Celebration Season {My May column @TheCatholicPost }

May kicks off a busy season filled with first Communions, Confirmations, graduations, and other celebrations. From Mother’s Day to Memorial Day, there are parties galore and gift-giving opportunities abound. Here are some gift-book suggestions for those holidays:

If someone you know would love a trip to Rome, but a cross-ocean trip is not in the works, consider giving a virtual pilgrimage with The Vatican Cookbook: 500 Years of Classic Recipes, Papal Tributes, and Exclusive Images of Life and Art at the Vatican by the Pontifical Swiss Guard.

This volume, written by several members of the Swiss Guard, the soldiers who have protected the Holy Father and the Vatican for many centuries, is much more than a cookbook.  Yes, there are recipes, but the book is chock full of essays and gorgeous photographs that describe and show life at the Vatican for the popes, the Swiss Guard, and visitors. 

The recipes are classically European, and most are do-able by home cooks.  They are ell-written and designed chiefly by Swiss Guard member David Geisser, an accomplished chef.  Vatican photographer Katarzyna Artmiak supplies most of the photos in the book, ranging from breathtaking Vatican vistas, to Swiss guards in action, to personal photos of recent popes.

At first look the recipes could appear too complicated, since the photos and the ingredient lists sometimes made them look complex.  But most are relatively simple recipes featuring classic cuisine, from soup to desserts.  They offer a great taste of Swiss, Italian, German, and other European foods, and would be great special occasion ideas for a family or group of friends to plan a meal “from the Vatican.”

If you’re looking for a first-rate gift book for younger readers, here is one that is that and more.  Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World is a charming picture book, but deep in theology.

Jesuit communities around the world collected letters from more than 250 children, and they were presented to Pope Francis.  He answers in this book several dozen of these letters, on such far-ranging topics from spiritual fatherhood to suffering to soccer to miracles.  Each spread contains a facsimile of a letter and drawing created by a child somewhere in the world, with its English translation if necessary.  On  the facing page is the Holy Father’s answer.

The book also includes the author Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., as “in conversation with,” which means that Fr. Spadaro interviewed Pope Francis with the questions from children.

As Fr. Spadaro writes in the short afterward describing the process of how he interviewed the Holy Father for the answers to these questions, “the language of Pope Francis is simple and that he lives in simple words.  Because God is simple.  The tenderness of God is revealed in his simplicity. One must not complicate God.”

The book would be a delightful gift for first Communion or other spring milestone, but it shouldn’t be reserved only for the young.  My older teens loved this book and found it not just enjoyable to read, but also profound.


(Brace yourselves—it’s another year of mercy book).

For moms, consider the gentle, simple, and yet thorough, introduction to the Divine Mercy devotion: Divine Mercy for Moms: Sharing the Lessons of St. Faustina by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet.

Divine Mercy for Moms offers a way for mothers to encounter Divine Mercy in a mother—specific way.  The two authors, both moms, share many stories of their lives that aid a realistic and nitty-gritty understanding of how Divine Mercy can be understood and lived out in a normal mother’s life.

This small volume is an excellent primer to the devotion of Divine Mercy for those who have little knowledge of (or even interest in) the Divine Mercy devotion.  But it’s also good for people like me, who love the Divine Mercy devotion, and pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, but have felt too daunted to read Saint Faustina’s diary.  A friend was reading Saint Faustina’s diary in a book group, and she mentioned that it was “too much” to take in big chunks, but it’s difficult to know what to focus on.

That’s why one of my favorite parts of Divine Mercy for Moms is an appendix titled “Thirty Days of Mercy,” daily reflections on motherhood.  Each day begins with a short, sentence-long excerpt from the diaries, and then a few questions, and a short prayer.  What a great way to start a day, spending some quality time with one specific and very short quote from St. Faustina’s diary.

For those who know a high school graduate (and I “might” know one in my immediate family, but I’m in denial that my first baby is that old), the best book gift hands-down is “Your College Faith: Own It!” by husband-and-wife writing team Matt and Colleen Swaim. 

I recommended Your College Faith highly when it was first published in 2013, and it definitely stands the test of time.  The high school graduate in our house will be receiving it (shh), and I hope gleaning wisdom from the sensible, detailed advice.  What I love is that Colleen and Matt Swaim share ways to succeed in college from every perspective, and show how integrating faith into one’s life makes for a happier, holier experience throughout college and beyond.