Category Archives: Book Reviews

Meet a Reader: Birgitta Sujdak Mackiewicz

This month I wanted to feature a “Reader” who had something to do with medical ethics, since my review this month discusses the need for loving, well-educated professionals in this area.  The person I know best in this area happens to be my husband, a Catholic moral theologian & ethicist; however, the prospect of nepotism accusations prevent me from featuring him.  I’m half-joking, but it is too bad, as he is a great reader, and would be an interesting subject.  In the meantime, I notice frequent mentions of books in the Facebook updates of my friend Birgitta, and thought she would be willing, despite being in the middle of completing her doctoral dissertation. Thanks, Birgitta, for taking the time to answer so thoughtfully the “Meet a Reader” questions!   My library request list is much longer after reading some of your current favorites. 
How You Know Me: 

I am the Director of Ethics at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center & Children’s Hospital of Illinois and volunteer at various community agencies. My husband Darin, and our son John, and I are members of St. Philomena’s parish. I am an Oblate of the Community of Saint John. 

Why I Love Reading: 

I have been an avid reader since the beginning. I can remember bringing home stacks and stacks of books from the library and bringing home the order form for the school book fair with nearly every book checked. I would be caught reading books inside of my text books at school or at home in my room when I was supposed to be doing homework. I used to stay up until the wee small hours of the morning reading books with a flashlight. 

A few weeks ago around 11 p.m. we found our three-year-old son out of bed in his recliner reading a book — the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! I’ve found my self collecting and re-acquiring books that I want my son to experience as he grows up, especially the classics such as Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, the Beatrix Potter stories, and The Chronicles of Narnia. There’s a secret stash for him and I wait for the right moments to cuddle up on the couch together and introduce him to my old friends! 

Reading is a way to explore new ideas and places without leaving the comforts of home, but a well-written book truly can transport you into another world. Reading also allows you to explore at your own pace, to carefully and even prayerfully reflect on a word, passage or idea. There are some books that present a true dilemma when you are enjoying them so much that you can’t put them down, but you like the subject or characters so much you don’t want them to end. Books like those I find myself savoring slowly. Books are also great conversation starters. I’m always curious when traveling to see what others are reading in different parts of the world.  I’ve been known to leave a book I’ve finished in an airport for someone else to discover. 

My Favorite Book:

Like many Catholic Post readers, I have various favorites depending on the genre, but here are a few particular books and authors that stand out to me that may be of interest to readers of the Post. 

Maurice and Therese: The Story of a Love. This is a collection of letters between St. Therese ofLiseux and Maurice, a young priest, that are presented intertwined with a narrative by Bishop Patrick Ahern to give the context of the letters. The book really made St. Therese come alive to me in a way that other writings by her hadn’t. If you have found St. Therese to be a bit out of reach this book will bring her into your heart. 

As for authors one perhaps not well known to Americans is the late Cardinal Basil Hume who was Archbishop of Westminster, England for over two decades until he died in 1999. As one who entered religious life as a Benedictine Monk and later became a cardinal his writings on spirituality and the human journey are simultaneously humble, profound, and accessible. Many of his books are less than 100 pages, but they are packed and draw you in to contemplation of Christ in a way that not many contemporary authors do. Of Hume’s writing my particular favorites are The Mystery of Love and To Be A Pilgrim

George Weigel is another favorite author of mine who has written numerous books including those about the late Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, but his book Letters to a Young Catholic (which is for Catholics of all ages!) is a walk through what it means to be Catholic via stories, visits to sacred places, by engaging our various senses and in doing so brings Catholicism alive in a way that a historical or doctrinal account does not.   For example, he explores the death of St. Peter via his letter which considers the “Grittiness of Catholicism.”  The letter style allows the book to be read and shared in shorter parts. 

What I’m Reading Now: 

I’ve recently acquired an e-reader after losing a book I was reading.  Now I can pull up whatever I’m in the mood for without actually hunting for the book! It doesn’t replace the joy of holding a book in hand but is more practical for me right now.

I find myself reading a number of books at a time. I’ve just finished The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time by Jeff Deck and BenjaminHerson. Yes, this is a book about people traveling around the USA looking for typos on signs. If you’re an avid reader, a former Lit major, a teacher, or someone who wonders what’s happened to the proper use of the English language chances are you’ll enjoy this book. Interestingly, the book started as a blog — a sign of how technology is changing what we read! 

We’ve just returned from Paris where we climbed up to the top of Notre Dame and were wandering about amongst the gargoyles and in the dimly lit bell tower and I realized I’d never read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, so I’ve just started that. I was also recently inspired to read another classic I’ve somehow missed, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, after watching a documentary about the train. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is also in progress. This fascinating book is about a woman who died young of cancer.  Her cells which were taken for medical research without her knowledge and consent (as was the custom at the time), her family, and the medical advances and knowledge gained from those cells and the impact this seemingly small action has had on generations of her family and on medicine.
As for spiritual reading I’m slowly working my way through Light Of The World, Peter Seewald’s interview of Pope Benedict XVI. I find that I have to dose myself on it to give it the time it needs and to grasp all the Holy Father is trying to impart. Finally, I’m reading Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris (who also wrote The Cloister Walk) which explores the spiritual sloth, apathy and indifference that is experienced by many at some point along their spiritual journey. I am fascinated by this concept which I have not often explored in contemporary spiritual literature, but I think plagues us all to greater or lesser degrees as we are faced with the demands of everyday life.

Meet a Reader: Dana Garber

I’m excited to be able to feature one of the many young people from our diocese traveling to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day next month.  You can read the Catholic Post article about the ISU group here.

How you know me:


I’m Dana Garber, a student at Illinois State University in Normal, and involved with the John Paul II Newman Center at ISU.  I am part of a group called “Witnesses to Love,” that recorded a song, “Planted,” for World Youth Day (WYD), and I will be one of a group of 29 students from the Newman Center attending WYD in Madrid next month.

Why I love reading:

I love to read because I love to learn. Learning and understanding more about God and our Faith helps me to grow as a believer and to love Him more.  I usually get recommendations from my friends or family.

What I’m reading now:  

I am reading Transforming Your Life Through the Eucharist by Father John A. Kane.  This book has been really good because it explains the beauty and grace of the sacrament. I am also reading Benedict of Bavaria by Brennan Pursell.  I’m reading it so I have a better understanding of the Pope and his life before I see him in Madrid for World Youth Day.

My favorite book:

One of my favorite books is The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis.  This is more of a devotional book and is very rich.  It focuses on the interior, every-day life.  Another one of my favorite books is Practicing the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence.  He was a French Monk in the 1600s.  This book is an easy, simple read.  It explains in practical terms how our lives are a constant prayer and how to live that out.  I also love all Scott Hahn books; the last one I read is Rome Sweet Home, which is one of my favorites.

Meet a Writer: Matt Pope

This month on the book page of the Catholic Post, I tried something a little different.  Instead of “Meet a Reader,” in which I interview a local reader, I featured two local writers, and why they love to write.  On the blog, there are not space considerations, so I’m able to feature the longer answers and my mini-reviews.


Today I’m featuring Matt Pope, author of a slim but beautifully inspiring poetry-novel called Emily’s Verse.  The book is a little hard to describe–it might sound strange, a novel in the form of poems–but Emily’s Verse is easy to read and quite moving, with a pro-life message that is well-done and powerful. 


 Enjoy!
 
Who: Matt Pope
How You Know Me: I work as a copy machine repair technician,  and write in my spare time. My wife Mandy, a teacher at Holy Cross school in Champaign, and I have two small children, and our family attends St. Patrick’s parish in Urbana.
Why I love writing;  I love writing because it gives me the opportunity to introduce potential readers to the pantheon of characters that are running around in my head.  As writers we see the world around us in a slightly different vein, we see potential characters and story lines.  This is the way of a writer and part of the reason why I love to write.  The other reason I love to write is because it is who I am as a person.  I have always been scribbling things down in notebooks for as long as I can remember.  No with the advent of the smart phone, my little notebook has been replaced, but the outcome is still the same.
My current book;  My current book is Emily’s Verse, a book in poem form about the full, rich, long  lifethat “could have been” of an aborted baby.
This book had been bouncing around in my head for the better part of 2 years.  I really put off writing, EV because I was working on other projects.  My hopes for this book would be that as young women read this book as possible.  I would be proud if this book saved the life of one baby, but I think that it has the potential to save many babies.
What I am Writing next:  Since I have a 2 and a 4 year old at home, my next project is a book of poetry for little kids.  Little rhythmical poems that make kids laugh, and introduce them to God at the same time.

Meet a Reader: Johnathan Steffen


There’s such a funny story to go with how I found this month’s reader.

 



 
The deadline for this month’s print Catholic Post book page fell during Holy Week (prompting many “Catholic” jokes between my editor and me), and I was really scrambling to get everything completed.  As usually happens, I seem to have some trouble lining up a person to be a “Meet a Reader,” and in my haste to finish my column, I had completely let it slip again.  I was at our diocese’s Chrism Mass, held on Tuesday of Holy Week at the lovely Cathedral of St. Mary, because my three children were among the students representing our Catholic school.  In front of our pew sat a group of young men, and they struck me as seminarians.  I thought during the Mass, I bet I can get one of these guys to be my “Meet a Reader.”  Turns out they were high school students (our family runs pretty short, and they were tall). 
 
But the idea of finding a seminarian for “Meet a Reader” had taken hold, so after the Mass I enlisted the help of a bolder-than-I, dear, and talented friend also at the Mass to help me find one.  She assured me she knew several, so we walked around the cathedral looking for a likely candidate.  We found the absolutely delightful young man featured here. 
 

 

Thanks, Johnathan, for being such a good sport and providing such thoughtful answers to the four Meet-A-Reader questions!  We will be praying for you as you prepare for ordination.
 



How you know me:  I am a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria studying at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.  I have been in seminary for five years and am looking forward to being ordained to the transitional diaconate on Sunday, May 22, 2011, at the Cathedral.  Before entering seminary, I taught high school English for five years and practiced law for 4 years.

 

Why I love reading:  Mostly, I enjoy reading because I like watching what an author can do with words.  Without ever having seen the 19th century unsettled prairieland of the Midwest, Willa Cather in My Antonia can place that prairie with its scents and colors and sounds directly in my mind simply by arranging letters on a page.  James Joyce in Ulysses can expand a single day with his words in a novel that takes a couple weeks of sustained and deliberate reading.  Truman Capote, Nathaniel Hawthorne, A.S. Byatt, and hundreds more all have special gifts:  keen description, shrewd commentary, textured characters….  Books are just wonderful places for readers to hide in for a while, and then reappear in the real world hours later with a sort of secret knowledge. 

What I’m reading now:  Currently, I am making my way through the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction 7th ed., a compendium of shorter titles from the American and English literary canons.  Short fiction—or poetry—works well for me during the academic terms in seminary since I am frequently interrupted with other classroom projects and don’t always have the leisure for longer works.  So far, my favorite stories from the collection include “Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin;  “Death by Landscape,” by Margaret Atwood;  and “Heart of Darkness,” by Joseph Conrad.

My favorite book: I have never quite been able to convince myself of established criteria for determining what makes a novel a “good novel,” but if I find myself still thinking about the book, its characters or plot, months or even years after I’ve finished it, the story must have impressed me in some way.  


Of the novels I have physically laid down years ago but have never quite been able to put away from my own thoughts, two stand out:  Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet and Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham.  Jealousy is an experimental French novel that subordinates plot and character to the details of the world perceived through the obsessive mind of the jilted narrator.  Its genius is that while the author explores so thoroughly the theme of jealousy and goes so far as to name his entire work with the word, the story never once describes any emotion at all.  Of Human Bondage is a more conventional novel in form that introduces the reader to a main character who struggles with grinding poverty, finding his vocation, and resolving philosophical ideals, but ultimately finds that the most perfect patterns in life are often the simplest.

Poetry Friday, Beatification Edition: A Poem by John Paul II

I feel honored to be able to share one of my favorite poems from Karol Wojtyla, who became John Paul II, who will be beatified the day after tomorrow.

I had a nice time searching through the several books of JP II poetry I own, for just the right “one.”  I think I might have to post another one later today, there are so many that I like.  This post may end up being Poetry Friday, Part 1, so stay tuned.

This poem is from “The Church,” written at the Basilica of Saint Peter, Autumn 1962, when Wojtyla would have been in Rome for the beginning of Vatican II.

Marble floor


Our feet meet the earth in this place;
there are so many walls, so many colonnades,
yet we are not lost.  If we find
meaning and oneness,
it is the floor that guides us.  It joins the spaces
of this great edifice, and joins
the spaces within us,
who walk aware of our weakness and defeat.
Peter, you are the floor, that others
may walk over you (not knowing
where they go).  You guide their steps
so that spaces can be one in their eyes,
and from them thought is born.
You want to serve their feet that pass
as rock serves the hooves of sheep.
The rock is a gigantic temple floor,
the cross a pasture.

Meet a Reader: Father Don Roszkowski

How we know you:  I’ve been a priest of the diocese for nearly 14 years, and I’ve had a number of assignments, from Peoria to Clinton to Bloomington to Odell to my current post of pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Metamora, and St. Elizabeth, Washburn. 

Why I love reading:  As many people know about me, I have a form of dyslexia.  Throughout my school years, I worked hard at remedial classes, partially to prove wrong those people who thought I wouldn’t do well.  Because reading was so difficult at first, I have a great love for learning and reading and finding out about so many things. 

My favorite book:  I primarily like reading theology, and I especially enjoy Father Robert Barron’s writing style and his analogies.  Probably my favorite book of Barron’s is The Priority of Christ: A Postliberal Catholicism. Another classic I really love is Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ. 

What I’m reading now: Right now I’m reading two books.  One is what I call a “popcorn book,” an easy read with a short reflection for each day: Spirituality You Can Live With: Stronger Faith in 30 Days by Chris Padgett.  I’m also reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week. 

A Good Spiritual Library is a Hospital for the Soul

Here is my March column that appears in the print Catholic Post this weekend.
——————————————————-

Are you ready for Lent yet?  Not quite?
I’m not, either.
Lent and Easter are so late this year that it should be a cinch to have all our Lenten devotions and practices spelled out, but it never seems to happen that way.  So I have started to set aside some books.  That’s because I know that alongside prayer, fasting and almsgiving, spiritual reading can make Lent fruitful, even more so than giving up my beloved dark chocolate.
There’s a great book blog called “A Library is a Hospital for the Mind.”  With a nod to that fascinating title, I submit that good spiritual reading is a kind of “hospital for the soul.”  If you haven’t had spiritual reading as part of your Lenten practice, or are looking for something fresh, here are a few suggestions of newer books to consider:
*The Little Way of Lent: Meditations in the Spirit of St. Therese of Lisieux by Fr. Gary Caster, a priest of the diocese of Peoria.  [Full disclosure here:  Father Caster was my boss when I taught high school for two years, and I’ve known him for nearly two decades. ] Father Caster draws on a long devotion to the “Little Flower” to give meditations for each day of Lent.  “What struck me,” Father Caster writes St. Therese, “was her insistence on the way we do things for God and not the things we do for him.  It wasn’t about what I was offering; it was about why.”  There are great little “nuggets” of quotes from St. Therese at the end of each reflection.
*”God speaks to us in the great silence of our heart,” is a famous quote from St. Augustine, and the frontspiece for Finding Your Hidden Treasure:  The Way of Silent Prayer by Benignus O’Rourke, OFA.  This nicely–sized book is truly “treasure”-filled with short meditations and encouragement from St. Augustine and his spirituality.  Finding Your Hidden Treasure is a wonderful read, eliciting a spirit of silence and peace on every page.
*Lent & Easter Wisdom from St. Benedict, by Judith Sutera, OSB, is the newest in Liguori’s “Lent & Easter Wisdom” series (other authors include GK Chesterton, Fulton Sheen and many others).   There’s a short quote from St. Benedict, Scripture verse, prayer, and Lenten action for each day of Lent and Easter Week.  A great instructive guide to St. Benedict’s thoughts.
*If you’re ready this Lent to take on a classic like St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life, consider an excellent new edition by TAN Classics.  For many years, TAN was a reliable publisher of classics and great new books, but the graphic design and book quality were… let’s just say they left a little something to desired.
Since TAN was acquired by Saint Benedict Press several years ago, all that has changed.  The books are still the great classics, like Story of a Soul, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and others are here.  The difference is that the books have handsome, durable covers; beautiful typesetting and fonts, and just the right “feel.” Finally, these great classics have a production value that begins to match their greatness.
–What are your favorite Lenten reads?  What are you planning to read this Lent?

UnPlanned a Must-Read About Life, Prayer, Friendship & Conversion {my February column @TheCatholic Post}

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

Back in the day, I worked in public relations in the pro-life movement in Washington, DC. I wrote too many press releases to count (when we used the latest technology of faxing them to reporters), ate expense-account lunches with columnists, and did countless interviews.

When people would tell me that prayer was their primary way of serving the pro-life cause, part of me thought, “Amen.” But can I make a confession here?  Part of me didn’t really think so.  The 20something media hotshot me felt all my busy “inside the Beltway” activities were more effective.

Today, I laugh at my poor younger self.  Yes, press releases and legislation are important, but prayer and friendship are even more powerful in establishing a culture of life.

Prayer, friendship and conversion are at the heart of a new must-read: Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line.

UnPlanned is the story of Abby Johnson, an abortion clinic director who leaves her job after the first time assisting an ultrasound-guided abortion, and seeing with her own eyes a baby struggling away from the abortion instrument.   This is more than just pro-life apologetics; Johnson writes a well-paced and sensitive memoir of her spiritual journey.

In UnPlanned, Johnson shares the impulses that brought her into the abortion industry, and the many decent people motivated by compassion who worked alongside her inside the clinic.  But she shows how that compassion is misdirected and used by some (including leadership at Planned Parenthood) to make money by pushing abortion regardless of what’s best for women and their children.

Two issues Johnson raises make UnPlanned especially worth reading and discussing:

*How do we as Christians speak the truth about life while still remaining open to those with opposing views?  Johnson was asked to leave a Protestant church when her abortion work became known, understandable but a move that drove Johnson away from people who might have reached her.   It’s actually the confession from the Book of Common Prayer at the  self-described “pro-choice” Episcopal parish Johnson attended that becomes a factor moving her towards repentance. God does the work of conversion; how can we be channels of this grace?

*How do we attract young people to the culture of life?  Johnson writes how she was drafted as a college student to volunteer for Planned Parenthood by an appeal to her sense of idealism and desire to help women.  Young people are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set.  How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?

Johnson’s conversion happened in a moment, but UnPlanned makes clear it was the sustained effort of many people praying, fasting and acts of friendship for and to her that made that moment possible.

This fine book speaks volumes about the power of love and prayer to overcome darkness and despair. Johnson writes that she was “loved from one side to the other.”  Reading Unplanned  will make readers want to be that kind of love and prayer in their own communities.  I can say now, with no division, “Amen” to that.

Meet a Reader: Shannon Cardaronella

This month’s “Meet a Reader” is a wonderful woman I met several years back at the Peoria Diocese Summer Institute.    At a dinner for speakers & spouses (both our husbands were speakers that year), we talked the entire time about–I know you will be shocked to hear this—books!  This actually is quite surprising as we have kids of similar ages, and kids tends to be a default subject.  I knew she would be great to feature here, and I am so glad to be able to introduce another thoughtful “reader” to Catholic Post readers.  Thanks, Shannon.

How You Know Me:

You probably do not know me.  More people know my husband, Marc, the Director of Religious Education (DRE) at Holy Cross Parish in Champaign and the Regional DRE for Champaign/Danville.  I love Holy Cross!   Holy Cross is one of the loveliest churches I have every enjoyed, and it is our home parish.  If you are ever in Champaign, please come worship with us.  Consider yourself invited.  I also appreciate that our parish is a motley crew of folks from all walks of life.  Marc and I have two boys:  John Berchmans “JB”, 9 and David, 7.  I am a homeschool mom, and I love homeschooling also allows us to read, read, read!

Why I Love Reading:

I grew up surrounded by huge bookshelves filled to the brim and even cataloged.  My sister read to me all the time when I was very young.  My parents discussed their latest reads at the dinner table.  We read it all, from junky books to works that uplifted the mind.  We were curious about other people and places, other points of view, new ways of looking at the world.  Finally, my parents were not afraid of the world.  They both possessed an innate love of and trust in the world and people, always teaching me that most people are good and kind and want to help.  This trust allows me to go deeply into the world of the book I am reading.  There is something about losing oneself in a good book that can neither be adequately expressed nor replicated with other media.

My Favorite Book:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  While Scarlett is the main character, it is Melanie who fascinates me.  Melanie is a beautiful Christ figure.  As a reader, I wince at Scarlett’s flaws: her insensitivity, selfishness and heartless conniving.  Melanie sees Scarlett’s perfections: her fortitude, intelligence, good horse sense and strength. The kicker is Melanie is right.  Scarlett — exactly who she is, with all of her flaws, because of who she is, with all of her flaws — saved herself, Tara, Melanie and the baby, Mammy & Prissy… her whole “tribe” if you will, against seemingly insurmountable odds.  Melanie is no doe-eyed ignorant optimist.  She accepts and embraces Scarlett and the world as they are.  This acceptance brings out the best in all, including even Rhett Butler and Belle Watling.

What I’m Reading Now:

Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly.  Fr. Willard, our pastor at Holy Cross, gave a copy to every family at Christmas Mass.  Thank you, Fr. Willard!  There is a lot of “food for thought” in this one.  And since this is my very own copy, I can underline to my heart’s content.

"The Grace to Race" and other Books Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Do you have a New Year’s resolution, or more than one?
When I put this question out on the blog last week and the Facebook page for the Catholic Post, an assortment of worthy goals were listed, from physical goals, such as eating better or exercising more; organizing goals; relationship goals such as having more family time; and financial goals.  Three new books offer interesting possibilities to help nearly anyone begin to tackle the challenges of a new year.

*The Grace to Raceby Sister Madonna Buder, is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in recent years.  The lengthy subtitle tells the story:  The Wisdom & Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion Triathlete Known as the Iron Nun.

I was a wee bit put off by that “concept,” too–until I started reading and couldn’t put it down.

Sister Madonna’s book is part fine spiritual autobiography, part triathlete war stories, and throughout, true inspiration to the rest of us to really “reach” for more in our spiritual and physical lives.

Born to a life of privilege in St. Louis, Sister Madonna Buder considers a vocation from her early years, but still dates and immerses herself in an active, happy family life.  Her decision time approaches as she reflects during a summer trip to Europe:

“Once safely on the train coursing along the scenic Rhine, I began to collect my thoughts.  My Irishman!  Monsignor Doheny!  My European adventures!  The past, the present, the future!  What was God really asking of me?  Then, from the depths of my soul, came an interior voice, ‘Can any one man satisfy you when I alone dwell in the deepest recesses of your heart?’  The message was seeping in just as surely as the waters flowed along the banks of the Rhine.  My true longing was becoming clear.”

Based on her active lifestyle through her early life, it doesn’t surprise to see Sister Madonna to take up running at age 48, begin running marathons and then racing triathlons (including the punishing full-length Ironman triathlons) through her 80s.      What is surprising is how well she shows how running has enhanced and aided her vocation and her prayer life:

“All I knew at the time was that I was running on faith, and I prayed while I ran.  Afterwards, I realized it was a different kind of prayer posture.  Besides using my heart and head, when I ran my whole body was involved in the petitioning.”

For those looking for a little personal motivation, Sister Madonna gives tips and ideas for getting or staying active, but her story itself in inspiration enough.

*Is personal or home organization among your top goals for the new year?  Smart Martha’s Catholic Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser is a super-encouraging, practical book that helps moms streamline home management and family organization.

Kiser presents her approach not just for the sake of a sparkling house or well-groomed family, but chiefly so that family members can be more “present” to one another and others, just as Mary was “present” when Jesus visited the home of Mary & Martha in Bethany.

A busy mom of nine, Kiser culls tips from her “Smart Martha” seminars to give a boost to moms who feel drowning in school schedules and home management.  What I love best about Smart Martha is the reminders that your way may be different, but just as good, rather than a “one size fits all” approach too common in home organizing books.

One feature I found especially helpful was her take on the 7 Habits time management skill of  “sharpening the saw,” originally all about balance and taking breaks to increase efficiency.  Kiser adds to that definition that moms should take the time to rethink routines, schedules, or even rooms, in order to be more efficient and have more time for one another in the family and in the world.

*With all the depressing financial news, it’s no surprise to see that Merriam-Webster decreed“austerity” as Word of the Year (WOTY).

(That’s not quite as much fun as the Oxford English Dictionary’s WOTY:  refudiate; but that’s for another column.)

Financial goals can be both a worthy goal and a significant challenge.   An intriguing new book, Why Enough is Never Enough:  Overcoming Worries about Money-A Catholic Perspective by Gregory S. Jeffrey, proposes that much of our worry and insecurity about money lies in two areas: a lack of trust in God, and a lack of generosity.

Each chapter ends with reflection questions that Jeffrey suggests people write out and talk over with a “money partner:” a spouse or trusted friend.  Overall, the reflection questions and indeed the whole book, are designed to foster in readers hearts that are “radically generous” and trusting in God for all good.

My main concern about Why Enough is Never Enough is the fear some readers might take away that the only cause of money troubles or money worries is spiritual; that somehow prayer, the sacraments and trust in God is all that is required to be a good financial steward.  In its defense, that really isn’t the book’s only message, but based on the title and some of the content, readers could be misled.

I wish the book had given more strategies that people can do to economize, or save more, or make wise financial decisions.  These might not fall into the category of a “spiritual” or “Catholic” approach, but can still help people meet their financial goals and be more at peace with money.

Also consider:

*Once you’ve been inspired by Sister Madonna Buder’s triathlons, consider The Rosary Workout by Peggy Bowes.  Bowes outlines a sensible, easy approach to interval training (for people of any physical or spiritual level) using the prayers of the Rosary.

 *A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot.  Pierlot proposes moms adapt St. Benedict’s Rule of Life to maintain rhythm and prayer in managing a family.
*7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money by Phil Lenahan is a well-respected newer classic (from 2007) with an online component for small group study.