Category Archives: Catholic memoirs

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.


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*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.

 

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.

Good Reads for #Krakow2016 #WYD

World Youth Day in Krakow is underway.

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

First, a few fun links:

The #WYD website.

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

Now to the books:

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

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

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

…..

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*A Catholic reader filters everything through a Catholic worldview.

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

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

* A Catholic reader recognizes and rejoices in beauty.

* A Reading Catholic collects quotes like recipes.

Great Catholic Memoirs:

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

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

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

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

Some Catholic memoir categories:

Two memoirs by” insiders” in Church affairs

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

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

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

Running with God Across America by Jeff Grabosky

Four memoirs about tough times:

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


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


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


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

Three memoirs — voice of experience:


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


Treasure in Clay by Venerable Fulton Sheen


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

Chesterton Mystery Book a Charming Introduction to Catholic Literary Giant {Kidlit Corner}

Today I’m introducing a new feature called “Kidlit Corner.” I’ve long wanted to be more intentional about introducing readers here and in The Catholic Post to good children’s literature (sometimes called “kidlit”), both old and new. So I’m just going to jump in and start.  I’m sure it will evolve over time, and perhaps have a name change. Stay tuned!

“Whatever is true whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” — Philippians 4:8

Keeping younger kids in chapter books, the shorter, interesting stories to help readers transition from easy readers to full-length novels, can be a challenge.  There are always the classic series like The Boxcar Children and The Magic Tree House series, which offer enjoyable and well-told mysteries for younger readers. 

But sadly, this category in recent years has also filled up with many “branded” or commercialized stories that promote the latest movie or television show, and are the equivalent of processed food.  Kids might be “reading” these books, but they are not especially nourishing.  It’s like chips for the mind.

Younger readers deserve hearty fare as they are beginning to love reading—books that are fun and relatively easy to read, but provide an interesting and worthy subject matter. Consider such books meat & potatoes, or healthy comfort food, for the emergent reader.

One great new offering in the chapter-book genre is The Chestertons and the Golden Key by Nancy Carpentier Brown, with Regina Doman, and lovely period-style illustrations by Ann Kissane Englelhart. 

The Chestertons and the Golden Key is a charming story about GK Chesterton and his wife, on vacation one summer, meeting and befriending a young family, and helping them solve a child-friendly mystery.

As I read the story, I thought it was mostly fiction.  It turns out the story is based on the real-life Nicholls family, whom the Chestertons did meet and befriend when they  visited Lyme Regis, England.  The afterward describes the actual story, and how Carpentier Brown’s research lead her to the Nicholls family and relatives who were still alive to tell her some stories.

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Previously, Nancy Carpentier Brown also has adapted for younger readers a good variety of Chesterton’s most famous Father Brown mystery stories. 

The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton, and The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton offer budding mystery lovers a chance to be introduced to one of the classic sleuths from the prolific Chesterton.

Carpentier Brown is also the author of the well-regarded adult biography of Frances Chesterton, The Woman Who Was Chesterton.  You can read my review of that book here.

“The Prodigal You Love” Offers Hope {My April column @TheCatholicPost}

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

When Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday this year, there were myriad tributes to her life and influence. Many quoted her pithy, tongue-in-cheek, but often pretty true, zingers. One of my favorites was shared on Facebook by Catholic Memes. It’s a laughing photo of Mother with the caption, “If it wasn’t for people, we could all be holy.”

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Isn’t that the truth? It’s easy to be a “good Catholic” in theory. It’s when reality sets in—that of our own weaknesses and flaws, combined with the weaknesses and flaws of others— that our best intentions and desires to “be good” are often thwarted.

So how do we try to live holy and inspire others to live the Catholic faith? That’s the premise of an appealing new book on attracting people to (or back to) the faith.

It’s The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church by Sister Theresa Alethia Noble, FSP.


Sister Theresa, once an atheist but now a Daughter or St. Paul, has written an incisive and spiritually rich book both about her own experience. She grew up Catholic, left the faith (and any faith) for many years, and then not only returned to the Catholic Church, but discerned a vocation to the religious life. She writes about how people can approach those who have left the faith, not just to convert them back, but to model a healthy, wholesome faith.

Sister Theresa weaves the story of the Prodigal Son parable throughout the book, showing how we ourselves are prodigals, along with those who may have left the faith behind. The Prodigal You Love  explores how Scripture, the saints, and our own struggles, offer us the way to inspire others in ways we may never understand fully in this life.

For instance, in a chapter on doubt, Sister Theresa points out that how we encounter our own questions and uncertainty can help others:

“We can learn to model a healthy relationship with doubt by living our doubts honestly, while at the same time holding them lightly.”

 Sister Theresa also shows how while our ultimate goal may be having those we know in the fullness of the Catholic faith, we have to respect the free will of others to choose, as she did for a time, a different expression of faith, or even no faith, all the while praying for conversion and for Christ to reach each person in a different way. She quotes Saint John Paul II’s statement, “It is necessary to keep those two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation.”

Several months ago, a young woman I know posted her disgust and frustration on Facebook about her college alma mater supporting something dreadful. A priest friend commented: “Be a saint. All the outrage in the world goes nowhere. Saints change hearts.”

Ultimately, that is the message of The Prodigal You Love. When we seek holiness and live a life of prayer amidst our daily responsibilities, desires, and faults, we will change hearts, starting with our own, as well as those dear to us, and even those we may not know well or at all. As Sister Theresa writes, “Precisely because it is difficult and requires holiness, the evangelization of our loved ones in an intense path to sanctity.”

Trigger Warning {my August column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my August column that appears on this month’s book page of the print edition of The Catholic Post.

The definition of a “trigger warning” is a statement before of some form of media so people can be aware that something distressing will be shown or discussed.

Consider yourself warned.

The other day, in the midst of one of the worst (so far) videos released on the Planned Parenthood outrages, a dear, wise friend shared on Facebook the William Wilberforce quote, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” So I shared it, too, and included her #DefundPP hashtag.

But within a few hours, I felt like I was not telling the truth.

The whole truth? I’ve looked away.

I’ve only watched part of the first video, where the Planned Parenthood medical director eats her salad as she calmly describes how her staff alters abortion methods to obtain highly prized unborn organs for research. I just couldn’t watch any more.

Even seeing screenshots or reading brief descriptions of the subsequent, even more graphic, videos has been profoundly distressing. I have felt sad and helpless to act. I know I’m not alone.

I’m somewhat heartened by Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s comment about our natural horror at it proving, “that despite over forty years of legalized abortion, the human conscience has not been completely deadened.”

I recently heard a podcast interview  with journalist Rukmini Callimachi, who covers Islamic terrorism for the New York Times. It’s her job to watch videos of beheadings and gruesome killings by terrorists that were all over the news and horrified the world last summer, but which are still happening, once every few days.

Callimachi shared that while she must watch the videos to write about terrorism, she looks away during the most graphic footage to “just see the edges of it” to lessen its effect on her psyche.

It’s not just okay, but often the healthiest response, that we “look away.” Setting boundaries on media consumption is a mark of maturity, not lack of toughness.

But that doesn’t mean we know or do nothing.

As I learn even from the “edges” of these graphic Planned Parenthood videos, my heart breaks not just for what’s going on. I also mourn for the women and girls who feel they have no choice but abortion, and for all those involved in the abortion industry.

First, let’s consider the women and girls affected by abortion.


No One Told Me I Could Cry by nurse and health educator Connie Corso Nykiel, is a revised and expanded update of her bestselling and groundbreaking work on healing after abortion.

In this 20th anniversary edition, the book has been updated to reflect the latest research on pregnancy and abortion; the increased support offered to young women, especially college students, to allow them to have children and continue education; and the wealth of resources and groups for women and families to grieve and heal after abortion.

No One Told Me I Could Cry is a sound, non-judgmental resource. It walks alongside women. It’s written expressly for “the young” going through the grieving process after abortion, but as the author describes, it can be for women, either recently or many decades later, who need healing and closure from the wound.

Next, let’s consider those in the abortion industry.

I’ve previously recommended Abby Johnson’s groundbreaking memoir, Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line.

Re-reading it in light of recent revelations is especially heartbreaking, to see how the natural idealism of a young person can be exploited. If you have not yet read this book, don’t miss it.

Another, more recent, account inside the abortion industry is Redeemed by Grace: A Catholic Woman’s Journey to Planned Parenthood and Back by Ramona Trevino, with Roxane B. Salonen.

Trevino’s story explores how good people drift in our culture, and how the prayers and support of others can help them change paths.

Trevino’s encounters with various Catholic priests over the years was especially moving. One priest is curt, sharing Church teaching in a condemning way. Another time, at a turning point in her journey, a priest shares with her gently, “This isn’t going to be easy, and it might not happen right away…but it’s important for you to realize that where you work … is contrary to the will of God. In fact, by working there you’re putting your soul in danger.”

Reading books like UnPlanned and Redeemed by Grace inspires action, whether it’s prayer for the conversion and healing of those involved in the abortion industry, or providing support to groups like the charity And Then There Were None, which equips those leaving the abortion industry with material, spiritual, and practical assistance.

Praying for those affected by abortion is a vital work anyone can do. Venerable Fulton Sheen promoted the concept of “spiritual adoption” of the unborn. Another book takes it to the next level, and is relevant to praying for all those impacted by abortion.

Adoption Movement: Saving Souls by Esmerelda Kicsek is a brief and prayerful book about the importance of interceding for others. Kicsek makes the case that it’s good for us to spiritually “adopt” others persons and pray for them as we would close members of our family.

Adoption Movement explains of the concept of spiritual adoption through quotes and stories from the saints, Kicsek’s own story of being called to spiritually adopt, and numerous simple, doable ideas of how the reader can make spiritual adoption a part of one’s prayer practice.

For instance, Kicsek recounts the well-known story of St. Therese praying for the conversion of condemned criminal (who converted before his death) and who called him her “first born.” Kicsek also shares how the practice of spiritual adoption has been fruitful for her and others in ways beyond understanding.

Reading this book gave me many realistic and small ideas of how to spiritually adopt those affected by abortion.

God, who loves us more than we can imagine, despite anything we have done, wants us to be whole and well.  He desires our human flourishing here on earth as well as in heaven.  Part of bringing about the Kingdom of God here involves us sharing that message with those close to us.

Consider reading some of the books discussed here and then praying about ways you can offer hope and healing to others.

Young Authors Offer Fresh Take on Catholic Life {July column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my July column that appears on this month’s book page of the print edition of The Catholic Post.

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Full disclosure: I sometimes disparage younger authors. You know, the ones writing memoirs at 15 or how-to-parent books at 25. It may be a kind of reverse ageism, but the older I get, the more I see that wisdom often comes with age.

But it’s also true that generalizations are dangerous and unhelpful, especially when I recall so many exceptions to the rule, such as Colleen Swaim’s excellent books for young people, or Elizabeth Esther’s searing memoir Girl at the End of the World, to name just two.

And then I realized that a number of new recent books, all by young authors, are excellent, each in their own way. See? Even middle-aged and older people can change their views, and—I say only partly joking— there can be harmony among the generations.

Leah Libresco is one of those younger authors.

Her first book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer, is a quirky and brainy mix of popular culture, literature, philosophy, and Church doctrine, that’s both enjoyable to read and a challenge to live out one’s Catholic faith more fully and intentionally.

Libresco is an accomplished writer and popular blogger at Patheos, a religious blog portal. She grew up in an atheist home, but during her time as an undergrad at Yale (just a few short years ago) she encountered intelligent, thoughtful Christians unafraid of intellectual rigor applied to faith.

Eventually, she converted to Catholicism and blogged her journey in real-time. This book recounts part of that improbable, highly intellectual, and spiritual journey.

But far more than a personal journey memoir, Arriving at Amen is a thoughtful book on seven of the basic elements of a healthy Catholic life: Petition, Confession, Examen, the Divine Office, Lectio Divina, and the Mass. The book shares, in-depth, how these nourish and inspire a robust faith and life.

For such a recent convert, and young writer, Libresco writes with a mature spirituality that is enlightening to readers of all ages.


Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin by Arleen Spenceley is another smart book by a talented young author.

Spenceley is a young but experienced journalist, so the writing is keen and clear. Like Arriving at Amen, Chastity is for Lovers is part personal story, but more an attentive analysis of what’s great about our Catholic faith; in this case, on what makes for healthy sexuality.

Spenceley sets out the argument for chastity as the healthiest, most integrative way of life, no matter one’s state in life. She explores, with humor and grace, how it can be a challenge in our culture, but so worthwhile.

There are many good things about Chastity is for Lovers, but the best chapter is Spenceley’s sharp critique the “purity culture” promoted in some Protestant churches, and how it can harm young people and impair healthy sexual development. “Purity culture” involves, at its worst, shame-based and condemning messages about premarital sex in a misguided effort to promote purity, but often having the result of creating unhealthy sexual messages and lead people away from the truth, rather than towards it.

Spenceley shares throughout her book how the Catholic vision of chastity is so very different from that, and how vital it is to convey that message to young people.

Decent Exposure, by actress and designer Jessica Rey, and former model Leah Darrow, is a very different book than the previous two, but has its place here. This is especially true since this kind of book is probably best created by young authors.

A line from the book sums up the authors’ well-met aim: “Decent Exposure was written with the simple idea that women need positive, uplifting guidance. It is not about shame; it is about empowerment.”

The book is a well-designed large volume, with engaging graphic design and appealing photos. This book is a great conversation starter for pre-teen, teen, and older girls on up about body image, beauty, relationships, and mostly, living in our culture without being overwhelmed by it.

Decent Exposure is not a perfect book, and some topics are worded differently than I might express them, but it’s a sensible resource for ideas to start or continue a healthy dialogue with the girls in your life.

Meet a Reader: Nancy Davis

Following is the monthly feature that appears in the print edition of The Catholic Post, featuring a Peoria diocesan reader.

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How you know me:

I am a member of Holy Family Parish in Lincoln, and I’m married and have three grown children. I am a registered nurse by profession and am co-owner of a small case management company. I am active in several ministries in my church to include: choir, Eucharistic minister to the homebound, and I’m also a sacristan. I am also an active member of the Eastern Area Cursillo community. My real passion in life is mission work and in particular foreign mission. I go to Mexico once or twice a year for service work, and in 2013 I went to Africa. I co-founded and currently run a non-profit organization for the children of Tanzania called Love Repeated.

Why I love reading:

I can’t imagine life without books. Reading opened a whole new world for me beginning when I was just a little girl. One of my favorite places as a child was the Elkhart Public Library. Books allow me to check out of my sometimes harried life into a dream world for a while. I have learned so much from others writings and am enriched immensely by reading.

What I’m reading now:


I am currently reading We, the Ordinary People of the Streets (Resourcement: Retrieval & Renewal in Catholic Thought) by Madeleine Delbrel.  This Lent, I also read  A Time of Renewal: Daily Reflections for the Lenten Season by Mother Mary Francis, and 40 Days, 40 Ways: A New Look at Lent by Marcellino D’Ambrosio.


My favorite book:

I have so many favorites and they seem to come at different stages in my life but two I could not do without are: Contemplative Provocations by Fr. Donald Haggerty or Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Fr. Thomas Dubay. I also love Fr. Dubay’s, Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and the Gospel-On Prayer
Because of my love for mission, the book by This Flowing Toward Me: A Story of God Arriving in Strangers by Marilyn Lacey is also a favorite as well as Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle.

I also love the classics by the great spiritual writers such as: Thomas a’ Kempis, St. Terese of Lisieux, and all the church fathers, but I also find some of the more contemporary writers, such as Heather King and Amy Wellborn also very interesting and inspiring.

Renewal, and Books {Lent Book Series}

I had the great good fortune last weekend to go to the University of Notre Dame for a Catholic women’s blogging conference.

I have been scheduled and registered to attend at least three other blogging conferences in past years, but one thing or and another and another forced me to cancel plans.

So I was super grateful when local friend Bonnie of A Knotted Life invited me to attend, and even more grateful that I got a chance to ride along with Bonnie and Katie of Look to Him and Be Radiant.

I wish I could say this Lent has been all about renewal, but instead it’s more like the Lent you are given. Those are often the most fruitful Lents, but at the time it can feel like hard, hard work.

The opportunity to be with other Catholic women for an entire day, pray with them, learn from them, and just enjoy fellowship and great food, was a gift and a grace.

I must confess I enjoyed being the oldest at the conference, often by several decades.  But best is that I was the learner, and I’m still soaking up super helpful and encouraging presentations by Nell of Whole Parenting Family and Rhonda Ortiz of Real Housekeeping. I also loved the general conversations and input by the other bloggers, and getting to visit the Grotto, however briefly, and eat dinner with the group at this delicious restaurant.

As shared here before, I’ve been in blogging burnout, off and on, for several years.  I hoped the conference would help inspire and encourage.  It’s done that and more–here’s hoping that will be reflected here a Reading Catholic in coming months.  Baby steps.

No one will be surprised to learn that I spent much of my time in conversations with the other women suggesting … books.    And so, as part of the Mid-Lent Reset, I’m going to share books chosen specifically for the Catholic Women’s Blogging Conference.FullSizeRender

Some books are ones I individually recommended to women last weekend, and others struck me (on a scan of several bookshelves)  as apropos of last weekend’s the group.  I wanted to pick a range of non-obvious books perhaps off the radar of younger women, but are worthwhile reads.

Ralph McInerny’s memoir is a good fit since the conference was at the University of Notre Dame, and he was a longtime professor there. I wrote about it briefly here (and talk about what he thought about my chocolate cake).

This one just jumped out at me. So good.  Here’s my review. 

I’m only about halfway through this one–one of my sisters suggested it, and I am in tears about every other page. I want to be a Jesuit when I grow up.  Very good Lenten reading.

It turns out this book was updated several years ago as G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles.  Adding that to the TBR list.

I mentioned this book as several “background reading” ideas to one of the bloggers who’s working on  a book. I’m not sure if her book plans are public, so I won’t name her or the topic, but I am very excited to read and review it when it does come out. Here’s my review of Gawande’s book.

Mary Eberstadt wrote what is one of the best, if not the best, retellings of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I re-read  The Loser Letters a few months back when my older teen was reading it, and I still loved it.   I reviewed the book here and interviewed Mary Eberstadt here.
I read this book in late 2013 or early 2014, and my younger teen and I did a modified version of her “seven” during last year’s Lent (seven foods, seven articles of clothing, etc.).  I was reminded that I still have not written about this terrific book and its impact on us yet when our family recently discovered re-runs of her home renovation show on HGTV.  Someday…