Diversions with Catholic Themes Offer Recreation & Knowledge {My December column @TheCatholicPost }

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

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.

But Fr. Garramone’s new Baking Secrets from the Bread Monk: Tips, Techniques, and Bread Lore is not a cookbook, though it does include recipes.

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.
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Matt Swaim’s newest venture, a two-volume set of Catholic Word Games, Puzzles, and Brain Teasers, is an engaging concept.

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.

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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.