Category Archives: Saints

Gift Fiction Ideas for Christmas & Beyond

If you’re looking for ideas for a book gift for kids or adults, there are a lot of newer releases, as well as some old standbys, that could fit the bill. Here’s a round-up:

Treachery and Truth: A Story of Sinners, Servants, and Saints by Katy Huth Jones is a fictionalized account of “Good King Wenceslas,” the martyr Vaclav I, as told by his servant Poidevin. It would be great for middle-grade students on up, and is exciting as well as informative about the 10th century in Eastern Europe and Christianity’s spread there.

For even younger readers, The Wolf & the Shield: An Adventure with Saint Patrick by Sherry Weaver Smith and illustrated by Nicholas McNally, follows 11-year-old Kieran as he struggles between wanting the power of a clan leader, and learning about the goodness of St. Patrick and his faith. “What does your heart hunt for?” Patrick asks him, and his adventures in this book helps him discern the right path.

For fans of historical fiction, Ignatius Press has two newer releases that are satisfying for fans of historical fiction:

The Time Before You Die: A Novel of the Reformation by Lucy Becket, tells fictionalized stories about real-life people in 16th century England, a period when choices about living one’s faith were not just difficult, but life-altering.


General Escobar’s War: A Novel of the Spanish Civil War by Jose Luis Olaizola, and newly translated into English by Richard Goodyear, is a fascinating account of the real-life Antonio Escobar, a devout Catholic and faithful general who upheld his oath to support the legal government. His imagined “diary” as he awaits trial and execution from the new government is well-drawn depiction of life in that time and why people choose from among impossible options in wartime.

For Kindle readers, a formerly “local” writer, Angie Sue Dobbs, has published her first novel.
Perfect Timing: A Catholic Romance is the story of two young professionals wanting to find an honorable soul mate, and how they connect is by turns funny, sweet, and fairly realistic. The Catholic perspective of the characters, their friends and family members, is refreshing and natural.

Finally, here’s are a bonus of two family friendly read-aloud during the days leading up to Christmas:

Paraclete Press has a lovely new edition of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Yes, we’ll be watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol” like many families, but nothing compares to reading the original. This handsomely formatted edition includes illustrations from the original 1843 edition. Try not to choke up as you read the last chapter.


Rumer Godden’s The Story of Holly & Ivy, her classic tale that I often recommend to people as a Christmastime read-aloud.

All of Rumer Godden’s books are tinged with a kind of melancholy joy, as well as a sense of wonder and magic of the everyday. That is what makes them so worthwhile to read. “The Story of Holly & Ivy” follows orphan girl Ivy as she tries to find “her grandmother” and develops a special relationship with Holly, a Christmas doll. In the hands of a different writer, it could be syrupy sweet, but Godden is a master of combining sadness with humor and eccentric characters in delightful and gripping stories.

Do you have any ideas of fiction gift books? What are the favorite perennial Christmas books at your house?

Make Plans for Quiet During Hectic Season {My December column @TheCatholicPost }

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

A common theme in articles I’ve seen online and elsewhere recently is about people practicing “self-care” —healthy habits of mind, body, and spirit, to improve or maintain wholeness in every area of life. It’s not specifically a Catholic “thing,” yet, because it makes good sense, it also lines up with the details of our faith.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, (CC 2288), “Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.”

The Catholic year is full of regular rhythms of the liturgical year promote those very concepts—our emphasis on fasting and feasting, honoring traditions and holidays, and promotion of virtue development, can all be considered through the lens of “self-care.” There are many opportunities for this, and especially true during the busy days of Advent and Christmastime.

But let’s be real. Advent and Christmas—really, all the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day and beyond—can be a parade of shopping, cooking, school events, parties. One of the best ways to ensure it’s not all “go, go, go” is having a plan for renewal and quiet during these weeks. It’s not selfish to focus on tranquility, healthy habits, and simplicity during this time; it’s essential for good health and a happy outlook on the holidays.

How can you carve out time for renewal during this frenzied time? Many parishes offer Advent penance and prayer services. There are a number of parishes throughout the diocese that also offer perpetuation adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Spending some time each week of Advent in peaceful prayer and reading can re-charge one in unexpected ways.

Also as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (CC 2705), “Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history the page on which the “today” of God is written.”

Consider scheduling in several non-negotiable times for this among your busy schedule. When you have that quiet time, pick up one of these books that offer a healthy perspective on renewal and faith.
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Who Does He Say You Are? Women Transformed by the Christ in the Gospels by Colleen Mitchell.

Colleen Mitchell is one of those writers who most readers would love to have coffee and a long discussion about … everything. In her first book, Who Does He Say You Are? Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels, she shares the story of her family’s journey from infant and prenatal loss to, improbably, mission service to some of the poorest populations in Costa Rica. A book could be written about her life’s pilgrimage so far, and how she has been open to growing in her Catholic faith through challenges. But Who Does He Say You Are? is not that book.

While Mitchell does cover some of her story in Who Does He Say You Are? the book is an excellent stand-along Scripture study of women, and what women today can learn from these women.

Each chapter “profiles” a New Testament woman, and how her encounter with Jesus shows the myriad ways our brokenness can be restored through encounters with Jesus and his healing love.

The first chapter addresses Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and is titled, “You are a Dwelling Place of the Most High God.” Other chapters do the same with women both prominent in Scripture, and those nameless women barely mentioned, yet whose influence on the Church’s theology is outsized. So, for instance, “You are Restored” is the chapter on The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8); “You are Made for Contentment” for Mary and Martha and Bethany (Luke 10), and “You Can Pray Boldly” about the Syrophoenician Woman (Mark 7).

I loved reading about some of my favorite women in Scripture from a new perspective and with profound meditations from this gifted writer.

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You Can Share the Faith: Reaching Out One Person at a Time by Karen Edmisten

When I started reading You Can Share the Faith, I thought, “This is the book I’ve been waiting for Karen Edmisten to write, and I didn’t even know it.”

Like many who enjoy “lovely” Catholic blogs, I’ve followed Edmisten’s blog for years, and always found her literary slice-of-life reflections to be thoughtful. And I loved and reviewed Edmisten’s 2012 book, “After Miscarriage,” which has become something of a classic in providing gentle healing and companionship to women who have experienced miscarriage or infant loss.

You Can Share the Faith is much more personal book. It’s both a work of evangelization, and a memoir about Edmisten’s life and how she went, gradually, from confirmed atheist to devout Catholic. And that story is told through advice and guidance for those who want to share the faith.

The chapters are titled on either a “do” or “don’t” about evangelism, such as “Do Remember You’re Being Watched,” “Do Engage the Culture,” “Don’t Forget How Hard it Is,” or “Don’t Assume You are Speaking the Same Language.” Each chapter includes personal stories from her own life and others who are reverts, converts, and others on the journey to Catholic faith and understanding.

You Can Share the Faith is a great read for both faithful Catholics who want to be good evangelizers, as well as those on the journey of faith. One’s faith life is not a straight line, but a winding process, and understanding and embracing that journey in ourselves and others is an important mark of spiritual maturity.

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The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet by Emily Stimpson Chapman

The Catholic Table is not a typical book about food & faith. But that’s because Emily Stimpson Chapman is an unusually talented writer on the intersection of faith and culture.

Stimpson Chapman, a native of the diocese of Peoria (and cousin to Peoria Notre Dame Fr. Adam Stimpson) is a prolific author. Her books include compelling and engrossing reads on a variety of topics, from The American Catholic Almanac to These Beautiful Bones.

In The Catholic Table, Stimpson Chapman turns her attention to the meeting of food & faith, and how an integrated, healthy faith assists in having a healthy relationship with food. Her focus is the concept of “sacramental life,” the idea that we are meant to live in the world in our body.

She candidly shares her own struggles with eating disorders, as well as her reversion to her Catholic faith. Peppered throughout the book are ingenious sidebars with information about “Patron Saints of Cooking,” quotes from saints on food, simple yet delicious-sounding recipes, and advice on a sensible approach towards food.

Perhaps my favorite chapter (to no one’s surprise who knows my love of Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules”) is “Kitchen Rules: A Practical Theology of Food” Stimpson Chapman’s own guidance for what she calls “Eucharistic eating,” or focusing on being not just in a body, but a person, body & soul. Her rules include such good goals as, “Eat Communally,” “Eat Liturgically,” and other ideas.

Meet a Reader: Amanda Ang {@The Catholic Post}

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

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How you know me:

I am pursuing my Masters in Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Illinois. I go to St John’s Catholic Newman Center for Mass and I also help to cantor or set up for Mass. I grew up in Singapore and came to the University of Illinois in 2011. I am a convert and my family and I are the first Catholics in our family. We were received into the church in 2008.

Why I love reading:

Earlier in my faith life, I saw Catholicism as being part of a ‘cool club’ of ‘good people.’ As long as I checked off the check boxes and did all the things I was supposed to do (Go to confession at least twice a year, go to Mass every Sunday, etc.), I was in God’s good graces and could live the rest of my life however I wanted. In college, I realized that my faith was not, could not be, just a ‘Sunday obligation.’ It had  to be the core of every part of my life.

Previously, I had put my faith and my intellect into separate categories, but I came to realize that they both informed each other. I came to find that life in Christ was so much richer than I ever thought! I wanted to be “transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2). Now, spiritual reading is a regular part of my daily life. When I was young, I loved reading Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and all manner of books. Now that I am older, I know that Christ was calling me, even then, through the books I was reading, and now, continues to call me to Him.

What I’m reading now:

The Way of Trust and Love – A Retreat Guided by St Therese of Lisieux by Jacques Philippe. 

St Therese is a dear friend of mine, and each year, I try to find some time to read about her life and meditate on her spirituality. I really enjoyed another ‘personal retreat’ with her, I Believe In Love, by Fr Jean d’Elbee, and I wanted to try this one because I read another book by Jacques Philippe, Searching For and Maintaining Peace, and found it to be very beautiful and beneficial to me. This book is the transcript of some talks Fr Philippe gave as part of a retreat, and provides excerpts from St Therese’s autobiography and his advice on how to live St Therese’s Little Way in our daily lives.

In this book, Fr Philippe says, “Every crisis is a chance to grow, an invitation to undertake a certain kind of work on ourselves. […] In every trial it is essential to ask oneself a question along these lines: What act of faith am I being invited to make in this situation? What attitude of hope am I being called to live by? And what conversion in relation to love, leading to a love that is truer and purer, am I being summoned to undertake?” This is a great challenge for me – to accept all that life brings as a gift from God, and to be a “cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7) It reminds me of He Leadeth Me (Walter Ciszek), where Fr Ciszek meditates on being sent to a Russian prison for preaching the Gospel, “I had to continuously learn to accept God’s will – not as I wished it to be, not as it might have been, but as it actually was in the moment. And it was through the struggle to do this that spiritual growth and a greater appreciation of his will took place.”

I’m also reading Crossing the Threshold of Hope, a book-length interview with Pope John Paul II conducted in 1994. In it, journalist Vittorio Messori gives voice to the questions of the hearts of the faithful, from “Is there really a God?” to “Have the youth of today abandoned the Church?” I used to think of popes as faraway figures, to be respected, for sure, but I did not think they cared about me as a person, nor did I think that they would ever be a part of my life. I was so wrong! The popes are very accessible.

In it, Pope John Paul II says: “This world, which appears to be a great workshop in which knowledge is developed by man, which appears as progress and civilization, as a modern system of communications, as a structure of democratic freedoms without any limitations, this world is not capable of making man happy. […] Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul.” Every Christian is given the divine calling to ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations’, and the popes are not exempt from that. As the Vicar of Christ on earth, John Paul II sets an example for us, as the “Pope of surprises”, to witness to the Gospel at all times, “to shout from the rooftops […] that there is hope, that it has been confirmed, that it is offered to whoever wants to accept it.”

My favorite book:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read it before my conversion, but the book taught me that even in the darkest of times, there is good that is worth fighting for. The book drew me to hunger for an adventurous life, a life that would have meaning beyond what I can see, and I have found that “life with Christ is a wonderful adventure,” as St. John Paul II has said.

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

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

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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:

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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.

Meet a Reader: Sister Catherine Thomas, O.P. {@TheCatholicPost}

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

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How you know me:

I am a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. I have been teaching theology at Peoria Notre Dame the past three years and living with four other Sisters of my community at St. Jude Parish in Peoria. I am moving this summer to an assignment in Texas.

Why I love reading:

I have always, always loved reading. On the one hand, reading is an escape from everyday reality. As a child always loved exploring the worlds that authors created and accompanying the characters on their many adventures. On the other hand, great literature, far from being an escape from reality, takes you deeper into reality, into the depths and the greatness of the human condition. The classics of the spiritual tradition, especially the writings of the saints, take you deeper into THE Reality, the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Plus, Dominicans love searching for God in books and I am a Dominican to the marrow of my bones.

What I’m reading now:

I’m reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens for fun, Scripture for my current spiritual reading, and A History of Israel by John Bright for study.

My favorite book:

This is impossible without categories. When you read Scripture you are in conversation with the living God who speaks to you personally. You have before you the great love letter from the Father and you are drinking from the fountain of truth, goodness, and beauty Himself, and every other adventure, every other history, finds its center and fulfillment in His story. For novels or short stories, I love anything by Tolstoy. For the books that have changed my life, I point to St. Augustine’s little dialogue On Free Choice of the Will,” the Compendium of Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, and Bl. Raymond of Capua’s Life of St. Catherine of Siena. Among the books that I have read more times than I can count, there are Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, and The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena.

Good Reads for #Krakow2016 #WYD

World Youth Day in Krakow is underway.

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

First, a few fun links:

The #WYD website.

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

Now to the books:

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

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

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

…..

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*A Catholic reader filters everything through a Catholic worldview.

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

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

* A Catholic reader recognizes and rejoices in beauty.

* A Reading Catholic collects quotes like recipes.

Great Catholic Memoirs:

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

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

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

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

Some Catholic memoir categories:

Two memoirs by” insiders” in Church affairs

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

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

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

Running with God Across America by Jeff Grabosky

Four memoirs about tough times:

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


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


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


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

Three memoirs — voice of experience:


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


Treasure in Clay by Venerable Fulton Sheen


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

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.

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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.

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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

Prayer:

“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.”

definitions:

Eleazar:

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.


BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART, FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD

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?


BE A DECIDER

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?


WIN HAPPINESS

 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?


MUSTER YOUR WITS


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) 


EMBRACE YOUR GOOFY HOBBIES

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?


AIR YOUR ROOMS

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:

Running

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

Adoration

Reading

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.):

IMG_5296

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You might also be interested in:

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

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

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