All posts by Nancy Piccione

Meet a Reader: Kimberly Lange

Following is the “Meet a Reader” that appears in this month’s print edition of The Catholic Post.


How You Know Me:

I live on the border between Washington and Morton with Philip, my husband of 27 years, and our five children.  I am the High School Faith Formation Coordinator for Blessed Sacrament Church and am a member of the Bishop’s Commission on Women. 

Why I love Reading:

My parents were always big readers, and I grew up with a rule that I had to read for a half hour each night before bed.  However, I did not fall in love with it until I became a mom and had the responsibility of cultivating a love of reading in my own children.  Teaching each of my children how to read was also a boost for appreciating this skill that opens up so many doors.  If you can read, you can pretty much learn about anything you need, and I cannot resist living vicariously through the lives of the characters I  meet, and appreciate the lessons I learn (the easy way).  Reading enhances my everyday reality, and makes even the most mundane of days brighter. My favorite literature genre is historical fiction, but I am ALWAYS happy with a cookbook in my hands. Makes the mundane tastier, too!

What I’m reading now:

I have slowly been working through a 10-volume series of private revelation called Direction for Our Times as Given to Anne, a Lay Apostle.  While it must be understood that private revelation is not considered part of the “deposit of faith”, it can be recognized as a help to live the Catholic faith more fully in a certain period of history.  This series carries the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur which declare the book free of doctrinal or moral error and declare that ecclesiastical permission has been granted for publication.   he books are a collection of teachings and exchanges between Anne, a lay apostle from Ireland, and both Jesus and Mary (as well as various other saints in volume seven), that took place between June of 2003 and October of 2004.  Many times as I struggle through prayer at mass or during Eucharistic adoration, I wish I simply had a direct hotline to Heaven.  These books make me feel as if I do!  These recorded conversations with Jesus and Mary exude all the love, tenderness, care and concern of a groom for His bride and a mother for her children.  They are comforting, reassuring, inspirational, and educational, and bring peace to my heart.

I am also reading A Philadelphia Catholic in King James’s Court by Martin de Porres Kennedy.  It’s an emotionally charged apologetics novel that makes me not only feel good about being Catholic, but invites us to study and understand our faith so that we may joyfully share its truths with others! 

My Favorite book:

The first time I thought to myself, “This is my favorite book,” was when I read Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls in junior high English class.  This book made me laugh out loud, cry real tears, and took me through every emotion in between.   I remember being so amazed and delighted  by its power to do that. 


On a different note,  Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World ranks as a favorite because it somehow took what I knew (God loves me unconditionally) but did not yet fully believe (when I get this part of me cleaned up, God, then we can REALLY be friends) and turned it into an unquestionable reality for me (I’m His bride. Now.  As is. Trust Him).  This understanding, of course, changed my life, and I re-read this book every year, lest I forget who I am.

Lent is On the Way; What’s Your Spiritual Reading? {My February column @TheCatholicPost }

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

Call me contrarian, but I still give up chocolate for Lent.

Yes, I know, there are innumerable online articles how you “shouldn’t give up chocolate” for Lent. And surely I’m not the only one to have heard more than one sermon during Mass on not giving up chocolate, but instead doing something extra, or focusing on more spiritual practices.

Giving up chocolate may be the Lent equivalent of Mom jeans, but I’m sticking with them (and Mom jeans, incidentally). It may be considered outdated, insufficient, not especially spiritually fruitful. At best, it’s considered a “good start” by Catholic writers and priests.

But for me, giving up chocolate is still hard! And that small (or big) mortification reminds me every day that it is Lent, and I should focus on growth in holiness this beautiful liturgical season. It’s also a good start to other practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we are meant to do during Lent.

One of my other Lent non-negotiable is spiritual reading, especially re-reads. That is why during many Lents over the past 20 years, I delve into my dog-eared copy of St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life. This year I might add in He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciscek as it is such an important spiritual classic that I’ve discovered a few years ago.

Lent begins February 14 (yes, it’s Valentine’s Day–maybe celebrate on Fat Tuesday instead?).

Consider browsing your local Catholic bookstore for ideas to start or continue this tradition on your own. Here are also a few recently published books that might be good for a Lent focus:

*Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life Marie Baudouin-Croix and translated into English by Mary Frances Mooney, has been recently reprinted by Ignatius Press. This spiritual biography of Leonie, the sister of St. Therese of Lisieux who bore many burdens in her life, is both moving and inspiring.

Reading about Leonie’s mental health issues and special needs, as well as how she persisted in trying to fulfill her vocation, brought me to tears several times. If she had been born in this century, she and her family would have many opportunities for special needs services, counseling, and other coaching. But she wasn’t, and so her path was more difficult. But she and her family never gave up, and that offers hope to anyone who struggles in any way to live out our Catholic faith.

Leonie Martin tried on four separate occasions to enter religious life, and finally succeeded in becoming a Visitandine sister in Caen, France.

Leonie Martin is largely a chronological biography, taken from the voluminous correspondence of her mother Zelie Martin, as well as the sisters among each other. It would be hard to research and write this kind of book today, because the letters provide a window into her development into a “faithful disciple” of Therese.

As Baudouin-Croix writes in the introduction, “This book is not intended to bring Leonie’s hidden virtues to light; as Pauline (a sister of Therese and Leonie) said, ‘the Holy Church is not obliged to canonize all God’s friends.’ Quite simply, it is comforting to everyone to know about one woman’s struggle to conquer a difficult, intractable temperament.”

We normally reflect on her famous sister the Little Flower, and her recently canonized parents, St. Zelie and St. Louis Martin, strove for holiness. But in some ways Leonie could be a better patron for those who struggle with persistent faults and even disabilities.

“She teaches those who are overcome by loneliness that no human intimacy can fill the void in the human heart; that God alone can fill it with His infinite tenderness.”

*The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre, is a highly readable and well-researched book about the historical sources of the truth of the Gospels. Pitre’s principal concern is refuting the popular cultural view promoting the false idea that Jesus was simple a “good teacher.”

Pitre, a professor of Sacred Scripture, writes about his own evolution from cradle Christian to questioning and doubting graduate student to professor and scholar. His studies and research of ancient sources led him to see that the evidence amply supports traditional Christian belief, rather than the modern skeptical approach that could be summarized as “the case against Jesus.”

The Case for Jesus in Pitre’s accessible and narrative style, covers the authorship and the dating of the Gospels, the “lost Gospels” that are non-canonical and why; the Jewish background for Jesus’ life and teachings; and many more topics.

The Case for Jesus demonstrates the solid historical basis for the truths of Scripture. It’s an edifying read in a culture of relativism and uncertainty often at odds with Christian life.


*Mother Angelica, founder of the media ministry EWTN, may also be considered “old-fashioned.” But if you’ve ever stumbled upon video of her online or on EWTN, chatting away with guests on her show, or answering questions from the audience in her entertaining, no-nonsense style, you’ll find that she is not just timeless, but relevant for right now.

Mother Angelica on Suffering and Burnout reprints a series of six “mini-books” first published in the 1970s by Mother Angelica’s Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, and this small publishing concern grew over time into the media ministry EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network—which has grown immensely over the years to include video, radio, online, and print ministries to share the Catholic faith.

Mother Angelica wrote these reflections on a pad of paper during times of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The book is a handsome small size hardback, which includes three sections—suffering, burnout, and consolation. Mother Angelica writes of her own personal experiences, shares many real-life examples of all sorts of people, and offers hope and solace to those enduring any form of suffering or burnout.

You might also be interested in:

The Extraordinary Parents of St. Therese of Lisieux: Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin by Helene Mongin (translated by Marsha Dangle-Williamson) is another book that relies heavily on the extensive letters and correspondence of the Martin family and their circle.  This book is also a fascinating read, and was published the same year that the married couple was canonized. 

Starting the Year Right with Faith {My January column @TheCatholicPost}

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

A few months ago, our family attended Mass for All Saints Day on November 1 at St. Philomena here in Peoria.  At the end of Mass Father Richardson explained the tradition of a “saint draw” offered after Mass.

Each person leaving church was encouraged to pick a strip of paper out of a basket, and that became is the “saint who picked you,” he explained.  The strip of paper would also have a quote from or about the saint, and an intention for which to pray. My “saint” was St. Luke the Evangelist, and I was encouraged to “pray for those questioning their faith in the Church.”

First of all, I love this new-to-me tradition, though I know there are similar ideas, such as the online new year tradition of using Jen Fulwiler’s “Saint Name Generator.” (And did you see Fulwiler has a new “Word of the Year Generator,” too?)

But what I’ve been especially pondering is the prayer intention assigned on my strip of paper—to “pray for those questioning their faith in the Church.”

I promise you it’s grace alone, and nothing I did, that I don’t fall into this category of “questioning my faith in the Church.”  I might have times when I experience spiritual dryness, or feel frustration at “the way things are” when they are not ideal. But especially the older I get, I am amazed and awed by the beauty and richness of our Catholic faith; the wide range of ways to practice and live out the Faith; the diversity of people in the Church; and the amazing things the saints and ordinary people have accomplished because of, not despite, their Catholic faith.

And yet we all know people who have fallen away from the faith, either through a bad experience; a drifting in those sensitive early adulthood years; or those who can’t reconcile faith with their experience in the world.

How to bring them back? Most people would agree that prayer and our best example of a life of faith are powerful elements.  And for anyone who is open to exploring Christianity and Catholicism, or for those who love them, two new books, and one reprint of a classic, provide solid arguments that a life of faith is good, true, and beautiful.

I had never read Frank Sheed before Theology for Beginners, his 1957 classic book compiling his diocesan columns on matters of faith.  Ignatius Press has a handsome new reprint.

When I first looked at the table of contents, this non-theologian became a little discouraged.  With section headings like “The Human Mind and the Doctrine of the Trinity” I thought it might be a dry, theological tome.  But right from the start, Sheed radiates the joy he has in explaining and exploring the truths of our faith. It’s not an “easy” read, but it’s not a boring or too-technical read.

In many ways, Sheed’s writings remind me of C.S. Lewis, especially Mere Christianity—a defense of faith in unbelieving times, and simple, well-written explanations. That makes sense, since Sheed, an Australian Catholic, lived and wrote in England at the same time as Lewis.  Sheed & his wife Maisie Ward were prominent 20th century Catholic apologists and publishers in England and the U.S.  And like Lewis, it’s worth the effort.

Theology for Beginners is divided into 20 sections, with a few chapters for each, ranging, but not limited to, the Trinity, creation, the fall, redemption, the Church, the sacraments, and the end of the world.

I read the book start to finish, but admittedly, in small doses—a chapter or two at a time. After all, I’m not the theologian in the family(!).  But like the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), one could read Theology for Beginners at whatever section or chapter is of interest, and still find it useful.

An even simpler and more “modern” explanation of the doctrines of our faith is Why We’re Catholic: Our Reasons for Faith, Hope, & Love by Trent Horn.

Horn summarizes good apologetics in the introduction, when he writes “I don’t look at people who’ve left the Catholic Church or who aren’t Catholic as potential “customers.” They’re just people. …. They may differ from me in lots of ways, but they almost certainly have one thing in common with me: they don’t want to be ignorant and they do want to be happy.”

Many people think of apologetics as arguing people into the faith, but it’s really about a conversation, and helping people (who are open) understand what we love and “get” from our faith.  That’s what Horn handles so beautifully in Why We’re Catholic.

One thing I love in Horn’s book is that each of the 25 chapters begins with “Why We… “ — “Why We Believe in Jesus,” “Why We Believe in the Bible,” “Why We Baptize Babies,” “Why We Hope for Heaven.”  And each chapters includes interesting short sidebars with history or personalities related to it, and ends with a short summary of the message of that chapter. The book finishes with three appendices-like chapters, “How to Become Catholic,” “How to Go to Confession,” and “Common Catholic Prayers.” It’s a good, solid overview, that, like “Theology for Beginners,” can be read cover-to-cover or just jumping around.

Finally, a more personal, but well-reasoned, defense of faith is Brandon Vogt’s Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be Too).

Vogt, the content director for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, is well-known and well-regarded online for a number of projects. Why I Am Catholic is divided into three sections making the case: “Catholicism is True,” a traditional apologetics section; Catholicism is Good,” the good works and civilization-building accomplished by the Church and her members; and “Catholicism is Beautiful,” the art and universality of and inspired by the Church.

My only criticism of the book is that is that the second two sections, “Good” and “Beautiful,” are thin compared to the “True” section. For instance, there is barely a mention of the Church’s vital influence in both education, charity (such as Catholic Charities or the St. Vincent de Paul Society), and health care ministries, works continued on for centuries by religious orders.

But the strength of the apologetics section alone makes Why I Am Catholic persuasive and interesting, especially when added to the strengths of the other books.

Any or all three of these books might be a great way to start off the year learning more about our faith, or sharing them with someone doubting or seeking faith.

Meet a Reader: Terry Mester {@TheCatholicPost}

Following is the “Meet a Reader” that appears in this month’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

How you know me:

I am married to Karl. We have three grown children plus two grandchildren aged two and four. We are Eucharistic Ministers at St Mary’s Church in Bloomington. Karl and I have been very active with Bloomington Normal Cursillo since 1984.

Why I love reading:

I grew up in a small burg of around 100 people with one church, one school and one small general store. I attended a two-room schoolhouse through sixth grade. My sixth grade class totaled one boy and three girls. After I discovered reading and books, my life changed by expanding greatly!

I often got in trouble at home because I was upstairs “hiding” with a book instead of doing my chores. Reading was not only a way to learn, but also an escape of my surroundings into many different worlds. Books were so important in my life that I worked 34 years as a school librarian so I could share the joy of reading with others.

What I’m reading now:

Karl and I recently took a class on Centering Prayer so just started reading Thomas Keating’s Open Mind, Open Heart. Our St. Mary’s Bible study group is currently doing Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross by Edward Sri. Over the last eight years, we have completed most of the studies by Jeff Cavins and other authors at Ascension Press.

I was a high school media specialist so I still have a love for young adult literature. Our daughter, who is a HS Media Specialist in North Carolina, highly recommended The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book gave me a better lens to view our county’s current racial injustice.

My favorite book:


What!?!? This is akin to asking me who of my three children I love the most. Since I am constantly reading, this answer changes every few months. Being a convert to Catholicism, I learned so much about Mary from reading 33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Michael E. Gaitley. I love the spiritual author Anne Lamont’s work, especially Traveling Mercies. For over two years I’ve been promoting All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. His beautiful writing caused me to stop and reread several passages over and over.

Diversions with Catholic Themes Offer Recreation & Knowledge {My December column @TheCatholicPost }

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

When the “end of the world” was predicted for earlier this year by some Christian fundamentalists and others because of the solar eclipse and other “convergences,” our family had some interesting discussions about what makes that impulse very human and yet not praiseworthy.

We spoke of how Christians could try to avoid getting caught up in these apocalyptic pitfalls and maintain our sense of perspective. We can recall that we belong to Jesus, and so need not worry about “the end.” It’s also a healthy reminder to remember to stay close to Jesus and the Church always.

I love the story told of St. Charles Borromeo, the great who was playing cards with two priest friends. Someone near them asked what they would do if they knew the end of the world were to happen within an hour.

One priest said, “I would run to Church to be with our Lord.” The other priest said, “I would call upon the name of the Lord.” St. Charles Borromeo said, “I would finish this game of cards.”

I don’t consider this an indictment of either of the other priests or their answers. Perhaps they did need to spend more time with our Lord, or call on His name more. But St. Charles’ answer demonstrated his sense that, “anywhere you go, there you are.” That we can serve the Lord and be holy in the daily activities of our lives.

If one’s life is well-ordered, whatever we are doing at the moment can be for the glory of God, whether serving the poor, being at Mass, or, yes, playing cards.

In fact, leisure and “fun” pursuits can be a way to refresh our spirits and help us get a break from work, school, and endless “things to do.”

Several recent Catholic books offer that kind of refreshment, and would be great for fun Christmas gifts or activities during Christmas break.

For those with a kitchen inclination, there’s a great new book by Peoria native, Benedictine monk, writer, and baker Father Dominic Garramone. Father Dominic is a monk of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, Illinois. He is nationally known through his PBS baking programs and cookbooks.

But Fr. Garramone’s new Baking Secrets from the Bread Monk: Tips, Techniques, and Bread Lore is not a cookbook, though it does include recipes.

Rather, Baking Secrets from the Bread Monk offers short, cleverly titled—“He Scores” and “The Unkindest Cut” for example—chapters of information about the history, practice, and ideas for those who love baking, or eating, breads and other baked goods.

I’m an experienced baker (thought not fond of bread baking—sorry Fr. Dom!), but I found many good new techniques and ideas, to incorporate into my kitchen. Fr. Dominic’s enjoyable writing style makes it fun to read the history of many types of bread and practices.

Baking Secrets from the Bread Monk is sprinkled with charming illustrations and a healthy dose of fun, well-designed recipes, from sour cream donuts to soft pretzels.

My favorite part was Fr. Dominic’s “Secrets of My Bookshelf,” a sharing of his favorite cookbooks, books about food, and spiritual classics that have informed his baking and praying life. I’ve read or skimmed some of them, but added a few to my list to explore and learn from.

Matt Swaim’s newest venture, a two-volume set of Catholic Word Games, Puzzles, and Brain Teasers, is an engaging concept.

Several of us in our family really enjoy puzzles and word games. We tried out some of the puzzles in Volume 1, and we found them just the right amount of challenge and fun. It wasn’t so easy that we could finish the book quickly, nor were any of them so challenging as to be impossible.

The book includes many types of puzzles, from code scrambles, fallen phrases, missing letters, and quote tiles. There’s a helpful answer key at the back of each book.


Finally, A History of the Church in 100 Objects by Mike & Grace Aquilina is a clever book of history and culture of the Church, told through the “stuff” —material things—in our world that signify the Church or explain in some way. It’s inspired by the History of the World in 100 Objects project (a radio program series, museum exhibit, and book) in 2014 which took 100 items from the British Museum to tell the story of civilization.

Each of the “objects” in A History of the Church in 100 Objects is categorized in one of seven chronological groups; The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs; The Church and the Empire; The Dark Ages; The Middle Ages; Renaissance and Reformations; The Age of Revolutions; and The Global Village.

Objects range from architecture gems such as the Dome of St. Peter’s in Rome; to saint belongings (St. Francis’ tunic; Cardinal Newman’s desk; St. Therese’s curls); to non- religious items such as fetal models that helped explain the development of unborn children; and banknotes in Poland that commemorate Pope John Paul II.

At the end of each object’s description are one or two further resources—usually books— to learn more about the item, and the “stuff” of our faith.

Meet a Reader: Angela Barth {@TheCatholicPost}

Following is the “Meet a Reader” that appears in this month’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

How you know me:

I am wife to Jason, mother to Hannah, Madison, Nolan, and Micah, and am a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria. I also teach special education at Limestone-Walters and occasionally help out doing wine tastings at the family business Pottstown Meat and Deli.

Why I love reading:

I love reading because it lets me live 100 different lives when I only have one! I can travel the world, experience different careers, and live in a different time period, while I am at home living my ordinary life.

What I’m reading now:

I usually read multiple books at a time, but the one that is most interesting to me right now is The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis by Ben Sasse. While not all about Catholicism, it is written by a religious U.S. Senator who decries our young adults lack of responsibility and maturity in society. It’s most interesting in stating the problem started long ago, when public education took over every aspect of learning, including morality. Gradually parents have lost control over transmitting faith in public arenas, and government has injected the curriculum with the vogue relativism prevalent today. This reduction of moral absolutes has led young adults to a life without purpose or absolutes that is filled with technology and consumerism.

My favorite book:

I can only short-list: I can’t pick one! The top two and for similar reasons are Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Both Scarlett O’Hara and Madame Bovary waste their lives chasing their ideas of what brings happiness. In pursuit of their obsessions, they resent and lose the people who truly do love them. And my close third choice is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It is a moving metaphor for the love God has for us in His Mercy and what happens to our souls when we reject it.

Big Ideas are Best in Small Doses {My November column @TheCatholicPost}

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

Let’s just be honest here.

I’m better at GK Chesterton in (very) small doses.

First, I love the great quotes characteristic of this prolific Catholic convert and early 20th century English writer:

“The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly.”

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

I also enjoy some of Chesterton’s fiction, setting aside his “metaphysical thriller” The Man Who Was Thursday. That was tough to get through, but I have read it twice. I just couldn’t love it.

As an aside, the recent BBC series (available on Netflix) based on the Father Brown stories is an extremely enjoyable show and in many ways captures the spirit, if not the letter, of Father Brown. The series is set in post-World War II, which makes it truly a loose adaptation, since Chesterton died in 1936.

But when I’ve tried to read one of Chesterton’s book-length non-fiction works, I get seriously bogged down in the sheer volume of thought. His writing meanders, and my mind wanders. I confess freely that I’ve never made it all the way through, with close attention, Orthodoxy, or indeed any book-length Chesterton work of non-fiction.

Surely I’m not the only one?

That’s why I love ABCs of the Christian Life: The Ultimate Anthology of the Prince of Paradox. It’s just as it sounds—short excerpts from G.K. Chesterton’s writings, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet.

This well-planned book begins with a forward by the noted apologist and Boston College professor Peter Kreeft, who explains why Chesterton’s writing has stood the test of time, and what he has to say to us today.

Then, for each letter of the alphabet, there is a different topic, such as St. Francis for F; Insanity for I; Religions Compared for R; and Yes for Y. Each is a several-page, unabridged excerpt from one of Chesterton’s essays or books. It’s more meaty than a quote, yet not as overwhelming as a full-length book. Interested readers can see in the afterward where the excerpt first appeared, whether in his classic The Everlasting Man or one of his other books or writings.

Actually, this is actually the way Chesterton is meant to be read. He was chiefly an essayist and critic who published essays, reviews, and criticism in magazines throughout his career. That’s how he was known most during his lifetime, and it is in these shorter essays that he shines.

Reading ABCs of the Christian Life is a refreshing introduction or re-introduction to this perceptive writer and his enduring insights about human nature and living as a Christian in modern times.

You might also be interested in:

For someone who doesn’t “love” Chesterton in large doses, I have reviewed a lot books related to him:

*Here’s my review of Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Woman Who was Chesterton, her sweeping biography of Chesterton’s wife.

*Here’s my review of The Chestertons and the Golden Key, a mystery imagined based on real-life friends of the Chestertons.

What are your favorite Chesterton or Chesterton-inspired works?

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.