When the “end of the world” was predicted for earlier this year by some Christian fundamentalists and others because of the solar eclipse and other “convergences,” our family had some interesting discussions about what makes that impulse very human and yet not praiseworthy.
We spoke of how Christians could try to avoid getting caught up in these apocalyptic pitfalls and maintain our sense of perspective. We can recall that we belong to Jesus, and so need not worry about “the end.” It’s also a healthy reminder to remember to stay close to Jesus and the Church always.
I love the story told of St. Charles Borromeo, the great who was playing cards with two priest friends. Someone near them asked what they would do if they knew the end of the world were to happen within an hour.
One priest said, “I would run to Church to be with our Lord.” The other priest said, “I would call upon the name of the Lord.” St. Charles Borromeo said, “I would finish this game of cards.”
I don’t consider this an indictment of either of the other priests or their answers. Perhaps they did need to spend more time with our Lord, or call on His name more. But St. Charles’ answer demonstrated his sense that, “anywhere you go, there you are.” That we can serve the Lord and be holy in the daily activities of our lives.
If one’s life is well-ordered, whatever we are doing at the moment can be for the glory of God, whether serving the poor, being at Mass, or, yes, playing cards.
In fact, leisure and “fun” pursuits can be a way to refresh our spirits and help us get a break from work, school, and endless “things to do.”
Several recent Catholic books offer that kind of refreshment, and would be great for fun Christmas gifts or activities during Christmas break.
For those with a kitchen inclination, there’s a great new book by Peoria native, Benedictine monk, writer, and baker Father Dominic Garramone. Father Dominic is a monk of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, Illinois. He is nationally known through his PBS baking programs and cookbooks.
Rather, Baking Secrets from the Bread Monk offers short, cleverly titled—“He Scores” and “The Unkindest Cut” for example—chapters of information about the history, practice, and ideas for those who love baking, or eating, breads and other baked goods.
I’m an experienced baker (thought not fond of bread baking—sorry Fr. Dom!), but I found many good new techniques and ideas, to incorporate into my kitchen. Fr. Dominic’s enjoyable writing style makes it fun to read the history of many types of bread and practices.
Baking Secrets from the Bread Monk is sprinkled with charming illustrations and a healthy dose of fun, well-designed recipes, from sour cream donuts to soft pretzels.
My favorite part was Fr. Dominic’s “Secrets of My Bookshelf,” a sharing of his favorite cookbooks, books about food, and spiritual classics that have informed his baking and praying life. I’ve read or skimmed some of them, but added a few to my list to explore and learn from.
Several of us in our family really enjoy puzzles and word games. We tried out some of the puzzles in Volume 1, and we found them just the right amount of challenge and fun. It wasn’t so easy that we could finish the book quickly, nor were any of them so challenging as to be impossible.
The book includes many types of puzzles, from code scrambles, fallen phrases, missing letters, and quote tiles. There’s a helpful answer key at the back of each book.
Finally, A History of the Church in 100 Objects by Mike & Grace Aquilina is a clever book of history and culture of the Church, told through the “stuff” —material things—in our world that signify the Church or explain in some way. It’s inspired by the History of the World in 100 Objects project (a radio program series, museum exhibit, and book) in 2014 which took 100 items from the British Museum to tell the story of civilization.
Each of the “objects” in A History of the Church in 100 Objects is categorized in one of seven chronological groups; The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs; The Church and the Empire; The Dark Ages; The Middle Ages; Renaissance and Reformations; The Age of Revolutions; and The Global Village.
Objects range from architecture gems such as the Dome of St. Peter’s in Rome; to saint belongings (St. Francis’ tunic; Cardinal Newman’s desk; St. Therese’s curls); to non- religious items such as fetal models that helped explain the development of unborn children; and banknotes in Poland that commemorate Pope John Paul II.
At the end of each object’s description are one or two further resources—usually books— to learn more about the item, and the “stuff” of our faith.
Following is my April column that appears in this issue of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
My friend Michele is a busy mom of many kids, who in the last year has worked very hard to take better care of herself through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. One of her starting points was the “Whole 30,” a month-long eating plan of whole foods that forbids sugar, dairy, grains, among other restrictions. “Challenging” would be an understatement for this.
At the beginning of her journey, when she wanted to cave on her resolutions, Michele repeated to herself, “I am worth it and I deserve to be healthy and strong.” She said this helped her get over some of the bumps in the road, and saying that to herself has helped her stick with healthy habits for many months.
Researchers call this a “virtuous circle,” where one choice to do the right thing helps one make better choices in other areas. These choices eventually become good habits, a good routine, and a healthy pattern. And a brief affirmation like, “I deserve to be healthy and strong,” can aid greatly in momentum to keep that virtuous cycle going, and help a person succeed in big goals.
Praying the Angelus is an instructive book about the origin and importance of this modest prayer, and how it can be transformative in shaping a “virtuous cycle” that can promote spiritual growth and an openness to grace.
Dees, a religious educator and founder of TheReligionTeacher.com website, begins Praying the Angelus with a short preface on how like many Catholics, he was ignorant of the Angelus, but learned about it when he was a young teacher from a newly ordained priest. The priest explained how the Angelus was begun in the Middle Ages as a way for laypeople to share in the regular structured prayer life of religious in monasteries, whose lives revolve around times of prayer.
After listing the prayers and order of the prayers of the Angelus and the Regina Caeli (the substitute for the Angelus during Easter season), the book is divided into three sections.
First is “An Invitation,” with an explanation of the origin of and how to pray the Angelus, what to expect, and why it’s important to pray in today’s hectic world.
The second section is “Angelus Meditations,” contains a short and incisive meditation and prayer for each line of the Angelus. The third section echoes that in “Regina Caeli Meditations,” with prayers and reflections for each line of that prayer.
I’ve prayed the Angelus and the Regina Caeli for years, but very inconsistently. Reading this book helped me re-set my phone alarms to remind me of the Angelus, and to make an effort to focus on the prayers, and encourage those who are around me to do the same.
Contemporary Christianity, including Catholicism, has tended more towards spontaneous prayers and praise in recent years. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But Dees makes a provocative but compelling case that structured devotional prayer is vital to a healthy prayer life.
To me, the nucleus of the book is contained in the “lessons” Dees shares of the Angelus & Regina Caeli, such as “We are called to be humble,” Repetitive prayer is more powerful than spontaneous prayer,” and “Time is a gift from God.”
Among these lessons, “time is a gift from God” is one of the most-needed in our current culture. An openness to “Angelus moments” is a positive “side effect” of praying the Angelus, Dees writes.
He makes the case of how stopping at “inconvenient times” regularly to pray the Angelus primes a person to be available for “Angelus moments,” a receptivity to others and situations in which a person can be a conduit of God’s grace. As Dees writes, “Praying the Angelus trains you to welcome interruptions as a possible gift from God.”
Reading Praying the Angelus and putting it into practice can help readers to learn the prayers of the Angelus and their beautiful message.
“I did not take up the Angelus hoping to solve a specific problem or curb some specific bad habit,” Dees writes. “But through my prayer my habits did change, and the sinful temptations and tendencies in my life were made plain. Here’s why: when you recite these same holy words again and again, they sink into your psyche.”
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:
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.
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?
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.
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 thewhy 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.
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.
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.
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.
Following is my November column that appears in this issue of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
Last month, I volunteered to staff an intersection during the recent Peoria Marathon series of races, and it was a great experience. My assigned downtown intersection included both the beginning and the end of the race, so my fellow volunteers and I, in addition to directing traffic, shouted words of encouragement to the runners.A common one for those near the end of the race was, “Finish strong!”
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is coming to a close this month. How can we “finish strong” as Catholics in our observance of this great jubilee and to carry it forward into our lives not just now, but also future years? How about one more book?
33 Days to Merciful Love is the best written of these.It focuses on the writings and life of St. Therese, and how her “Little Way” is uniquely poised to help us live and accept Divine Mercy in our lives: in a small way rather than through grand gestures. Fr. Gaitley also weaves in the life and writings of St. Faustina, the “Apostle of Mercy,” whose writings and inspirations from Jesus gave us the Divine Mercy devotion.
Week One’s theme is “trust” and what it means to both radically and simply put our faith in the God who made us.
Week Two explores “The Little Way,” especially as it relates to mercy. In particular, Fr. Gaitley writes about how Therese was influenced in her early years by Jansenist spirituality, which emphasized fear and judgment.That led to scrupulosity (excessive anxiety about one’s sins or that everyone one does is a sin) for St. Therese until she was able to overcome this through her embrace of mercy through her “Little Way.”
In the third week, Fr. Gaitley shares “The Offering to Merciful Love” and how St. Therese was inspired to make an offering to Merciful Love repeatedly.That’s in contrast to an offering during Therese’s time that certain religious would make— to offer themselves for divine justice. Instead, St. Therese offers herself to Merciful Love in order to be a conduit of God’s grace and mercy into the world. Instead of a “victim soul” offering oneself for suffering, St. Therese proposes becoming a “victim soul” to his Merciful Love.
As Father Gaitley writes, “‘The Offering to Merciful Love’is all about helping us grown in compassion, and it begins with having compassion for Jesus.…in short, it’s to allow Jesus to make our hearts more like his.”
Week Four’s theme, “Into the Darkness,” is the most difficult to explain in a short summary, as it’s applied in different ways each entry of the week. One concept is that the world is dark, but our faithfulness to mercy can transform that.Another is that our hiddenness in not being “great saints” is an asset, not a liability.This theme proposes embracing mercy more fully, including recognizing our sins but not dwelling on them, accepting our own hidden life, and embodying mercy in ways big and small.
After the four weekly themes, there is a five-day synthesis and review of the concepts and a day of “consecration.” The book closes with additional reflections.
The daily format makes it easy to read in several minute portions. While it is easy to read through the book in several short sittings, it is much more productive to read it as intended, over the course of a month or so.
In many sections, Father Gaitley explains concepts in a fresh and yet familiar way.For instance, he describes the “thieves of hope” — ideas and discouragement he would experience from well-meaning people who would discount St. Therese’s Little Way and its impact for normal people. Haven’t we all experienced this “thieves of hope” in our daily lives or efforts to move forward in the spiritual life?
“We can choose the path of justice or that of mercy,” Fr. Gaitley writes. “It’s about discovering extraordinary joy, happiness, and peace in the midst of regular, ordinary, day-to-day existence.” How better to close out the Year of Mercy than finishing strong by choosing and living mercy.
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(Feeling a little nostalgic as this is likely the last time I will use that meme).
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:
“Shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life.” —Philippians 2:15-16
“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 deathwillingly 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).
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.
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”).
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.”
“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 Inglesideby 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?
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.”
“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?
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.):
Following is my February column that appears in this week’s print edition of The Catholic Post.I realize that the reference to internet culture may be a bit strange to read online, but keep in mind that my column appears in print, and many of the print readers may not understand about memes. So I created one to appear in the paper, and it’s republished here. Brace yourselves! 🙂
Those with a bit of internet culture knowledge are doubtless aware of some of the most popular memes—those humorous text boxes overlaid on a photo or GIF (a short photo/video loop) of something goofy, and the Catholic ones can be genuinely funny. If you’re not aware, Google “Catholic Ryan Gosling,” or “Victory Baby”, or “Grumpy Cat,” and you’ll know what I mean. I’ll wait.
One enduring meme is what always thought was Boromir (from The Lord of the Rings), but is actually called “Imminent Ned.” Now imagine that with the text “Brace Yourselves: I’ll be Writing About ‘Year of Mercy’ Books All Year Long.” That’s the visual that jumped into my mind when I realized how much I plan to write about books related to the Year of Mercy during this year.
This is partially because like many people, I’ve been especially drawn to the messages and the beauty of the Year of Mercy.
It’s also because there are just such a good collection of books that have been released, or are yet to be released, with mercy as the theme.
No doubt many were released (or at least named) specifically for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, but enough have such promise for being spiritually edifying and well-written that I plan to share a number of these with readers of The Catholic Post in coming months.
The start of Lent offers an excellent time to consider some form of spiritual reading and reflection.
A trip to your local Catholic bookstore or online resource offers myriad choices and resources for the Year of Mercy, but let me offer a few stand-outs.
One idea is to explore one or more of an Of Mercy series written by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
But don’t let the official-sounding author name discourage you from picking up one or more of these eight excellent titles. These are all short (less than 100 pages) of accessible writing about the topic (the sacrament of confession, the parables, etc.) as they relate to mercy. So, for instance, in “The Psalms of Mercy” reflects on the Psalms that relate to mercy, and “Celebrating the Year of Mercy” lists some of the special dates in the year, as well as the rich liturgical life of the Church that helps Christians live mercy through prayer.
For a more visual exploration of the Year of Mercy, there is theDisciple of Mercy Journal, published by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. (Local connection: several of this order’s sisters are at Peoria Notre Dame High School and St. Jude Parish in Peoria).
The Disciple of Mercy Journal was designed for use by junior high students and older, but it’s too good for the young to keep to themselves. It’s a substantial resource for all ages to reflect on what mercy means in Scripture, as well as how people can practice it in daily life.
The journal provides 12 weeks of study, each with a focus on a Scripture passage, with guided questions, artwork, lectio divina, and suggestions or challenges for living out mercy in one’s life. The journal can be written in, or not—there are spaces to answer questions and respond to the Scripture and artwork.
Even though the journal follows a weekly structure, there’s no need to rush through it. A reader could spend the entire Year of Mercy working through this journal and benefitting from its many-faceted approach.
Finally, if you’re a fan of fiction, or can find spiritual thoughts in one novel for something completely different, if you like fiction as much as I do.
I just finished Fr. James Martin’s first (fiction) novel, The Abbey: A Story of Discovery. While I’ve been impressed with every book I have ever read of Fr. Martin, especially his moving memoir, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, I confess I was a little skeptical of his foray into fiction. Fiction is so hard to get right-especially religious fiction. Mea culpa for that thought.
But The Abbey is well worth reading, both for enjoyment and for a look at the spiritual life. The book is a poignant, simple story about grief, spiritual growth, and how God reaches out to each individual in myriad ways.
The novel is told through the stories of several people with little or no religious belief, and their connection with an abbey of monks; the story quietly explores how both the laypeople and monks affect each other. The Abbey presents the concept of spiritual direction in a natural way, as well as showing how God meets us in our everyday lives, our imaginations, and the people around us. It’s a good read.
My column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post, and here in just a few days, essentially involves me admitting I haven’t made any plans for the Year of Mercy.
My column does offer books that relate to it, but for me, writing that column prompted me to take a minute to “get with it” and make some plans and modest goals for living out this tremendous year. And it’s well-known that writing plans down makes them more likely to be achieved. In addition, I will be glad to have a place to capture all of my thoughts, important links, and other notes. So here goes:
The Divine Mercy Chaplet: I’m not sure if this is ironic or something else, but one of my first thoughts was when I heard about the Year of Mercy, was “I’m going to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every single day of the year.” That may seem like an ambitious plan, but really, I end up saying it more days that not. Making it an explicit goal should help me be sure to do it every day, right?
Here’s the ironic/funny part: I’ve barely said it (maybe twice?) since the Year of Mercy started last week. So I’m laughing at myself (in mercy? see how I did that?), and also resolving to find a regular time that I can pray the Chaplet. I’ve loved this prayer for at least 18 years, I’m pretty sure since my oldest was a baby. Praying it as much as possible this year is doubtless a good idea.
As many people know, I am a big user of apps for prayers and novenas. I find most of the Divine Mercy chaplet apps fairly annoying, including the “official” one. App developers, get rid of the sound effects, or give us the opportunity to in settings, already. This is a very simple and effective one for iOs I’ve discovered recently.
Looking for Mercy: Here is the Vatican document, called “Misericordiae Vultus,” which released on Divine Mercy Sunday (the Second Sunday of Easter) this year to announce and prepare for the Year of Mercy. Just glancing at it, though, makes me want to read the entire thing, more slowly, to get a sense of what the year is meant to be for people and the Church.
Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Year of Mercy: Pope Francis composed a prayer for the Year of Mercy. Our family will try to pray this prayer, perhaps in advance of saying night prayer. I’ve already formatted it nicely in a document–perhaps I will try to put it in an edit. Another modest goal.
Confession: Confession seems to me the most important sacrament this year. So perhaps working on not just going to Confession more often, but trying to make better confessions. Related here would be trying to be more merciful and forgiving to others and myself.
What are some of your ideas for the Year of Mercy? What do you have planned?
I will update this post with any other ideas I have, and I’d love to hear (and perhaps add!) yours. If you’d like to be added as a collaborator on the “Year of Mercy” Pinterest board, please let me know, or send me a message on Pinterest. I’d love for it to be a group board with lots of ideas.
Following are notes for my portion of the talk that my husband Joseph & I will give to the “Wake Up the World: The Joy of Consecrated Life” conference in Peoria September 19. Surprisingly, I am recommending a lot of books (ha), and so this post helps people recall the books without having to take copious notes. Also, for those who are not able to attend but might care to see.
Joseph & I have discussed about the division of labor for this presentation, and I’m really looking forward to what he has to say. He’s a much more experienced speaker than I, so part of me is also hoping to get my notes down here in a slightly more “polished” way so that I will be slightly more “polished” than normal for me.
I’d love to hear your book suggestions on this topic, as well as any other ideas you have on this. The survey I reference very briefly below (I hope to do a longer post about it when time permits) reflects many perspectives, and I was so grateful for all those voices. If you are interested in taking the survey I reference, let me know in the comments and I will send you the link.
Quite a few months ago, a religious sister we know well asked my husband Joseph & I to give a talk at a vocations conference. We were honored, but also felt un-equipped to speak on the official topic, “Promoting Vocations in the Family.” After all, we only have two teens and a tween at our house. But Sister Sarah reassured me, (and I quote), “I have full faith and confidence in you.” So I’m hanging my hat on that.
We are each going to take different elements of “promoting vocations within the family.” We heartily believe that each of our children has a vocation—it may be to the priesthood, or religious life, or marriage. Helping them understand and discover that vocation, and being open themselves and being open to their journey, is a chief goal of parenting.
Here’s what I plan to cover:
*FAMILY AFFAIR:how forming your family in faith, as individuals and as a family, is super unique, and there’s no formula to.Related to that is that no family is perfect, and bickering and differences are completely normal.At least I hope so. 🙂
*BOOKS, BOOKS, and more BOOKS.How books, and individual stories, can help anyone, young person, adult, or others, understand a little of how someone experiences a vocation to consecrated life, and how families and faith communities can be open and supportive of those journeys, wherever they lead.
*FINALLY, the MYSTERY of VOCATION.I’ll share some thoughts from those who live out a vocation in religious life or the priesthood, and a survey I sent out to them and how it reflects on this mystery. We’ll also reflect on how we are ALL called to VOCATION, and how that will look for each person is very different.
I hope to expand on my notes for each category in either future posts or updating the posts, but right now here are just the highlights and chiefly, book links to my prior reviews, of the books mentioned.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
*forming children in the faith
*looks different for every family: “Prayer is as individual as a fingerprint.”
*what works best for your family? Is it family Rosary? Night Prayer? Mass together? Separate?
*do what works best for your family.
*don’t be afraid to abandon what doesn’t work, or no longer works in this season, or to try new things.
Scripture from Night Prayer, Saturday night:
from Deuteronomy 6:4-7
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
“Each chapter of Yes, God!Susie Lloyd profiles one of ten priests and religious from families, large, small and in-between; broken, barely intact and robustly healthy. The book shares how each family shaped in some way each person’s vocation path, and what makes it unique.
Is there any similarity between the families, a formula that guarantees kids who grow up happy and whole, much less following a vocation? No, and that’s what makes Yes, God! so fascinating. The stories of five men and five women who followed religious vocations is fingerprint-personal to each of those featured.
Tolstoy (yes, in Anna Karenina) famously wrote that “all happy families are alike, and each unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.” But as I wrote in a college paper way back, I think he got it backwards. There are myriad ways to be happy and therefore holy.
Look at the saints. Aren’t you grateful there isn’t just one kind of saint or path to holiness? Most of us would be doomed, and I am grateful to hold dear the saints who most speak to my life and spiritual gifts. Yes, God! offers that kind of variety.
At the end of each biographical sketch/chapter, Lloyd offers a reflection of “Saying Yes,” to different virtues that informed the person’s path. For instance, “saying yes to patience,” “saying yes to strength,” and her own thoughts on how this quality helped the person say yes to God’s invitation, and how readers might adopt that virtue. She offers some interesting and quirky reflections from her own family, and offers a peek into the mystery of a vocation.”
“The reflections in the book are both realistic (as fits a rural Illinois native) and intelligent (as Monsignor’s many degrees attest, including canon law and Spanish, which is why I know Monsignor won’t mind me comparing his book to tapas).
The reflections are not written to talk “down” to people, but rather build them up. He offers such a wide variety of teaching, Catholic varia about the saints or some point of doctrine, and simple wisdom that he makes it look easy.”
“Sister Madonna’s book is part fine spiritual autobiography, part triathlete war stories, and throughout, true inspiration to the rest of us to really “reach” for more in our spiritual and physical lives.
Born to a life of privilege in St. Louis, Sister Madonna Buder considers a vocation from her early years, but still dates and immerses herself in an active, happy family life. Her decision time approaches as she reflects during a summer trip to Europe:
“Once safely on the train coursing along the scenic Rhine, I began to collect my thoughts. My Irishman! Monsignor Doheny! My European adventures! The past, the present, the future! What was God really asking of me? Then, from the depths of my soul, came an interior voice, ‘Can any one man satisfy you when I alone dwell in the deepest recesses of your heart?’ The message was seeping in just as surely as the waters flowed along the banks of the Rhine. My true longing was becoming clear.”
Here is my review (where I said she was much more interesting than another top book from that time, Lean In). An excerpt from that review:
The Ear of the Heart offers space for pondering and reflection, no matter your age or life path, on living life fully and intentionally, on spiritual friendship, and on maturity.
Like all good spiritual autobiographies, The Ear of the Heart really takes off once the vocation begins. Struggles with early doubts, times of desolation, community struggles and more, make for fascinating reading.”
What other books do you recommend for learning about how vocation to religious life or the priesthood happens?
3. THE MYSTERY OF VOCATION
*my survey of several dozen: priest, religious, or lay people who had spent time in seminary or a convent, discerning a vocation. Inspired by Susie Lloyd’s book, but more focused on how to foster an openness to vocation, whatever that means.
*questions included how supportive/surprised/ unsupportive was their family and/ or faith community, how the family can foster and support young people discerning what God wants from them, and how lay people can support those in consecrated life and priesthood. So many of the survey respondents were generous with their time and sharing their vocation stories and thoughts about this. I hope to do a longer posts with more of their beautiful words.
*some common themes:
-family members varied in their support, surprise (maybe parents supported, but siblings did not, or everyone surprised, except the dad)
-pursue holiness as individuals, as families
-be comfortable with religious and priests–invite into your home, visit their monasteries, etc. natural relationships
-pray for religious and priests
-recognize “the consecration of the baptized” & the universal call to holiness
-ongoing dialogue about vocation, whether religious life, priesthood, marriage
-openness to whatever God wants
-everyone in a community can be a support to vocation, not just the parents or siblings
I wish I could say this Lent has been all about renewal, but instead it’s more like the Lent you are given. Those are often the most fruitful Lents, but at the time it can feel like hard, hard work.
The opportunity to be with other Catholic women for an entire day, pray with them, learn from them, and just enjoy fellowship and great food, was a gift and a grace.
I must confess I enjoyed being the oldest at the conference, often by several decades. But best is that Iwas the learner, and I’m still soaking up super helpful and encouraging presentations by Nell of Whole Parenting Family and Rhonda Ortiz of Real Housekeeping. I also loved the general conversations and input by the other bloggers, and getting to visit the Grotto, however briefly, and eat dinner with the group at this delicious restaurant.
As shared here before, I’ve been in blogging burnout, off and on, for several years. I hoped the conference would help inspire and encourage. It’s done that and more–here’s hoping that will be reflected here a Reading Catholic in coming months. Baby steps.
No one will be surprised to learn that I spent much of my time in conversations with the other women suggesting … books. And so, as part of the Mid-Lent Reset, I’m going to share books chosen specifically for the Catholic Women’s Blogging Conference.
Some books are ones I individually recommended to women last weekend, and others struck me (on a scan of several bookshelves) as apropos of last weekend’s the group. I wanted to pick a range of non-obvious books perhaps off the radar of younger women, but are worthwhile reads.
Ralph McInerny’s memoir is a good fit since the conference was at the University of Notre Dame, and he was a longtime professor there. I wrote about it briefly here (and talk about what he thought about my chocolate cake).
I mentioned this book as several “background reading” ideas to one of the bloggers who’s working on a book. I’m not sure if her book plans are public, so I won’t name her or the topic, but I am very excited to read and review it when it does come out. Here’s my review of Gawande’s book.
Mary Eberstadt wrote what is one of the best, if not the best, retellings of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I re-read The Loser Letters a few months back when my older teen was reading it, and I still loved it. I reviewed the book here and interviewed Mary Eberstadt here. I read this book in late 2013 or early 2014, and my younger teen and I did a modified version of her “seven” during last year’s Lent (seven foods, seven articles of clothing, etc.). I was reminded that I still have not written about this terrific book and its impact on us yet when our family recently discovered re-runs of her home renovation show on HGTV. Someday…