Category Archives: Lent Book Series

A Journey with J.R.R. Tolkien {Lent Book Series}

Today’s guest post is from Linsdey Weishar, a longtime friend of Reading Catholic.  Lindsey has been featured both in the “Meet a Reader” feature. She also wrote about Caryll Houselander for the 2014 Lent Book Series.

FullSizeRender

When it comes to Lent, the image of setting out on a journey is often tied closely to this season. Jesus journeyed into the desert for forty days of prayer, fasting, and uniting himself to God’s will. In contrast to the barren landscape in which he wandered, Jesus’ heart was given the strength to continue his journey even in the midst of heavy temptation.
Setting out on a journey is also the focal point of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, a book that I’d heard about many times, but never actually sat down and read until this past January. What especially struck me in this story was not merely the journey itself, but the friendship and the continual nourishment of the virtue of hope that made the journey possible.

As he begins his journey to destroy the ring (a ring that has the power to destroy all that is good in Middle-Earth- men, elves, dwarves, hobbits, wizards), a hobbit named Frodo begins his journey with friends. And along the way, they are never without the help they need. I love Frodo’s conversation with one of the woodland elves who, early in the journey, have provided the hobbits with food and a safe place to rest. In speaking about the dangers on the road, Frodo asks Gildor, “But where shall I find courage?…That is what I chiefly need.” Gildor replies, “Courage is found in unlikely places. Be of good hope!”

And Frodo needs this encouragement, for there is much that could push him to despair. He is being pursued by the Black Riders, evil spirits that serve the dark lord, Sauron. They know he has the ring, and want to take it from him. There are other dangers along the road too—a strange forest where shifting trees hide the path, Barrow-wights that attack in the fogs along a particular moor, trolls that try to stop the company from completing their journey.

That friends are necessary to the journey is hit home so many times in this story. At the very beginning of the expedition, Frodo decides that he must make the journey alone—to keep his friends from danger—and prepares to depart in secret during the night. But his hobbit friends surprise him. They care so much about him that they’ve noticed his secrecy and already know most of what he’s keeping secret from them. Merry puts the devotion of their friendship into words:

It all depends on what you want…You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin—to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours—closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is….We are horribly afraid—but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds (150).

And as the group of hobbits advances further in their journey, they find themselves joined by more friends. Aragorn meets them at the edges of the hobbit-land and helps them reach the Elven land of Rivendell.

And from Rivendell emerges the fellowship of the ring—a group of nine who together will journey with Frodo to help him reach Mordor, the place where he must destroy the ring.

The beauty of this journey is revealed in the gifts each member of the fellowship has to offer. Aragorn knows the trails and a road; the elf, Legolas, is a skilled marksman; Gandalf the Grey (a wizard) has much wisdom. And Frodo is faithful in his commitment to destroying the ring, though its power is tempting.

As we approach the joys of Easter with the reality of the Lenten journey and Jesus’ passion and death still before us, may I remember that this journey is never mine alone. It is a journey being taken by every member of the Body of Christ. The journey may be painful, tiresome, seemingly endless. We may be feeling cold and hungry. Like Frodo, we may carry a burden. But to my emptiness, Jesus promises to bring his fullness.

There is a poem that appears in The Fellowship that also reads like a prayer. Gandalf sends it to Frodo as metaphorical food for the journey. May it nourish us too.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

IMG_1622

Linsdey Weishar is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois in English Literature, and is currently a teacher’s aide at a high school in Champaign. She is a member of St. Matthew Parish and has participated as a leader in the Peoria Diocese’s Totus Tuus Program for the past two summers. Writing poetry and reading are sources of inspiration for Lindsey, as they help her look at life in different ways.

 

Does Suffering Make Sense? {Lent Book Series}

Today’s Lent Book Series offering is a guest review from the patient and gifted writer Gina Vozenilek.  Gina wrote about Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal for the 2014 Lent Book Series, and way back she was highlighted in The Catholic Post in the  “Meet a Reader” feature.  

FullSizeRender

Easter is still a good way off. Today the sky is colorless and cold and the wind rocks the naked limbs of the trees. I’m glad to be inside sitting in my cozy chair, feet up by the fire. I sip coffee and read about the opposite of my present contentment: suffering.

Who wants to even think about suffering, let alone read a whole book about it?

Does Suffering Make Sense? by Russell Shaw observes how programmed we are as a society to avoid suffering in its many forms: a bad diagnosis, a tragic accident, financial hardship, natural disaster, social injustice, the pain of loss, the fear of dying, the shame of guilt, betrayals and hurts and disappointments as plentiful as the stars in the sky.

It’s not that Shaw is in favor of suffering for its own sake. (He would agree that cancer is bad and to be avoided, if possible, and he would not recommend I quit my comfy chair and go stand outside in the cold).

But Shaw notes that we expend tremendous effort to insulate ourselves and our loved ones from the suffering that inevitably finds us, at one time or another, in one form or another.

Shaw’s book invites us rather to rethink suffering and its redemptive power. He asks, “What use can I make of suffering to become a better person, which for me as a Christian means being more like Christ?”

Drawing on Scripture, papal encyclicals, and other theological writings, Shaw crafts an engrossing discussion of what suffering can offer us if instead of fleeing it—which is ultimately futile—we strive to embrace it as Jesus embraced his Passion.

When we accept suffering—when we bear it patiently, courageously, and lovingly—we suffer with Christ; in doing so, we complete his suffering in his complete body, which is the Church, and we receive in our lives and extend into the lives of others the redeeming value of his suffering.

In a way, Shaw is explaining what it means to offer it up (not that he explicitly uses this phrase). I always wondered what that really meant, and how to do it. This book bolsters understanding of the theological concepts behind that age-old phrase.

I learned a lot more from reading Does Suffering Make Sense? Shaw’s analysis of the betrayals of Judas and Peter is especially interesting. Both men recoiled at the notion that Jesus’ mission should include suffering and humiliating death—with the implication that these would also mark the path of anyone who wanted to follow Jesus.

Ultimately Peter’s faith sustained him even when he could not fully comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ suffering. Although his courage failed him and he faltered in his vocation, his abiding loyalty to the person of Jesus moved him to tears of true contrition.

But Judas lost all faith. “All that was left open to him,” writes Shaw, “was grief’s perversion: despair.”

Does Suffering Make Sense? examines the problems of sin and suffering in the wider world and our own lives. Shaw underscores our individual responsibility to respond actively, not passively, to the suffering we encounter.

He writes, “A very active response is required of us: the effort to cultivate and sustain the disposition of joining our suffering to the suffering of Jesus.” By doing so perhaps we can begin to understand better what it means to enter into Christ’s Passion, a timely reflection as Holy Week approaches.

So who wants to read a whole book about suffering? Does Suffering Make Sense? will appeal to those who seek some deep Lenten reading, the kind you undertake prayerfully with a pencil or a highlighter. It is substantial without being weighty, and although it is about suffering, it is an uplifting and empowering book that will give you new ways to think about the crosses in your own life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*Gina Pribaz Vozenilek, her husband John, and their four children are members of St. Jude Parish in Peoria. An essayist, her work has won national awards and has appeared in Notre Dame Magazine, Brain, Child, Literal Latte, the Tampa Review, Body and Soul: Narratives of Healing from Ars Medica, and elsewhere.

Gina is the Communications Director for the Jack Pribaz Foundation, a nonprofit group started in 2012 on behalf of her nephew Jack, 5, who is one of the first known cases of a rare genetic epilepsy called KCNQ2 encephalopathy. “Jack’s Army” raises funds for research and helps families connect to find support and information about this emerging condition. By sharing Jack’s story, the Foundation has helped locate more than 90 patients and their families around the globe. Read more atwww.jacksarmy.org.

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…

Good Reads from Pope Francis’ Bookshelf {Lent Book Series}

This post is part of the 2015 {Lent Book Series}.
FullSizeRenderLooking for some Lenten spiritual reading inspired by or recommended by Pope Francis?

First, begin with the Holy Father’s Message for Lent 2015. Every year, the pope releases a message for Lent, and it begins and is based on a Scripture verse. This year, the Scripture verse is James 5:8: “Make your hearts firm.” Pope Francis’ theme is overcoming indifference, whether the Church as a whole, parishes or small communities, or individual Christians.

The Lenten messages are always short (this year’s is under 2,000 words—just a few pages) and reader-friendly. It is well worth taking 10-12 minutes to read and reflect on it.

Once you’ve finished that, now you’re ready for some of the Holy Father’s favorite books to jump-start your Lenten journey, here are some of the more familiar titles among his spiritual and literary favorites.

These are taken from the back-of-book page titled, “Bergoglio’s Bookshelf,” at the end of The Great Reformer, Austen Ivereigh’s recent biography of Pope Francis (click the link for my review of that book).  All are easy for readers to obtain at local Catholic bookstores. Some of the “classics” are available as free or almost-free e-books.

The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of the Little Flower, by St. Therese of Lisieux. Many have read this classic by “The Little Flower,” but it’s worth a careful read any year. Something to ponder as you read or re-read this book: What does it mean that it is one of Pope Francis’ favorite books?


The Lord by Romano Guardini. Perhaps the best-known work of Romano Guardini, an Italian priest and 20th century intellectual giant, it influenced countless priests from the 1940s on, including Pope Francis as a young Jesuit. Another Guardini option is to read the accessible Learning the Virtues: That Lead You to God
a recent Sophia Institute Press re-publication.

If novels are more for you, here are two ideas from Pope Francis’ favorites:
The Betrothed: I Promessi Sposi, Alessandro Manzoni’s 1827 novel that’s the first historical fiction written in Italian. It was a favorite novel of Pope Francis’ grandmother, and he knew of it from a young age. It cover the heroism, holiness, and lack those, in priests and the faithful in 19th century Europe.

Lord of the World by English priest-author Robert Hugh Benson. Lord of the World was written in 1907 as a futuristic end-of-the-world novel. It was a dystopian novel before the genre existed, but with more depth than most of the current crop.

Have you read any of these?  I’ve read Story of a Soul several times, and years ago read Lord of the World after it was suggested by a priest friend, but I don’t remember it at all.  I think I tried to read The Betrothed some years back, but never got any traction on it.  Maybe I need to give it another try.

{Lent Book Series} 2015: Books to Reset Lent

At Mass on Sunday, I actually said to a friend, well, Easter is just a few weeks away!

Turns out it’s nearly five weeks away.  That is not my definition of “few,” so clearly, I am ready for Lent to be over.  As I shared,  I am missing chocolate something terrible.

(And, yes, I know I’m not supposed to give up chocolate but instead do great things.  I use “chocolate” as a shorthand for all my Lenten practices.  I do admit, however, to giving up actual chocolate every year because it’s hard). 

Are you feeling the same way?  Feeling like a failure already at your Lenten practices and promises? Need a boost or a mid-Lent re-set?

Me, too.

So, over the next few weeks, I and some other local writers will be sharing books to reset your Lent.

FullSizeRender

This will end up being the 2015 edition of {Lent Book Series}.  If I can be totally honest, I had really planned for this to be a full-fledged book series, running all Lent long.  However, several things–mostly the busyness of life and my neglect of this space.  First, I got a late start in asking writers to join in.  A bunch responded. And then I  just dropped the ball;  life getting in the way, too.  And then Lent started and I still hadn’t begun.

So, operating on the principle of better late than never, and knowing that I and many others need a Lent “reset” after a few weeks, I reframed the series.  I hope you’ll find some of the ideas helpful in making your Lent fruitful.

Check back here on Friday, when I’ll share some of Pope Francis’ favorite books, and why they might make good reads on your Lenten journey.   Several times a week, I or others will be sharing good reads, and before you know it, we really will be just a few weeks from Easter.

Being a Mom to Boys {Lent Book Series}

Today the Lent Book Series features Marcia Mattern.

image

Every year during Lent, I make sure to spend time cleaning my physical house in a deeper way. I, also, get to confession more often and grow virtue in those spiritual areas where Christ helps to remove vice. This Lent I read a book that challenged me to clean my mom-self.

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men is Meg Meeker’s latest book. It gave me courage to keep working towards better parenting. It also calmed my fears about raising boys who are soon to be in the teenage years.

Growing up with one sister, I found the first year of marriage to be a learning curve of understanding men! Then God gifted me with three boys (and also three girls). I’ve been hurriedly reading many, many books about boys for the past ten years. This book has softened my heart to the wonder of boys in my care, yet keeping a pulse on reality.

Meg Meeker, author, doctor, and mother, doesn’t disappoint in this book. Her quote from the chapter on “letting go” hit me:

“Having children means learning that parenting is 10 percent control and 90 percent letting go.”

As a mother, I look forward and back all the time. Not because I want my child to have a parallel life to mine growing up, but that I want to make it better. I want to ponder the mistakes my parents and grandparents made and not repeat them. I want to grow a friendship with my sons (and daughters) so that when they are grown we continue to enjoy each other’s presence. But I don’t own my children. They are just this gift from God that I have for a short time.

I was pushed to consider how I multitask so often during the day after reading Meg’s book. As a homeschooling mom, I try to get dinner going during lunch and in between the math and reading. I fill the whole day with chores around the house and errands outside the home. I sandwich it all with a dose of personal and family prayer. But I want to slow down more and live each moment with these children. A Lenten goal of having less multitasking…is hard to do.

The chapter on chores and physical activity resonated with me. In the past year, we moved to acreage that required much manual labor. And my sons have joined me and my husband in doing much work.

Meg says “ Boys know exactly how they feel.  They just don’t know how to express their feelings in a productive way, but usually they need a physical release.” I have found that finding a way to join a boy in a physical chore allows them to open up and share their feelings.

Meg’s chapters on media, fathers roles, spirituality and sexuality also gave me food for thought. We, as mothers, share so much in the daily conversations we have with our sons. Many times throughout the book Meg repeated the necessity of never attacking a boys character or causing them shame. She encouraged mothers to allow the everyday experiences and conversations to impact our boys on real issues rather than having one conversation or giving one lecture.

NOTE: Meg comes from a Christian background. She does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic faith in regards to sexuality and contraceptives, but has lots of thinking/talking points for moms.

So should you read Meg’s book? If you want to be an even better mother, this book is for you. Just as I find Lent to be an annual time to make my heart more attentive to God’s mercy, I found this book helpful at making my heart attentive to boys and their needs.

mattern_0070

Marcia Mattern and her husband, Steve, attend St. Joseph’s church in Brimfield, IL.  She converted to Catholicism in 1997.   She worked as a Dietitian before retiring to homeschool her six children.   For the past 10 years she has been moonlighting as a Doula. You can find Marcia living outdoors with her children on their growing homestead.  She blogs at I Wonder Why.

You might also be interested in:

*coincidentally, Marcia was also featured–today of all days–as the final entry in The Practicing Catholic’s Lenten Soup & Stories Series.  She writes there about “Laboring Through Lent”-it is really worth reading and pondering. I already made a (different) black bean soup this week, otherwise I would definitely try to make it very soon.

*I had to laugh to see that Lisa & I both featured Marcia on the same day.  I was tempted (and may still) tweet at Lisa, “Hey, she was my friend first!” I’m known for doing that–several years back I told Brandon Vogt that I’ve been friends with Monsignor Soseman probably since Brandon was a pre-teen.  Like Monsignor Soseman, I’ve  been friends with Marcia since before there was an Internet.

*Lisa was also featured here, writing about The Donkey That No One Could Ride, last week. Also worth a read, and I can’t wait to read the book myself.

*I really enjoy Marcia’s blog and keeping up with her thoughts and ideas that way.  I’m even mentioned from time to time, usually not by name.  I have a lot of favorite posts, but Marcia’s concept of “Industry” (essentially, life skills she’d like her kids to have before they leave home) started us thinking at our house about what the “Life Skills/Industry” list is one that popped to mind.

Our “Industry” list is very different–for instance, no one at our house is learning how to change the oil of a vehicle (that’s why God created car dealership service departments)–but her list such a fantastic starting point.  Ideas like that from Marcia help me be more intentional as a parent and person.

To Bring Christ to Others {Lent Book Series}

Today the Lent Book Series features Lindsey Weishar.

image

For about half a year, Caryll Houselander has been in my life. It’s both funny and beautiful how God leads us to the books we need to be reading.

I had been part of a book group over the summer, and one of the reading selections was a chapter from a book by a Jesuit. This Jesuit, whose name escapes me, had compiled a list of his favorite books, and one day I decided to look for this list online. One of the books on the list stood out to me. With an almost formidable title, Houselander’s Guilt became a book that would accompany me through my first semester out of college. With its searching questions, its beautiful images, and its abundant compassion for the human condition, Guilt has given me much to ponder.

Caryll Houselander’s name might be familiar to some readers. The Magnificat uses a reflection by her about once a month. I also hear she was mentioned recently at a women’s conference in the diocese.

Caryll Houselander was a British writer, artist, and spiritual guide. She lived during World War II, and was attracted to people suffering from neurosis—including those affected by the awful horrors of the war. An avid writer, she wrote books and scores of letters to people who wanted her advice. She sought to find Christ in everyone she met.

Though Guilt is initially what drew me to Houselander, I actually want to recommend her autobiography, A Rocking-Horse Catholic. (Guilt is currently a rare book as it is no longer in print.)

A Rocking-Horse Catholic is a brief book in which Houselander tells about her rather lonely childhood, and a few of her mystical experiences as a young woman. Her parents’ divorce and her own poor health left Houselander often feeling alone and guilty. She identified herself as neurotic, but also shows readers the way to transform neurosis—surrender it to God:

In this surrender is, I believe, the cure for the torment of self, which is precisely what most psychological suffering is. It is the cure for the weakness that cannot carry the common burden of the world’s sin; the cure for the fear that causes the will to wither before the challenge of life, the cure for the feebleness that makes the impact of natural beauty painful, the cure for the cowardice that causes the heart to contract and shrink before the challenge of love (RHC 54).

The beauty I find in Houselander is her ability to use her own personal cross to bless other people. A biography written about Houselander (That Divine Eccentric by Maisie Ward) cites Houselander saying, “‘Again and again in human history those in whom Christ lives have been able to heal because they could not be healed’” (278). She believed in the redemptive power of suffering, that a person could move from “‘the narrow prison of self to share in the common suffering of all mankind’” (TDE 278).

The Mystical Body of Christ was a theme in her work, and was closely connected to her mystical experiences as a young adult. These experiences are described by Houselander not as visions, but as “[seeing] Christ in man” (RHC 137). One of her experiences happened on an underground train, where she suddenly saw the vastness of Christ in those around her:

not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them—but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too, here in this underground train; not only the world as it was at that moment, not only all the people in all the countries of the world, but all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come (RHC 137-138).

That responsibility to bring Christ to others, to find His face in the face of others, to share in the world’s suffering and its joy, to see ourselves as a small part of something unimaginably vast and deep, reminds me of the mass, where we believe all of heaven joins in the celebration of the Eucharist. Houselander ends her short (and only partial) narration of her life, with a look at Christ as the all-encompassing King of the universe:

“…because Christ and His Church are one, the world’s sorrow…is only the shadow cast by the spread arms of the crucified King to shelter us until the morning of resurrection from the blaze of everlasting love” (RHC 140).

As we approach Christ’s Passion this Holy Week, I am reminded that we share through our little crosses in His great sacrifice. Our connection to each other and to the world is made strong in His loving gaze, which transforms our struggles into opportunities to reach out and minister to others.

IMG_1622

Linsdey Weishar is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois in English Literature, and is currently a teacher’s aide at a high school in Champaign. She is a member of St. Matthew Parish and has participated as a leader in the Peoria Diocese’s Totus Tuus Program for the past two summers. Writing poetry and reading are sources of inspiration for Lindsey, as they help her look at life in different ways.

You may also be interested in:

*I met Lindsey two summers ago when she was one of the Totus Tuus team at the Totus Tuus that my kids attended. I loved talking over super-literary books with her–she’s a fellow English major–and I’ve gotten a lot of good ideas from her, both for religious reads and for English-major reads.  Currently I have A Rocking-Horse Catholic on my Kindle App, and I hope to make some time this week to read it.

*Lindsey was featured in The Catholic Post as a Reader in 2012.

A Children’s Book That Belongs in Every Easter Basket {Lent Book Series}

Today the Lent Book Series features Lisa Schmidt.

imageThree years ago, my husband Joel and I traveled on a “Footsteps of St. Paul pilgrimage” to Rome, Greece, and Turkey. During one of our excursions in Lindos, Greece, we had the opportunity to tour the acropolis on top of that ancient city. For reference, Lindos is built on the side of a steep hill, and climbing up to the acropolis is definitely an effort. To assist pilgrims on their journey, donkeys are available for rent. A donkey? You want me to ride a donkey? When in … well, when in Lindos, Greece …

Schmidt-Greece-Donkey

While our mode of transportation became the source of many jokes and laughs for the remainder of our pilgrimage, the fact that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday didn’t escape me back then. And that fact certainly doesn’t escape me today, either, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s triumphant entry this Sunday.

Jesus went on toward Jerusalem … he sent two disciples ahead:

“Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” … So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on. As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him … all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” Luke 19:28-38

Using that scriptural reference from Luke 19 as a foundation, author Anthony DeStefano tells the tale of a lowly donkey who has yet to realize his great mission on earth. Through DeStefano’s poetic rhyme, we experience Jesus’s ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through the donkey’s eyes. And the result is a charming children’s book, The Donkey That No One Could Ride, by Anthony DeStefano with beautiful and colorful illustrations by Richard Cowdrey.

We are introduced to a lovable yet weak donkey who believes he can do nothing of great importance. He meets Jesus, and his life is changed forever. The following passage with the accompanying illustration still gets me choked up every time.

Then Jesus said to the donkey,
“My help is enough;
It’s all that you need.
It’s all you require in life to succeed.
The weaker you are,
The more strength I give.
I’ll be there to help you
As long as you live.
I know you feel tired and frightened and broken,
But do you believe
These words that I’ve spoken?
Do you believe — I ask you again.
Do you have faith
I can heal you, my friend?”

Jesus and the Donkey

Jesus simply asked that donkey to have faith in Him. That’s it. And the story continues on and quite simply illustrates the transforming power that awaits the donkey if and when he just has faith in Jesus. And so goes for us, of course.

While that lesson may be a bit too advanced for the youngest readers among us to fully comprehend, the book stands as an excellent resource for gentle catechesis on the majesty of Palm Sunday.

As I scan the blogosphere looking for Lent and Easter book basket ideas, I rarely see The Donkey That No One Could Ride listed. I know there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to booklists, but this is one book that really should be in every child’s Easter basket. It is a favorite in our home, for little and big kids alike, and I’m confident it will be in yours, too.

DasSchmidtHaus-November2013

 

Lisa Schmidt writes at ThePracticingCatholic.com with her husband Joel. A proud Iowan, the Schmidts reside in Des Moines where Lisa is a full-time at-home mom. Lisa is also heavily involved in supporting Joel as he journeys through deacon formation.

At The Practicing Catholic, Lisa enjoys writing about the things that bring her great joy: the Catholic faith, her family, fine arts, and good food.

You might also be interested in:

*Lisa is one of the “not-quite-in-Peoria-but-still-local” bloggers listed in Local, Catholic, and Online Lisa has been to our diocese for the 2012 Behold Conference, and Lisa was one of the “Meet the Bloggers” I helped to organize.  In 2013, she came back to the diocese for a First Saturday meeting called, “Authentic Friendship in An of Social Media,” and that’s where we got to be better friends.  Here is a post with many photos I took, as well as the article I wrote for The Catholic Post on it.

*am I the only one jealous Lisa & Joel got to go on a Footsteps of St. Paul tour? Not just even, but especially, because of getting to ride the donkey.

*Lisa writes how the book The Donkey That No One Could Ride is a not well-known book, and I would agree.  I had never heard of it before, and I can’t wait to read it. Thanks, Lisa!

Intelligently Holy {Lent Book Series}

Today the Lent Book Series features Gina Vozenilek.

image

It’s a pity I missed Flannery O’Connor at the University of Iowa. She was in the famed Writer’s Workshop, and I was down the hall in the graduate literature classes. I was reading Beowulf and Chaucer, and she learned to write brilliant fiction, of which to this day I have read embarrassingly little.

We both went to St. Mary’s in town for Mass, but on Sundays as I’d sit praying amidst the ornate paintings, I never guessed she had been in attendance as a daily habit. She was also writing–with no thought to its publication–A Prayer Journal (another habit I wish I had learned to emulate sooner), out just last fall from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Of course Flannery O’Connor and I also missed each other by about 50 years, but that is beside the point.

What a gift it would have been to have had the company of A Prayer Journal when, straight out of a sheltered religious university campus, I found myself in the relative wilds of Iowa City. I was often the only practicing Catholic in a classroom, and as a medievalist, I was confronted with interpretations of texts that were foreign to my understanding of my faith.

“At every point in this educational process,” O’Connor writes, “we are told that [Faith] is ridiculous and their arguments sound so good it is hard not to fall into them.”

I know how she felt. In my classes the Blessed Virgin Mary was frequently cast as a pawn in a devious patriarchal empire. I argued and defended as best I could, but I was often left to wonder if being a successful scholar in my chosen field and being a faithful Catholic was an either/or proposition.

O’Connor’s Prayer Journal speaks to all readers who encounter a similar crisis when she prays, “…help me to love & bear with my work on that account. If I have to sweat for it, dear God, let it be as in Your service. I would like to be intelligently holy.”

A Prayer Journal is full of intelligent holiness. The book, which includes a copy of the original composition notebook pages with a neat, loopy hand, is an artifact of a young woman’s struggle to understand her relationship with God and with her work. The work is incomplete, and the entries are short and regrettably few, but what is preserved is a series of densely rich prayers. Some are metaprayers, even, in which O’Connor examines her own habits of prayer with scrupulous honesty:

I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, “oh God please,” and “I must,” and “please, please.” I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way. Let me henceforth ask you with resignation—that not being or meant to be slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind—realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not wish to presume. I want to love.

O’Connor’s prayerful entries should be read slowly, one at a time, if only to make them last longer. For readers who come to this book to develop their own practice of keeping a prayer journal, the entries serve as good models for how to concentrate patiently on a specific theme. She undertakes separately, for instance, the four elements of a good prayer:

Dear God, Supplication. This is the only one of the four I am competent in…I believe it is right to ask You too and to ask our Mother to ask You, but I don’t want to overemphasize this angle of my prayers. Help me to ask You, oh Lord, for what is good for me to have, for what I can have and do Your service by having.

Read A Prayer Journal, too, simply to hear the voice of a gifted artist praying to develop that gift. Sometimes elated, sometimes despairing, O’Connor’s writing is always deeply earnest and consummately literary.

“What I am asking for is really very ridiculous,” she writes. “Oh Lord, I am saying, at present I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately.”

In reading the Journal, I am reminded of Bl. John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists,” issued on Easter Sunday of 1999, in which he addresses the work of the artist as vocational:

Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation—as poet, writer, sculptor, architect, musician, actor and so on—feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole.

It is clear O’Connor would have agreed with the Pope’s sentiments. “Please let Christian principles permeate my writing,” she prays, “and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate.”

No Christian artist of any genre should miss reading Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. In this slim book we meet a writer who both desperately wanted to become accomplished by worldly standards and devoutly wished that her work would be the fruit and the aim of her love for God.

“Dear God, please help me to be an artist,” she writes, “please let it lead to you.”

After reading A Prayer Journal, I have decided to go meet Flannery O’Connor properly. I’m undertaking a survey of her fiction and essays, and especially her letters, published as The Habit of Being.

As luck would have it, right here in the pages of Reading Catholic I picked up more inspiration for what to read next to further my exploration of the intersection between art and faith. The current Meet-a-Reader guest, Father Charles Klamut, has recommended a book called Unlocking the Heart of the Artist by Matt Tommey and one by Lorraine Murray about none other than Flannery O’Connor called The Abbess of Andalusia. Thank you, Father!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gina Pribaz Vozenilek, her husband John, and their four children are members of St. Jude Parish in Peoria. An essayist, her work has won national awards and has appeared in Notre Dame Magazine, Brain, Child, Literal Latte, the Tampa Review, Body and Soul: Narratives of Healing from Ars Medica, and elsewhere.

Gina is the Communications Director for the Jack Pribaz Foundation, a nonprofit group started in 2012 on behalf of her nephew Jack, 5, who is one of the first known cases of a rare genetic epilepsy called KCNQ2 encephalopathy. “Jack’s Army” raises funds for research and helps families connect to find support and information about this emerging condition. By sharing Jack’s story, the Foundation has helped locate more than 90 patients and their families around the globe. Read more at www.jacksarmy.org.

You may also be interested in:

*Gina was featured last year in The Catholic Post and here as a Reader.  Gina is one of those “Readers” who really inspired me to dig deep into some intellectual writing.

*I told Gina after reading through this that she writes so well of her, she may have  convinced me to try Flannery O’Connor again.  As I’ve written before, I have tried in vain to love Flannery O’Connor, as it seems all good Catholics must, but I have never been successful.  Perhaps A Prayer Journal will help with that.

The Bigger Story {Lent Book Series}

Today the Lent Book Series features Katie Bogner.

image

Call me overly sentimental, but I would take something old, well-loved, and unique over a brand new item any day. A used item has a story that goes beyond the surface, a story that I appreciate and enjoy discovering.

The book that I would like to recommend for the season of Lent was already old when it fell into my hands.

After arriving at an extended family gathering a couple of years ago, my cousin asked me if I owned Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen.

Venerable Fulton Sheen and I have become quite good friends over the past few years, and my cousin knew that. She had seen a copy of the book at a Spoon River Drive garage sale just before coming to our family party. We hopped in the car and drove the few miles into town, visited the sale, and found the book.

Since it was not priced, I went forward to pay for it, questioning what the seller would like for it. He asked what I had picked out. When he saw my choice, he said, “Oh, no. It’s yours. I never take money for sharing Jesus. That Fulton Sheen was a good man.” Yes he was, and so was this giver. Instead of a dollar, he gets my prayers for his generosity.

IMG_2982

My “new” book was a little worse for the wear, and doesn’t look much better after a couple of readings by me. However, I have found the content to be rich and timeless and a treasure that I will return to again and again.

Sheen’s Life of Christ gives a detailed commentary on the days of our Savior’s earthly walk, from the Annunciation to the Ascension. In typical Sheen fashion, new revelations about the Gospel stories are shared with wisdom, wit, clarity, and depth. Written in his easy-to-read everyman’s style, it still astounds me the truths that he unpacks line after line. When read alongside Scripture, this book has given me a fuller image of Christ and His Kingdom.

Why read it during Lent? We relive snapshots of Jesus’ life all throughout the Liturgical year. Lent seems to be a good time to soak it in as a whole. Add the detail and depth that Sheen includes about Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, this book is a perfect companion during Holy Week.

IMG_2983

The cover of my book is battered, and I have added tape, notes, highlighting and some wear of my own. There are mementos still tucked inside from the former owners and some added by me. It certainly wouldn’t win any book beauty contests, but this is one of the most valuable books on my bookshelves. It has a story, and tells a story, and leads me to understand the much bigger Story that we are all a part of.

So I encourage you to go pick up a copy of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s Life of Christ. You might have to settle for a shiny new copy, but I am sure that Sheen (and Christ) would love nothing more than for your book to one day be falling apart from repeated readings and passing between many hands. Because isn’t the life of Christ meant to be treasured and shared? That is something worth being sentimental over.

 ——–

Katie is a teacher by day, DRE by weekend, crafter in her spare time, and late night reader. She blogs at Look to Him and Be Radiant.

katie 2

You might also be interested in:

*Katie’s blog is so worth exploring, for so many reasons.  She has amazing resources for catechists of all kinds, and lots more.  Unfortunately, I have used very few of them, but now that I’m taking another look perhaps it is time for me to add to our Easter calendar making this Way of Light mini-book, or encourage my younger kids to make a Fulton Sheen notebook. I fear that her blog in some ways is like Pinterest–full of lots of great ideas I don’t implement.  Before I go and make a board of all her ideas (another way to procrastinate!), I better complete one or two.

*Our diocese is currently in the midst of the Annual Diocesan Appeal, and this video was shown yesterday at all the Masses, to encourage giving. I remarked to my husband– I know a lot of people featured in that video!  One of them was Katie, who looked and sounded great.

*Katie was featured in”Meet a Reader” last year in The Catholic Post. Reading through that again I see that “story” is a theme that informs Katie’s reading and writing.  “Story” is something to ponder this late-in-Lent Monday as we grow close to entering into the Triduum Story.