t just for those who struggle  with pornography. It’s also for parents who want to know how to keep kids safe from encountering pornography. Mostly, it’s for anyone who would want to be aware and equipped.

Because of the subject matter of a book like Cleansed, it’s obviously is not for young readers. Yet one of the key points of the book is keeping the very young from encountering and potentially becoming addicted to pornography online. LeJeune gives a lot of excellent advice for parents, including close monitoring of Internet use, a well-adjusted relationship, and a willingness to talk to young children candidly about the beauty of sexuality and how pornography distorts and even kills its healthy expression.

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For parents who want to talk about this sensitive area in a careful way with children of all ages, I highly, highly recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Kids by Kristen A. Jenson M.A. and Debbie Fox.

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures shares a large amount of information to help even very young children understand that “bad pictures” are out there, and it’s likely they will encounter them, but must work to keep away from them to grow up healthy emotionally, physically, and developmentally.

Parents should absolutely read the book first to decide how to present the material, but the narrative provides not just data about how pornography is freely available, but can be extremely damaging to children’s developing brains.

Even with the best internet filters, children may be in a situation where they encounter pornography or something that could lead them towards the damaging, hard-core images. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures helps children develop their own “internal internet filter,” and compellingly makes the case for why they should do so. The book offers a five-point CAN-DO plan to help kids who might accidentally encounter troubling images, and helps them have a pro-active stance towards internet use.

Healthy parents want for their children what’s best. And healthy parents want their children to grow up healthy in every way, so they can flourish in relationships, from friendships to marriage, and in every area of life. Giving children the tools strategies to do that is a gift parents can give in so many ways. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, is a vital resource book for parents to help give that gift to their children.

Good Reads for #Krakow2016 #WYD

World Youth Day in Krakow is underway.

In the category of “better late than never,” I’m sharing some great reads to consider reading or re-reading to get and stay in the spirit of World Youth Day, especially for those of us watching from afar.

First, a few fun links:

The #WYD website.

A Facebook overlay for your Facebook profile. This took me a few tries, but I’m really glad to have changed my profile photo to reference WYD.

Now to the books:

I mentioned this book recently, but it’s well worth reading–travelogue and spiritual biography of Poland, chiefly Krakow.

Two great quotes from City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow about the spiritual fatherhood of St. John Paul II:

“He was a moral reference point for his friends and did not hesitate to be a challenging counselor and confessor. But the pastoral stress … was always on personal responsibility. He was not the decider for his friends; they must be their own deciders, he insisted, if they were to be true to the moral dignity built into them as human persons and as Christians. “

…..

“(Fr. Wojtyla was), according to one of his friends and penitents, uninterested in the ‘mass production of Christians’ in a confessional assembly line, but deeply committed to accompanying a fellow believer in his or her quest for the truth, including the truth of failure and the truth about making wise decisions. Yet Wojtyla, the confessor who gently prodded good decisions, never imposed decisions. ‘You must decide’ was his signature phrase in spiritual direction. One couldn’t opt out of the drama of life in the gap. One had to decide–and, with the grace of God and the support of the Church, wise and true decisions could be made.”

George Weigel wrote City of Saints, but he’s known best for writing the definitive biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope.  This is a long book, but so worth reading. A classic.

 

I’ve written about Jason Evert’s book, Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves before, but I’ll reiterate that this book is highly readable and fascinating account. I mean this as a compliment, but it’s like a lighter version of Witness to Hope.
Many pilgrims to World Youth Day will be visiting Divine Mercy sites related to St. Faustina.  Divine Mercy for Moms is an engaging introduction to the saint and the devotion.

I have many more books to add, including my favorite poetry books by John Paul II, but this post has been in draft long enough!

What would you recommend people read to celebrate World Youth Day 2016?

Reading Catholic and Great Catholic Memoirs {Talk notes, St. Thomas Women’s Group}

I spoke earlier this month at a local parish’s women’s group, and I had promised in a few days to post the notes (much like I did for my talk at the  “Finding Your Fiat” conference.)

Much to my regret, it’s been more than a few days, but I am finally uploading these notes.

I combined two concepts for this talk, as the organizers asked me to speak on both “Reading (as a) Catholic” and “Great Catholic Memoirs.” So I first outlined and discussed some “Reading Catholic Rules” with general principles and take-away ideas for being a well-rounded and savvy reader; and then shared a number of Catholic memoirs for ideas to get started. You can click on this sentence see images and links to the Catholic memoirs (and more!) on a Pinterest board I created a long time ago sharing Catholic memoirs. 

Most of all, I want to encourage the women I spoke with, as well as anyone reading this, to be a Catholic reader, and to encourage you to take the time to read.
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Reading Catholic Rules (along the lines of Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules.”)
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Even the English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon had food in mind when discussing books:

“ Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

*A Catholic reader knows “you are what you read,” in the same way the expression, “you are what you eat” works for food.

*A Catholic reader filters everything through a Catholic worldview.

*A Catholic reader goes with her strengths, but is not afraid to stretch.

*A Catholic reader is social shares books and love of reading with others, just as eating in family or community is better for us.

* A Catholic reader recognizes and rejoices in beauty.

* A Reading Catholic collects quotes like recipes.

Great Catholic Memoirs:

Sir Walter Scott wrote, “There is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but is a heroic poem of its sort, rhymed or unrhymed.”

A well-told memoir like the ones shared here  you offer testimony to the heroic in life.

Classic memoirs would be works like: St. Augustine’s Confessions, St. Therese’s “The Story of A Soul.”

Modern Catholic memoirs, my definition: I would say any autobiographical book by a Catholic, or someone with a Catholic vision. Sometimes, faith takes center stage, sometimes it is just an element in the story, but the well-told stories–even with flaws, either in the person or the way the story is told–can still provide reflection for that “heroic story.”

Some Catholic memoir categories:

Two memoirs by” insiders” in Church affairs

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell.

The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church by John Thavis

Two traveling memoirs:
Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. James Martin, SJ

Running with God Across America by Jeff Grabosky

Four memoirs about tough times:

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilabagiza


Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Lines by Abby Johnson


Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther


My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints by Dawn Eden

Three memoirs — voice of experience:


I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life & Pastimes by Ralph McInerny


Treasure in Clay by Venerable Fulton Sheen


The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’s Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows by Mother Dolores Hart and Richard DeNeut

Meet a Reader: Deacon Bob Myers {@TheCatholicPost}

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

I’ve been a Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Peoria for 24 years. I’ve been assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Parish for the last 22 years, and I currently work as Executive Director of the Catholic Cemetery Association of Peoria, and the Diocesan Director of the Catholic Cemeteries. July 31, my wife Jeri and I will celebrate 45 years of marriage, and we have two boys, Rob and Andy, and two granddaughters McKenna and Haylee.

Why I love reading:

Reading is so important. It keeps us informed about current events, the past (history), and various interests. For instance, I enjoy reading The Catholic Post to keep up to date on what’s happening around the diocese and in our area.  I also subscribe to several woodworking magazines to keep current with trends in on one of my favorite pastimes.  [I’ve long enjoyed woodworking, and made the Ambry (a recess that holds Holy Oils that are blessed and consecrated) at St. Vincent de Paul.]

What I’m reading now:

Right now I’m reading Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly.  It was given to me at our parish’s TMIY (That Man is You) program.  We’ve had TMIY at St. Vincent for about two years.  Rediscover Jesus is an easy read and very interesting.  It’s helped me get back in touch with my Lord and recall and reflect on the life of Jesus and his impact on my life.

My favorite book:

Friendship as Sacrament by Sister Carmen L. Caltagirone is my favorite book; I’ve read it at least five times over the years.  Sr. Carmen understands the power of friendship. She talks about how building your relationship with God is vital to friendship with Him and others. She also writes about how God works through your close friends and soul-mates to love you as best as possible.

The Right Kind of Encouragement for Family Life {my July column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my July book review column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

To be honest, I sometimes get irritated at the topics or titles of books because of the potential hubris involved.

“The Best and Only Diet for Everyone. “The One Fool-Proof Way to Get Your Baby to Sleep.” “Have a Perfectly Organized House in 3 Hours or Less.” These aren’t real book titles, but could be, because we all recognize something similar in books or articles out there.

Maybe that’s because the more I live, the less convinced I am that there is ONE WAY to do any one thing. Think you have it all figured out? You probably don’t. Even if an author has expertise in a field, the most effective books will inspire people with gentle guidance and information, and encourage people.

That’s why I appreciate three newer books that offer a tremendous amount of sensible advice and encouragement for three stages of life—wedding, childbirth, and child-raising— with none of the guilt or stress that can vex readers. If you’re in one of these stages of life, or know someone who is, these books are first-rate.

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Like many women, I have always enjoyed bridal magazines and seeing the fun crafts, food, and other details that go into wedding planning.

The lovely book  Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner by Stephanie Calis, provides a Catholic perspective on these topics.

The first half of Invited focuses on the practical, complete with checklists for budgeting, other marriage prep and ideas, the Mass, and the reception. The latter chapters are a very gentle, very well-put, explanation of Catholic teaching on various areas related to marriage and the wedding, from “holding on to your sanity” to starting your life together.

Particularly strong were the chapters on beauty, inspiring women to have a healthy sense of beauty without going overboard or playing the “comparison game” too much; and what Calis terms “the sex chapter,” a sensitive and thorough explanation,rooted in the Theology of the Body, of Catholic teaching on sexuality. Calis’ husband Andrew writes periodic “from the groom” sections providing a male view of things.

Each chapter ends with a “for conversation” paragraph meant to spark healthy discussion between bride & groom.

Invited would make an excellent gift for a recently engaged couple.

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The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust is like a motherhood retreat, for both expectant and new moms, and even moms of any age.

Theologian and mother of five Windley-Daoust has written a personal, Catholic, and realistic look at the process of birthing, both normal and not-so-normal circumstances. Her writing style is theological, but with a mother’s heart. She shares some of her own birth stories, as well as those of many others. The book is suffused with the spiritual as well as physical, emotional, and practical aspects of childbirth.

Though the title may make it seem like it’s for the title, it’s not just for pregnant moms or moms of young ones.

I thought I would be less interested or affected by this book, since it’s been more than a decade since I have had a baby. But I found as I read that it was both lovely and healing to reflect back in a spiritual way, my own experiences of giving birth. The Gift of Birth offers space for moms to reflect and consider the awesome things, the good things and the less-than-great things that happen during pregnancy and childbirth.

The Gift of Birth spans four sections: “The Theology of the Body and Childbirth,” “Reading the Signs of Birth,” “When Childbearing is Difficult, Where is God?”, and “Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories.” It’s hard to pick a favorite section, but the chapters of “Reading the Signs of Birth” follow the progression of labor and birth, and the spiritual meaning present. The range of birth stories shared in “Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories” is both fascinating and prayerful as eight women reflect on giving birth in their own lives.

Obviously, a book like The Gift of Birth would be ideal for an expectant mom, but would also be excellent for women of any age.


Once-local author Marc Cardaronella, who previously worked in evangelization in the diocese of Peoria, has written a remarkable new book called, Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick. [Cardaronella is now director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for Faith Formation at the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph, Missouri.]

The title of Keep Your Kids Catholic gave me the most worry, since any kind of parenting book or advice always strikes fear and sometimes amusement into the heart of many parents, myself included. Perhaps it’s because I, like so many others before me, vowed when I didn’t have kids that I would parent differently (and so much better) than all the parents I saw around me. You know, the statements like “my child will never eat candy before lunch” or “my children will never interrupt two grown-ups having a conversation.” Etc. And then you laugh at your younger self.

Keep Your Kids Catholic is by no means one of that kind of book. It could be titled, Keep Yourself Catholic more than anything else, since Cardaronella stresses the importance of personal witness and a vibrant Catholic home environment as being vital to fostering faith among young people.

The book is divided into four sections, all leading towards encouraging young people to explicitly embrace the Catholic Faith as their own: “How Does Faith Work?”, “Is Your Own Faith Secure?”, “What Kind of an Education Fosters Faith?” and “How Do You Create An Environment of Faith?”

Cardaronella emphasizes two interconnected goals: one, as a parent, having a rich faith and prayer life; and two, having a strong relationship with your children, especially as they grow older. Those two features are also key for a healthy family atmosphere. He also covers the importance of strong mentoring relationships with others in teen and young adulthood years and having healthy relationships with a Catholic community in one’s parish, among families, and among children themselves. The maxim, “It takes a village,” is certainly relevant here.

Cardaronella combines his own story of reversion to the Catholic faith along with what he’s learned as a parent and catechist. He admits he is not an expert in child-raising, but Keep Your Kids Catholic provides ample good advice and information for parents everywhere.

Eleazar’s Commonplace Book, or Shine Like Lights {Finding Your Fiat talk notes}

I am still processing the wonderful Finding Your Fiat Conference I attended last weekend here in central Illinois.  So many great memories and take-aways. Before I get to my promised talk notes, here are a few highlights of “Finding Your Fiat” from me:

*Friday night gathering: a mini-concert and then Karaoke with Marie Miller. I didn’t actually do Karaoke but I loved getting to sing and dance along. So many ladies ( Bonnie and Nell and so many others) did really funny and great songs. Now I want to somehow do karaoke with the family or friends. Is there an app or inexpensive way to get started with this?

*Saturday’s program: so many awesome women, so many adorable babies, praise and worship with Marie Miller, and more.  The coloring pages provided by Katie Bogner, were lovely and relaxing as we began the day.  Katie also hand-stamped sweet charms with the word “Fiat” on them.   I wrote down tons of quotes from Colleen Mitchell and Meg Hunter-Kilmer and Jenna Guizar.  I wish I could have heard the talks by Annie Tillberg and Laura Fanucci, but I was listening to a different talk during the former and giving my talk during the latter.  I was super grateful that Mary Lenaburg agreed to come up towards the end of my talk and share some of her wisdom about finding time for life-giving pursuits even while processing grief and life changes.

So without further ado, here are notes from my talk, entitled:


Eleazar’s Commonplace Book, or Shine Like Lights

“Finding Your Fiat”

Intercession of

Venerable Matt Talbot

Venerable Father Solanus Casey

Prayer:

“Shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life.” —Philippians 2:15-16

entire quote:

“So then, my beloved obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to dear and to work.

Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among who you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

definitions:

Eleazar:

Hebrew scribe, 90 years old, martyred in Maccabees persecution

“But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.

“Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,” he said, “for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty.  Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”  –2 Maccabees 6:23-28

(worth reading the whole chapter and 2 Maccabees 7, the martyrdom of mother and seven sons, and she died after all her sons).

Commonplace book:

a notebook/scrapbook combination, a way for a learned person, scholar, or writer to keep random bits of information in one place.

have existed in that name since the 17th century, but even beforehand in works like the Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci.

Here is a link to a facsimile of John Milton’s Commonplace Book

Here is a link to John Locke’s A New Method of Making Commonplace Books.

So, Eleazar’s Commonplace Book: random quotes and pieces of books from one who wants to be “worthy of her years and gray hair”  to help you consider ways to “shine like lights” throughout life, and be able to persevere (“hold on to the word of life” and not “run in vain”).


Making Books–

Here is the hot dog booklet, and a link to the website with various other small book projects.


BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART, FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD

St. Gregory of Nyssa on the Beatitudes

“Bodily health is a good thing, but what is truly blessed is not only to know how to keep one’s health but actually to be healthy. If someone praises health but then goes and eats food that makes him ill, what is the use to him, in his illness, of all his praise of health?
“We need to look at the text we are considering in just the same way. It does not say that it is blessed to know something about the Lord God, but that it is blessed to have God within oneself. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
I do not think that this is simply intended to promise a direct vision of God if one purifies one’s soul. On the other hand, perhaps the magnificence of this saying is hinting at the same thing that is said more clearly to another audience: The kingdom of God is within you. That is, we are to understand that when we have purged our souls of every illusion and every disordered affection, we will see our own beauty as an image of the divine nature.”

QUESTION: How is the Kingdom of God Within You?


BE A DECIDER

From City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Kraków by George Weigel.

“He was a moral reference point for his friends and did not hesitate to be a challenging counselor and confessor. But the pastoral stress … was always on personal responsibility. He was not the decider for his friends; they must be their own deciders, he insisted, if they were to be true to the moral dignity built into them as human persons and as Christians. “

later in the book:

“(Fr. Wojtyla was), according to one of his friends and penitents, uninterested in the ‘mass production of Christians’ in a confessional assembly line, but deeply committed to accompanying a fellow believer in his or her quest for the truth, including the truth of failure and the truth about making wise decisions. Yet Wojtyla, the confessor who gently prodded good decisions, never imposed decisions. ‘You must decide’ was his signature phrase in spiritual direction. One couldn’t opt out of the drama of life in the gap. One had to decide–and, with the grace of God and the support of the Church, wise and true decisions could be made.”

QUESTION: How can you be a decider? How can you be a good decider, filled with personal responsibility?


WIN HAPPINESS

 Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery (writer of the Anne of Green Gables books).  I dearly love all of the Anne books, and this is the last in the series about her family, and about Anne & Gilbert’s youngest child, darling, charming and growing-up Rilla (named after Marilla). Rilla of Ingleside is such a good book as a coming-of-age story, but also great historical fiction about WWI written close to the time. Noble and heartbreaking without being completely depressing, as a lot of fiction about WWI is, and rightfully so, since it’s the first modern war.

At one point, Rilla is bemoaning in a conversation with her brother Walter how the war is changing their whole community and family. Her brother Walter says:

“Now we won’t be sober any more. We’ll look beyond the years—to the time when the war will be over and Jem and Jerry and I will come marching home and we’ll all be happy again.”

“We won’t be—happy—in the same way,” said Rilla.

“No, not in the same way. Nobody whom this war has touched will ever be happy again in quite the same way. But it will be a better happiness, I think, little sister—a happiness we’ve earned. We were very happy before the war, weren’t we? With a home like Ingleside, and a father and mother like ours we couldn’t help being happy. But that happiness was a gift from life and love; it wasn’t really ours—life could take it back at any time. It can never take away the happiness we win for ourselves in the way of duty.”

QUESTION: What kind of happiness have you won in the way of duty?


MUSTER YOUR WITS


Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

Set in early 20th century Minnesota, Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the iconic Betsy-Tacy books, is a coming-of-age story about a high school graduate, Emily, who can’t go away to college like her cousin and friends since she is taking care of the elderly grandfather who raised her. At first, she wallows in pity.

“Depression settled down upon her, and although she tried to brush it away it thickened like a fog. “Why, the kids will be home for Thanksgiving! That will be here in no time. I mustn’t get this way,” she thought. But she felt lonely and deserted and futile. “A mood like this has to be fought. It’s like an enemy with a gun,” she told herself. But she couldn’t seem to find a gun with which to fight.

Later, she learns to “muster her wits” and she starts a reading group, and goes out to dances, and becomes active in helping Syrian immigrants.  She discovers a quote in Shakespeare: 

“Muster your wits: stand in your own defense.” She had no idea in what sense he had used it, but it seemed to be a message aimed directly at her. “Muster your wits: stand in your own defense,” she kept repeating to herself on the long walk home. After dinner she sat down in her rocker, looked out at the snow and proceeded to muster her wits. “I’m going to fill my winter and I’m going to fill it with something worth while,” she resolved.

QUESTION: How Can you Muster Your Wits? What are your Resources for Doing that?  (friends, faith, outside help) 


EMBRACE YOUR GOOFY HOBBIES

C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a series of imaginary letters from a senior demon “(Screwtape) to his nephew about ways to ensnare a young man in WWII-era England.  It’s a classic on the spiritual life and growth in holiness, both funny and spiritually insightful. All the terms and suggestions are backward (the Enemy is God).

“The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. I myself would carry this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”

QUESTION: What is Your Tripe & Onions?


AIR YOUR ROOMS

Rumer Godden’s Autobiography: A House with Four Rooms.

“There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual . Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.” 

Question: How can you air out those four rooms each day, or even each week?  What can you do to be well-rounded?


RESOLUTION: How can you make time for something you “want” to do, not “have” to do?

My best example of a “want to”: The New York Times mini-crossword.

Some of mine:

Running

Daily Mass–more when kids were tiny, less when kids were busy

Adoration

Reading

QUESTION: What “want-tos” are you going to make intentional over the next few weeks? 


I would love to hear what want-tos are in your line-up the next few weeks.  If you attended “Finding Your Fiat,” I’d also love to hear your favorite parts and things you are pondering.

As a sharing of one of my “want-tos,” here is my completed New York Time mini-crossword for Wednesday (BTW, I didn’t do it in 35 seconds! I did it late last night, as I mentioned in my talk, and forgot to take a screen shot, so I did it again this morning. But many times I do get it in under a minute.):

IMG_5296

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