Category Archives: Pro-Life

God’s Work, No Matter the Circumstances {My July Column @TheCatholicPost}

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

I ran into a friend at Aldi the other day, and so I asked about her husband’s struggle with cancer. She outlined his progress, and also shared that their family has agreed, yet again, to be foster parents, this time to a sibling pair. When I expressed my admiration, her reply was, “We believe it is God’s work.” Did I mention her husband has cancer? I told her, “The way you live your whole life is God’s work.”

Seeing fellow Christians living in such a radically open and generous way is very humbling for an average believer like me. And yet when I want to feel discouraged about my lack of heroic actions, I recall that for all of us, our whole life is God’s work, even in the “small things” we do.

That is why it was ennobling to read a book about ordinary Christians doing extraordinary things in The Priest Barracks: Dachau, 1938-1945 by Guillaume Zeller, translated from the French by Michael J. Miller. It makes reader ponder, as one should every day, “How can I make my life more God’s work?”

The Priest Barracks tells the little-known story of the thousands of Catholic priests, seminarians, and non-Catholic clergy who lived and often died in the brutal conditions of the prototype among concentration camps, Dachau, in southeastern Germany. At first it was only German priests who were detained. Eventually, a variety of clergy, from members of the Resistance to priests who made modest statements in their sermons, from countries throughout Europe, were largely centralized into three large barracks at Dachau.

The gripping account of the lives of priests in the KZ (the German initials for concentration camp), living the Catholic faith, ministering to fellow prisoners, and maintaining humanity, is woven throughout this well-researched and fact-filled book.

Obviously, the conditions were horrific. And yet, the men endured, amid successes and failures—it wasn’t all perfect, but the priests, including at least two bishops, formed a kind of community that transcended nationality, religious order, Christian denomination, and spiritual temperament.

The Priest Barracks is divided into three sections of six to seven chapters each. First is “A Camp for Priests,” which outlines how the Dachau concentration camp was founded, and then later how it came to be a repository for clergy from all over Europe. Second is “O Land of Distress,” which details many of the horrific conditions, including hunger, death, typhus, and medical experiments. Third is “A Spiritual Home,” which outlines how sacramental life was lived, how the Eucharist existed even in the camp, and relates the improbable and nearly miraculous ordination of a dying seminarian in one of the barracks.

Each chapter begins with a Scripture verse related to its theme. So, for instance, in the chapter, “Anti-Christian Hatred,” is Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Most moving was the account in the “Sacramental Life” chapter on the secret ordination of Father Karl Leisner, a seminarian who, dying from tuberculosis, was ordained through the sacrifices and tactics of the clergy and their fellow prisoners, from the clergy who fashioned his vestments and the bishop’s mitre with cast-off fabric, to the Jewish musicians who played violins outside the barrack to distract the German soldiers from the ceremony. Bishop Gabriel Piguet, a resident of the camp, performed the ordination; as he wrote later, “Truly, in a place where the priesthood has been utterly humiliated and where it was supposed to be exterminated, divine revenge has been striking: one more priest had been born to the priesthood of Christ.”

Probably the finest chapter is “The Fruits of Dachau,” as Zeller outlines the lasting legacy of the priests’ time in Dachau: the importance of unity among the clergy, despite their various orders, nationalities, and practices; the presence of a healthy ecumenism among religions in the camp; how the apostolate of service was lived out; and how the clergy promoted the fundamental dignity of the human person, despite the conditions.

I was inspired to read The Priest Barracks after re-reading earlier this summer the classic He Leadeth Me, Fr. Walter Ciszek’s spiritual autobiography, including his harrowing years as a political prisoner in World War II-era and post-war Russia.

His successes and failures of faith, of perseverance, make the word “inspiring” an understatement. He Leadeth Me is for anyone who seeks to live a Christian life, but who feels unprepared for the task. Fr. Ciszek’s story shows us that “keeping on” and never giving up, is the important quality of the Christian life, all through the lens of the persecution he experienced.

In a similar way, The Priest Barracks offers inspiration for the average Christian, not because of the heroic feats of the clergy imprisoned there—and there were many— but in how normal they were, and yet how much good they could do, bit by bit, day by day.

It may be essentially zero chance that any of us will have to endure the conditions these brave clergy did, or have the opportunity to be heroic in the way they did. And yet, we, all of us, need to go “God’s work” with our lives, day by day. Learning how these ordinary Christians lived their faith can enkindle in us a desire to do the good we can every day.

Meet a Reader: Pamela Suresca {@TheCatholicPost}

Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.

How we know you:

In August I will celebrate two years of being a part of the Peoria Diocesan family. I proudly work for Students for Life of Illinois by building a culture of Life on college campuses all around IL. Currently serving University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as their Campus Mentor in the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center and am a parishioner at St. Matthews in Champaign IL.

Why I love reading:

Reading is a gift. I read to encounter.

Books are always inspired by some-one, some-thing, or some-time. We write to share knowledge, reflect, and imagine. There is always a muse, an inspiration. Each writer has a voice and deep perspective. It is through reading that allows us to sneak a peek at life through another person’s lens.

I am always looking for spiritual readings and books or essays that will help me grow in my Catholic Faith. It is through these writings where words do not just stay on the page but inspire a physical extension of self- a call to action. Some of my favorite reads have dramatically changed my life from the inside out.

What I’m reading now:

“The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”- Edith Stein

I’ve been on reading marathon dealing with any and all books on women. If it isn’t a book, it is an essay, if it isn’t an essay its an article, if it isn’t an article is a reflection, if it isn’t a reflection, it my old journal entries. I do this quite often these days ;).

But right now I am currently reading Essays on Women by Edith Stein later known as St. Teresa Benedicta. As a young catholic woman I adore the writings and reflections of Edith Stein. She has a rawness to life and a deep wisdom of the Church. Her writings are truly a gift to women for they highlight the very gift we are women and the crucial role we play in the church, home, and society.

My favorite book:

Every book has a season and every season I have a new favorite. In this season my favorite book is Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves by Helen Alvare.

After hearing her speak at the Given 2016 Forum in CUA (Catholic University of America) I knew I had to get my hands on this book. She highlights the daily struggles Catholic women face in this 21st Century. Each chapter is a new woman with a new story, new wounds, new cross, and new victory.

Why We Need to Listen if “The Walls are Talking” {my January column @TheCatholicPost }

Some concepts, good or bad, are timeless. More than two millennia ago, Sophocles wrote in the Greek tragedy, Antigone, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.”

Today, we know that as the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger,” but in reality, it’s much easier and far more common to “shoot” the messenger than to work against this natural inclination.

Part of the human condition has been to recoil against not just bad or ugly news, but the person who brings the news. This can be small, as in half-jokingly cursing the people behind those calorie counts on menus at your favorite restaurants. Not that I have any experience with that.

But it can also loom large, and impair our ability to see a situation clearly.

Here’s one example:

I was with a group of young people at the 40 Days for Life last year in October to witness outside the local abortion clinic. Several of the teens felt deeply uncomfortable because another person was holding a sign with a photo of an aborted child. (the person was not with the 40 Days for Life, which forbids such images in its prayerful witness to life). I understand that discomfort, and share in it. A graphic photo held up in such a circumstance hurts the cause of life rather than helps it.

At the same time, I felt the need to point out gently, “But she is against what she is showing, and she didn’t create this reality. An abortion clinic did.”

Reading, or even a cursory glance at The Walls are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories by Abby Johnson with Kristin Detrow, can stimulate strong “shoot the messenger” emotions. We recoil at details of abortion, or even knowing how horrible it is.

We might be thinking, “Ugh. Why do we have to focus on this?”

Here’s why: to understand our need to work to end abortion, not just for the unborn children whose lives are ended, not just for the women hurt, but for those workers at all levels involved in this industry.

The Walls Are Talking by Abby Johnson with Kristin Detrow is actually a pretty short read. It’s the story of 17 former abortion workers and what they experienced, and how they found a path towards healing, in leaving that work. It has graphic content, as you might imagine, but it’s not overly so, and overall it’s more about the workers, and how their lives and perspectives changed.

Abby Johnson wrote the best-selling, Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line, about her conversion from Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director to pro-life activist.  In this book, she’s interviewed other workers who have left the industry, and shares their stories in first-person format. Today, Johnson now runs the non-profit, And Then There Were None, (ATTN), which provides financial and other assistance for workers who want to leave the abortion business.

Three common elements that ran through many of the stories stand out:

*the devastation of the products of conception (POC) lab. All abortion clinics have a POC lab, where it is the job of the technicians to piece back together the parts of the baby. This is to ensure that a woman will not have after-abortion complications such as infection if there are any human limbs or other body parts left behind. Just hearing about how routine it was, and how abortion workers found ways to live with it, is heart-wrenching.

*coping strategies: abortion clinic workers have adopted strategies to avoid the reality of what they are doing. There is an obvious cognitive dissonance between sincerely wanting to help women, which is how many workers get into the abortion industry, and also actively participating in the death of human life. Abortion workers can shield patients, but they are forced to confront the reality of abortion themselves on a regular basis.

*advice for those involved in pro-life work. Some of the clinic workers give genuinely helpful advice for those who work in the pro-life movement about what to say and do, and more importantly, what not to say or do, to help change hearts.

Abortion is a great and terrible evil.

The people who are involved in this industry are not evil.

They may be broken, blinded, and far from truth and love, despite their sincerely held beliefs. All the more reason they need our prayers rather than our condemnation, and our sacrifices rather than our shouting.

Reading The Walls Are Talking helps people understand the depth of the evil that is abortion, and some ideas about how specifically to pray for and reach those in this industry.

As St. Paul said in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not be weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

It’s so, so easy to give up, and to forget the important work that is involved in ending abortion. Let us not grow weary.

You might also be interested in:

*Here is a link to my review several years back of Unplanned.  

*I also did a Q&A with Abby Johnson at the time.

*And Then There Were None has a well-designed and beautiful website outlining the services the group provides to workers who want to leave the abortion industry.

Pencil in the Hand: “A Call to Mercy” Offers Insight on Mother Teresa’s “Lived Theology”


This month’s column for The Catholic Post is one of my series this year on “Year of Mercy” books.


One of my favorite songs of the band Popple, the self-described “Catholic acoustic humor folk beard rock duo” is called “Pencil in the Hand,” and it is based on the quote of Mother Teresa.   

That’s why I was dismayed to read that it was a “significantly paraphrased” quote of hers. Could this be true?

I am the first one to be skeptical of quotes attributed to famous people.  (And a Peoria diocesan priest, Father Geoff Horton, has a clever blog to debunk such “fauxtations”). That’s summed up in a clever t-shirt in the gift shop the Peoria Airport gift shop: an image of Abraham Lincoln and the words “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet —Abraham Lincoln.”

It looked a little something like this:


But this Mother Teresa one seemed true, and it also had a song to go with it. A little more digging (thank you, Internet) discovered that she did say the essential lines of the quote.  In a 1989 Time interview, Mother Teresa said:

“I’m like a little pencil in His hand. That’s all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used.”

It’s so interesting that Mother Teresa, who was canonized on September 4 (earlier this week), used a writing imagery to describe God’s work in our lives.  One of her earlier books is a day book published in 1986 and titled, Jesus, The Word to be Spoken: Prayers & Meditations for Every Day of the Year.

Yet what’s most compelling about Mother Teresa is not the words that she spoke, but the way she lived her life in service to the poorest of the poor.

So why read a book about her life? Two reasons: one, to understand the context in which she lived her vocation and her love of Jesus, as well as the Gospel message, and two, to be inspired to live that out in some way in our own lives.  Mother Teresa in many ways symbolizes the works of mercy, and so it’s particularly appropriate that she is being canonized towards the end of this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

An important new book stresses this mercy perspective in her life.

A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve, is edited and with an introduction by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC.

As Fr. Kolodiejchuk, the postulator for the cause of her canonization, writes in the introduction: “In Mother Teresa ‘s life, as in the lives of many saints, we are offered a lived theology.”

This “lived theology” is evident in A Call to Mercy, as each of the 14 chapters is titled with the work of mercy, both corporal and spiritual.  For each work of mercy, the chapter offers five elements: a short introduction of how Mother Teresa lived the work; a section of “her words,” including excerpts from speeches, letters, and interviews; “her example: the testimonies” with numerous quotes from those who were involved in her work, from fellow Missionaries of Charity and others; a reflection for personal use; and a prayer, which are chosen from prayers that Mother Teresa  had a devotion to or herself wrote.

A Call to Mercy is a treasure for any reader who would like to understand Mother Teresa and her work better, as well as contemplate her life and the ways in which an “average person” can live those out.  It’s also an excellent way to continue a focus on mercy as the Jubilee Year of Mercy enters its final months.

I have enjoyed and read many other books by Mother Teresa and about her, and I could fill a year of columns with excellent sources.

But to celebrate her canonization this month, I recommend three other works that capture her life, her personality, and her spirituality in total.

First is the award-winning 1986 Mother Teresa, the finest documentary or video of any kind about Mother’s life or work.  It was produced by sisters Ann and Jeannette Petrie, and has never been equalled for impact or beauty. 

Second is the coffee-table book, Works of Love are Works of Peace, by photographer Michael Collopy. The 1996 book has been recently republished in an affordable softcover, and contains dozens of luminous photos of Mother Teresa, her homes around the world, and the people she and her community serve.

Third is the small volume by British writer Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God.  It is a beautifully written and captivating portrait of Mother Teresa’s life, as well as Malcolm Muggeridge’s own faith journey as a recent Christian. When he wrote the book in 1971, he was not yet Catholic, but a recent Christian, having lived most of his life as an agnostic.  The shortness of the book and simple vignettes of her life make it a classic.

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?

The Right Kind of Encouragement for Family Life {my July column @TheCatholicPost}

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

To be honest, I sometimes get irritated at the topics or titles of books because of the potential hubris involved.

“The Best and Only Diet for Everyone. “The One Fool-Proof Way to Get Your Baby to Sleep.” “Have a Perfectly Organized House in 3 Hours or Less.” These aren’t real book titles, but could be, because we all recognize something similar in books or articles out there.

Maybe that’s because the more I live, the less convinced I am that there is ONE WAY to do any one thing. Think you have it all figured out? You probably don’t. Even if an author has expertise in a field, the most effective books will inspire people with gentle guidance and information, and encourage people.

That’s why I appreciate three newer books that offer a tremendous amount of sensible advice and encouragement for three stages of life—wedding, childbirth, and child-raising— with none of the guilt or stress that can vex readers. If you’re in one of these stages of life, or know someone who is, these books are first-rate.


Like many women, I have always enjoyed bridal magazines and seeing the fun crafts, food, and other details that go into wedding planning.

The lovely book  Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner by Stephanie Calis, provides a Catholic perspective on these topics.

The first half of Invited focuses on the practical, complete with checklists for budgeting, other marriage prep and ideas, the Mass, and the reception. The latter chapters are a very gentle, very well-put, explanation of Catholic teaching on various areas related to marriage and the wedding, from “holding on to your sanity” to starting your life together.

Particularly strong were the chapters on beauty, inspiring women to have a healthy sense of beauty without going overboard or playing the “comparison game” too much; and what Calis terms “the sex chapter,” a sensitive and thorough explanation,rooted in the Theology of the Body, of Catholic teaching on sexuality. Calis’ husband Andrew writes periodic “from the groom” sections providing a male view of things.

Each chapter ends with a “for conversation” paragraph meant to spark healthy discussion between bride & groom.

Invited would make an excellent gift for a recently engaged couple.


The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust is like a motherhood retreat, for both expectant and new moms, and even moms of any age.

Theologian and mother of five Windley-Daoust has written a personal, Catholic, and realistic look at the process of birthing, both normal and not-so-normal circumstances. Her writing style is theological, but with a mother’s heart. She shares some of her own birth stories, as well as those of many others. The book is suffused with the spiritual as well as physical, emotional, and practical aspects of childbirth.

Though the title may make it seem like it’s for the title, it’s not just for pregnant moms or moms of young ones.

I thought I would be less interested or affected by this book, since it’s been more than a decade since I have had a baby. But I found as I read that it was both lovely and healing to reflect back in a spiritual way, my own experiences of giving birth. The Gift of Birth offers space for moms to reflect and consider the awesome things, the good things and the less-than-great things that happen during pregnancy and childbirth.

The Gift of Birth spans four sections: “The Theology of the Body and Childbirth,” “Reading the Signs of Birth,” “When Childbearing is Difficult, Where is God?”, and “Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories.” It’s hard to pick a favorite section, but the chapters of “Reading the Signs of Birth” follow the progression of labor and birth, and the spiritual meaning present. The range of birth stories shared in “Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories” is both fascinating and prayerful as eight women reflect on giving birth in their own lives.

Obviously, a book like The Gift of Birth would be ideal for an expectant mom, but would also be excellent for women of any age.

Once-local author Marc Cardaronella, who previously worked in evangelization in the diocese of Peoria, has written a remarkable new book called, Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick. [Cardaronella is now director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for Faith Formation at the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph, Missouri.]

The title of Keep Your Kids Catholic gave me the most worry, since any kind of parenting book or advice always strikes fear and sometimes amusement into the heart of many parents, myself included. Perhaps it’s because I, like so many others before me, vowed when I didn’t have kids that I would parent differently (and so much better) than all the parents I saw around me. You know, the statements like “my child will never eat candy before lunch” or “my children will never interrupt two grown-ups having a conversation.” Etc. And then you laugh at your younger self.

Keep Your Kids Catholic is by no means one of that kind of book. It could be titled, Keep Yourself Catholic more than anything else, since Cardaronella stresses the importance of personal witness and a vibrant Catholic home environment as being vital to fostering faith among young people.

The book is divided into four sections, all leading towards encouraging young people to explicitly embrace the Catholic Faith as their own: “How Does Faith Work?”, “Is Your Own Faith Secure?”, “What Kind of an Education Fosters Faith?” and “How Do You Create An Environment of Faith?”

Cardaronella emphasizes two interconnected goals: one, as a parent, having a rich faith and prayer life; and two, having a strong relationship with your children, especially as they grow older. Those two features are also key for a healthy family atmosphere. He also covers the importance of strong mentoring relationships with others in teen and young adulthood years and having healthy relationships with a Catholic community in one’s parish, among families, and among children themselves. The maxim, “It takes a village,” is certainly relevant here.

Cardaronella combines his own story of reversion to the Catholic faith along with what he’s learned as a parent and catechist. He admits he is not an expert in child-raising, but Keep Your Kids Catholic provides ample good advice and information for parents everywhere.

Eleazar’s Commonplace Book, or Shine Like Lights {Finding Your Fiat talk notes}

I am still processing the wonderful Finding Your Fiat Conference I attended last weekend here in central Illinois.  So many great memories and take-aways. Before I get to my promised talk notes, here are a few highlights of “Finding Your Fiat” from me:

*Friday night gathering: a mini-concert and then Karaoke with Marie Miller. I didn’t actually do Karaoke but I loved getting to sing and dance along. So many ladies ( Bonnie and Nell and so many others) did really funny and great songs. Now I want to somehow do karaoke with the family or friends. Is there an app or inexpensive way to get started with this?

*Saturday’s program: so many awesome women, so many adorable babies, praise and worship with Marie Miller, and more.  The coloring pages provided by Katie Bogner, were lovely and relaxing as we began the day.  Katie also hand-stamped sweet charms with the word “Fiat” on them.   I wrote down tons of quotes from Colleen Mitchell and Meg Hunter-Kilmer and Jenna Guizar.  I wish I could have heard the talks by Annie Tillberg and Laura Fanucci, but I was listening to a different talk during the former and giving my talk during the latter.  I was super grateful that Mary Lenaburg agreed to come up towards the end of my talk and share some of her wisdom about finding time for life-giving pursuits even while processing grief and life changes.

So without further ado, here are notes from my talk, entitled:

Eleazar’s Commonplace Book, or Shine Like Lights

“Finding Your Fiat”

Intercession of

Venerable Matt Talbot

Venerable Father Solanus Casey


“Shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life.” —Philippians 2:15-16

entire quote:

“So then, my beloved obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to dear and to work.

Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among who you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”



Hebrew scribe, 90 years old, martyred in Maccabees persecution

“But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.

“Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,” he said, “for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty.  Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”  –2 Maccabees 6:23-28

(worth reading the whole chapter and 2 Maccabees 7, the martyrdom of mother and seven sons, and she died after all her sons).

Commonplace book:

a notebook/scrapbook combination, a way for a learned person, scholar, or writer to keep random bits of information in one place.

have existed in that name since the 17th century, but even beforehand in works like the Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci.

Here is a link to a facsimile of John Milton’s Commonplace Book

Here is a link to John Locke’s A New Method of Making Commonplace Books.

So, Eleazar’s Commonplace Book: random quotes and pieces of books from one who wants to be “worthy of her years and gray hair”  to help you consider ways to “shine like lights” throughout life, and be able to persevere (“hold on to the word of life” and not “run in vain”).

Making Books–

Here is the hot dog booklet, and a link to the website with various other small book projects.


St. Gregory of Nyssa on the Beatitudes

“Bodily health is a good thing, but what is truly blessed is not only to know how to keep one’s health but actually to be healthy. If someone praises health but then goes and eats food that makes him ill, what is the use to him, in his illness, of all his praise of health?
“We need to look at the text we are considering in just the same way. It does not say that it is blessed to know something about the Lord God, but that it is blessed to have God within oneself. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
I do not think that this is simply intended to promise a direct vision of God if one purifies one’s soul. On the other hand, perhaps the magnificence of this saying is hinting at the same thing that is said more clearly to another audience: The kingdom of God is within you. That is, we are to understand that when we have purged our souls of every illusion and every disordered affection, we will see our own beauty as an image of the divine nature.”

QUESTION: How is the Kingdom of God Within You?


From City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Kraków by George Weigel.

“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. “

later in the book:

“(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.”

QUESTION: How can you be a decider? How can you be a good decider, filled with personal responsibility?


 Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery (writer of the Anne of Green Gables books).  I dearly love all of the Anne books, and this is the last in the series about her family, and about Anne & Gilbert’s youngest child, darling, charming and growing-up Rilla (named after Marilla). Rilla of Ingleside is such a good book as a coming-of-age story, but also great historical fiction about WWI written close to the time. Noble and heartbreaking without being completely depressing, as a lot of fiction about WWI is, and rightfully so, since it’s the first modern war.

At one point, Rilla is bemoaning in a conversation with her brother Walter how the war is changing their whole community and family. Her brother Walter says:

“Now we won’t be sober any more. We’ll look beyond the years—to the time when the war will be over and Jem and Jerry and I will come marching home and we’ll all be happy again.”

“We won’t be—happy—in the same way,” said Rilla.

“No, not in the same way. Nobody whom this war has touched will ever be happy again in quite the same way. But it will be a better happiness, I think, little sister—a happiness we’ve earned. We were very happy before the war, weren’t we? With a home like Ingleside, and a father and mother like ours we couldn’t help being happy. But that happiness was a gift from life and love; it wasn’t really ours—life could take it back at any time. It can never take away the happiness we win for ourselves in the way of duty.”

QUESTION: What kind of happiness have you won in the way of duty?


Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

Set in early 20th century Minnesota, Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the iconic Betsy-Tacy books, is a coming-of-age story about a high school graduate, Emily, who can’t go away to college like her cousin and friends since she is taking care of the elderly grandfather who raised her. At first, she wallows in pity.

“Depression settled down upon her, and although she tried to brush it away it thickened like a fog. “Why, the kids will be home for Thanksgiving! That will be here in no time. I mustn’t get this way,” she thought. But she felt lonely and deserted and futile. “A mood like this has to be fought. It’s like an enemy with a gun,” she told herself. But she couldn’t seem to find a gun with which to fight.

Later, she learns to “muster her wits” and she starts a reading group, and goes out to dances, and becomes active in helping Syrian immigrants.  She discovers a quote in Shakespeare: 

“Muster your wits: stand in your own defense.” She had no idea in what sense he had used it, but it seemed to be a message aimed directly at her. “Muster your wits: stand in your own defense,” she kept repeating to herself on the long walk home. After dinner she sat down in her rocker, looked out at the snow and proceeded to muster her wits. “I’m going to fill my winter and I’m going to fill it with something worth while,” she resolved.

QUESTION: How Can you Muster Your Wits? What are your Resources for Doing that?  (friends, faith, outside help) 


C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a series of imaginary letters from a senior demon “(Screwtape) to his nephew about ways to ensnare a young man in WWII-era England.  It’s a classic on the spiritual life and growth in holiness, both funny and spiritually insightful. All the terms and suggestions are backward (the Enemy is God).

“The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. I myself would carry this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”

QUESTION: What is Your Tripe & Onions?


Rumer Godden’s Autobiography: A House with Four Rooms.

“There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual . Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.” 

Question: How can you air out those four rooms each day, or even each week?  What can you do to be well-rounded?

RESOLUTION: How can you make time for something you “want” to do, not “have” to do?

My best example of a “want to”: The New York Times mini-crossword.

Some of mine:


Daily Mass–more when kids were tiny, less when kids were busy



QUESTION: What “want-tos” are you going to make intentional over the next few weeks? 

I would love to hear what want-tos are in your line-up the next few weeks.  If you attended “Finding Your Fiat,” I’d also love to hear your favorite parts and things you are pondering.

As a sharing of one of my “want-tos,” here is my completed New York Time mini-crossword for Wednesday (BTW, I didn’t do it in 35 seconds! I did it late last night, as I mentioned in my talk, and forgot to take a screen shot, so I did it again this morning. But many times I do get it in under a minute.):


“The Global War on Christians” Offers Sobering Look at An Epidemic of Martyrdom {My June column @TheCatholicPost }

The ancient Christian expression, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” is commonly known. We as American Christians may think of it as an encouraging or awe-inspiring reminder of the courage of martyrs, often in centuries past, and how their witness inspired others and us to live our faith today.  But I think few of us realize the extent to which our brothers and sisters are persecuted right now, throughout the world, for the faith we share.

That’s why John Allen’s new book, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution is such an important read.

The book is divided into three sections: anti-Christian persecution around the world; myths about the global war on Christians; and fallout, consequences, and response.  Allen proves that anti-Christian persecution is undeniable. He also shows how the term “war” is not hyperbole in describing this problem.  He also shares some of the myths surrounding the victimization of Christians, importantly sharing what’s true and what is not, to help put things in a realistic context.

John Allen, who is a prolific author on all things Catholic, and editor of the Catholic news website, has a unique perspective. He is himself Catholic, so he has an insider’s view of things.  He has a keen sense of how Catholicism interacts with the world culture at large, and so he can and does write about it fairly and comprehensively.  He’s written about so many Catholic issues,  from papal elections to scandals, from Church politics to theology.

Reading John Allen on any topic can sometimes seen overwhelming, so thorough is he to cover all aspects.  And in a book about Christian persecution and martyrdom, that can be even more daunting. But it’s both sobering and uplifting to have such a well-rounded  picture of what millions of Christians of the rest of the world experiences.

The Global War on Christians is a 2016 edition of a book originally published in 2013.  It’s been updated because in just those three short years, the notion of Christian persecution has become a settled fact, rather than a “stretch” by those of us in the West.  That’s because of the dramatic stories from the Middle East, but Allen points out that the Middle East is not the only place where Christians are marginalized or martyred.

In this new edition, Allen shares even more stories and facts to reflect the most recent areas of concern.

Allen tells a ruefully funny story in The Global War on Christians.  David Barrett, a pioneer of the study of Christian martyrdom before his death in 2011, spoke to a group of Christian business people.  They asked him, “What is the single most effective form of evangelization?” He said that the evidence points to martyrdom as the most effective form of evangelization. 

As Allen shares, “The response of the crowd quiet for a minute, until one of the industrialists finally had the nerve to ask, ‘Dr. Barrett, could you tell us what the second most effective form of evangelization is?’”

A highlight of Allen’s writing is how he is able to tell the stories of so many in a detailed, respectful way, so that the reader gets to know many individual stories, rather than the trends.  For instance, he explains that one such person was known in his community as “a man of God, trusted by all” before his martyrdom.

“One spiritual fruit of the global war on Christians is providing the contemporary church with more such stories, both those told about the dead by others and those that survivors can tell for themselves,”  Allen writes.

I confess that I found the book incredibly depressing at times, and wondered how in the world the average American Catholic can do anything at all about it.  I also have a healthy dose of guilt pondering my relatively easy Catholic life in the West. That’s why Allen’s final chapter, “What’s to be Done,” is so powerful.  It details the ways that a number of solutions, from prayer, global thinking, “micro-charity,” institutional humanitarian relief, political activism, and refugee resettling, can help to alleviate the sufferings of those most vulnerable to abuse.

There’s a new documentary about the writer and “farmer-philosopher” Wendell Berry and about his life-long advocacy for simple living.  The film’s producer/director, Laura Dunn, talked with an interviewer about how making the film overwhelmed her about the state of the world, but Berry’s approach to life helped her reconcile it with her own life.  You can read that interview here.

As Dunn shares in the interview, ”What he’s saying to me is, there is no big solution. It’s broken. We’re all complicit in a broken system, and it a broken world. The question isn’t how can I fix it all. But how can I, with my own two hands, do good work, every day. And I find that immensely hopeful.”

In the same way, we Catholics who feel overcome by the state of the world, the evil present, the enormity of what Christians in other places undergo, we can feel hopeless. But by making concrete actions, beginning with prayer, we can create change in the world, with our own two hands.

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.


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.