Category Archives: Book Reviews

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.

Meet a Reader: Father Timothy Hepner

How you know me:

I’m one of the Directors of the Office of Priestly Vocations for the Diocese of Peoria. I traverse the Diocese speaking about vocations, spending time with young people, and helping young men who feel a call to the priesthood. You may have seen me around – I am kind of a hobo priest.

Why I love reading:

When I was younger I would often flip through the encyclopedia searching for random articles just for the joy of learning something new. I thought this was weird until Wikipedia was invented. Now lots of people do it! Besides my love for learning new things, reading helps me grow closer to the great minds of the world and of the Church, it helps me become more contemplative, and it helps me always have something new to talk about.

What I’m reading now:

The Angels and Their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church by Jean Daniélou explains the role of the Angels through salvation history and in our own lives. It’s fascinating to read about how the Church Fathers believe the choirs of angels reacted to the incarnation and rejoiced at the ascension.

I’m also reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the founder of behavioral economics, explains the different biases that creep into the way we make everyday judgments.

I’ve also been listening to Moby Dick on audio book as I drive across the diocese. It’s a long book, but I’d like to see what happens at the end.

My favorite book:

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I could read that book a hundred times and have a different approach. As literature, t’s incredibly compelling, and Dostoevsky shows how only the forgiveness and solidarity found in Christ can save society. If you read it, get the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky.

Praying the Angelus Offers Moments to Sanctify Everyday Life

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

My friend Michele is a busy mom of many kids, who in the last year has worked very hard to take better care of herself through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. One of her starting points was the “Whole 30,” a month-long eating plan of whole foods that forbids sugar, dairy, grains, among other restrictions. “Challenging” would be an understatement for this.

At the beginning of her journey, when she wanted to cave on her resolutions, Michele repeated to herself, “I am worth it and I deserve to be healthy and strong.” She said this helped her get over some of the bumps in the road, and saying that to herself has helped her stick with healthy habits for many months.

Researchers call this a “virtuous circle,” where one choice to do the right thing helps one make better choices in other areas. These choices eventually become good habits, a good routine, and a healthy pattern. And a brief affirmation like, “I deserve to be healthy and strong,” can aid greatly in momentum to keep that virtuous cycle going, and help a person succeed in big goals.

I had Michele and this “virtuous cycle” when I read Jared Dees’ new book, Praying the Angelus: Find Joy, Peace, and Purpose in Everyday Life.

Yet at first, I admit I was skeptical. How does one write a full-length book about the Angelus— that humble prayer that combines short Scripture/prayer statements on the Incarnation and Redemption (“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”) with three repeated Hail Marys, and a closing prayer? The simple prayer that takes about a minute to say? The devotion that Christians have been saying for centuries at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. each day? An entire book?

The answer? Absolutely, yes.

Praying the Angelus is an instructive book about the origin and importance of this modest prayer, and how it can be transformative in shaping a “virtuous cycle” that can promote spiritual growth and an openness to grace.

Dees, a religious educator and founder of TheReligionTeacher.com website, begins Praying the Angelus with a short preface on how like many Catholics, he was ignorant of the Angelus, but learned about it when he was a young teacher from a newly ordained priest. The priest explained how the Angelus was begun in the Middle Ages as a way for laypeople to share in the regular structured prayer life of religious in monasteries, whose lives revolve around times of prayer.

After listing the prayers and order of the prayers of the Angelus and the Regina Caeli (the substitute for the Angelus during Easter season), the book is divided into three sections.

First is “An Invitation,” with an explanation of the origin of and how to pray the Angelus, what to expect, and why it’s important to pray in today’s hectic world.

The second section is “Angelus Meditations,” contains a short and incisive meditation and prayer for each line of the Angelus. The third section echoes that in “Regina Caeli Meditations,” with prayers and reflections for each line of that prayer.

I’ve prayed the Angelus and the Regina Caeli for years, but very inconsistently. Reading this book helped me re-set my phone alarms to remind me of the Angelus, and to make an effort to focus on the prayers, and encourage those who are around me to do the same.

Contemporary Christianity, including Catholicism, has tended more towards spontaneous prayers and praise in recent years. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But Dees makes a provocative but compelling case that structured devotional prayer is vital to a healthy prayer life.

To me, the nucleus of the book is contained in the “lessons” Dees shares of the Angelus & Regina Caeli, such as “We are called to be humble,” Repetitive prayer is more powerful than spontaneous prayer,” and “Time is a gift from God.”

Among these lessons, “time is a gift from God” is one of the most-needed in our current culture. An openness to “Angelus moments” is a positive “side effect” of praying the Angelus, Dees writes.

He makes the case of how stopping at “inconvenient times” regularly to pray the Angelus primes a person to be available for “Angelus moments,” a receptivity to others and situations in which a person can be a conduit of God’s grace. As Dees writes, “Praying the Angelus trains you to welcome interruptions as a possible gift from God.”

Reading Praying the Angelus and putting it into practice can help readers to learn the prayers of the Angelus and their beautiful message.

“I did not take up the Angelus hoping to solve a specific problem or curb some specific bad habit,” Dees writes. “But through my prayer my habits did change, and the sinful temptations and tendencies in my life were made plain. Here’s why: when you recite these same holy words again and again, they sink into your psyche.”

Meet a Reader: Kim Padan {@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:

I currently serve as President of the Peoria Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. You may also know me from the evangelization column “Called to Witness” found periodically in The Catholic Post. My husband Bruce and I are members of St. Paul parish in Danville.

Why I love reading:

I grew up in a home where reading was encouraged and valued. Our family was working class with very few extras. However, every month in grade school my siblings and I could order books off the Scholastic order form. There was nothing like taking home 4 or 5 brand new books…each! We all enjoyed reading then, and still do, but because I was physically unable to participate in many activities with my peers, I would just soak up a good book whenever I had the chance.

As I grew older, I remember hiding out in my room to read a Nancy Drew novel on a single Saturday, always trying to solve the mystery before the last chapter. For most of our lives my parents would give each of us a new hard cover book for Christmas, signed with the year on the inside front page. To this day, I look forward to my mom calling in October or November, asking for a book wish list.

What I’m reading now:


Currently, I am reading multiple books. This wasn’t my style before (except when required for school) but it is what I enjoy doing now. I am reading The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech by Kirsten Powers. She is a liberal journalist who articulates her views respectfully and with much-needed balance. When she called out the mainstream media for ignoring the Kermit Gosnell scandal, I became a fan of hers.

For fun, I am reading Nameless which is the second part of The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan by Erin McCole Cupp. It is a futuristic re-telling of the classic Jane Eyre. For my Lay Dominican group, I just started another von Balthasar, Heart of the World. Finally for Lent, I am reading Eucharistic Adoration: Holy Hour Meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ by Charles M. Murphy. I generally have a mix of fiction and non-fiction beside my comfy chair.

My favorite book: It is impossible to pick one favorite book, so I will mention a few. The first book that I can remember deeply impacting me was Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther. I read it in eighth or ninth grade so the details escape me, but it is the story of a teen’s battle with cancer. I just recall being moved by the courage of this young man. Reflecting on it now, I believe it is worth rereading.

For a quick Saturday read, I enjoyed Don’t You Forget About Me by Erin McCole Cupp. This book is a contemporary mystery-romance with Catholic themes woven in beautifully. I am Facebook friends with the author, a fellow Lay Dominican, and I encouraged her to get going on the sequel! For spiritual reading, I would have to list The Confessions of St. Augustine and Prayer by Hans urs von Balthasar. Both are beautiful in their entirety, but also can be appreciated in small portions for reflection.