Meet a Reader: Fr. Alexander Millar {@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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Fr. Alexander Millar

How you know me:

I am one of the Parochial Vicars at the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community, which consists of Sacred Heart, St. Joseph, St Bernard Churches and the Cathedral. We have a lot of variation in this community so it keeps us running, but it is a great gift to not only serve as a priest to these parishes but also help with the big Diocesan and Episcopal events at the Cathedral.

Why I love reading:

As Aristotle says, men desire by nature to know and books are a great way to get “to know.” They allow us to enter into and consider many ideas, view points and truths as well as be entertained. Reading shows the power of both human reason and imagination, and these really are things that show our humanity.

What I’m reading now:

I have a somewhat fractured attention span, so I am currently reading several books in parallel:

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, The Nicomachean Ethics and Politics by Aristotle, God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith by Robert Cardinal Sarah.  I’m also rereading The Divine Comedy by Dante. I tend to read a small section of each one every day, but rarely binge on any one at any given time.

My favorite book:

Because of the many genres, it’s hard to narrow down to just one, so really I think I have two.

The first is Dune by Frank Herbert, which is a true masterpiece of science fiction and shows the depths of the genre. The second is the Mystagogia by St Maximus the Confessor, which is a mystical commentary on the liturgy of the Mass from the 5th Century. I reread the Mystagogia every Lent in preparation for Easter.

“Finish Strong” the #YearofMercy and Carry it Forward {My November column @TheCatholicPost}

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: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. is that book.  It is a unique fusion of St. Therese’s “Little Way” with St. Faustina’s Divine Mercy devotion with the goal of nurturing a deep outlook of mercy towards oneself and others. While this book is tied in with the Year of Mercy, its theme is timeless and could be read beyond the November 20 end of the Year of Mercy.

Fr. Gaitley has a series of books on “do-it-yourself retreats”—his best-known likely being 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration.  He’s well-known in the Peoria diocese as Bishop Jenky highly recommended “33 Days to Morning Glory,” and in September Fr. Gaitley spoke on mercy to a capacity crowd at St. Mary’s Cathedral.  The reader-friendly structure is ideal for busy modern lives: a short daily reflection, divided into four weekly “themes,” to help readers understand in small doses the things that promote growth in the spiritual life.

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.

You might also be interested in:

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(Feeling a little nostalgic as this is likely the last time I will use that meme).

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.

We Are Not Gnostics: Living Abundantly in Every Way {My October column @TheCatholic Post }

Following is my October column for  The Catholic Post.

One of the great advantages of our Catholic faith is how multifaceted it is.

For Catholics, life is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.” Catholicism is not either faith or reason—it’s both, as countless Catholic scientists throughout the centuries, many of them priests or religious, attest. (And, as St. John Paul II has written, “faith and reason are like two wings.”) It’s not about either feasting or fasting—it’s about both through the liturgical seasons, when we, for example, fast during Lent and feast during Easter time. It’s not about either emotional & physical health or spiritual health, but all of those which combine to help a person flourish.

The tradition of the Church has been to promote growth in the human virtues. Virtues are not some stodgy, judg-ey 19th century construct, but rather vivid competencies that free us to be our best selves, and help make us not just holier, but happier and healthier in all areas of life.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John (10:10).

Two new books offer practical ways to grow in virtue and have that “abundant life,” with the ultimate goal of making us happier, holier, and more whole. While the target audience for one may initially be younger readers, and the other is for adults, both books are worthwhile for readers of all ages.

Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships by Sarah Swafford is intended for older teens and young adults, but it contains helpful guidance for everyone in navigating relationships and emotional health.

In Emotional Virtue, Swafford brings St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” into modern life, especially regarding having authentic, healthy relationships free of “use” or drama, in three progressive sections.

In “The Attack: Where Is This All Coming From?” Swafford deftly explains how the current culture, and social media in particular, makes achieving emotional maturity a very different challenge for today’s young people than when their parents were growing up. At the same time, she gives doable ways to be both aware of and to overcome those obstacles.

The chapters in “The Answer: Where Do We Go from Here?” explore what emotional virtue is, and how that is important for healthy relationships of all kinds, especially romantic relationships. Swafford makes the excellent point that there is no “altar switch” turning a person into a perfect spouse once married. Instead, a person should practice virtue and strive for emotional maturity throughout life. Acquiring those virtues brings a freedom to do the good, and helps a person be a better friend, spouse, and person in the world. As she writes, ““The stronger the good habits are reinforced, the freer I am to love.”

In “The Avenue: A Roadmap with the End in Mind,” Swafford clarifies some of the ways to become that person, by surrounding oneself by good friends also seeking the good, focusing on intentions, and the natural progression of a relationship.

One of my favorite parts of Emotional Virtue is the chapter titled: ”Finding Your Posse.” Swafford encourages young people to grow in virtue, develop authentic friendships, and spend time together in groups. Her advice about how to find a posse, (including prayer!) is helpful. Even older adults can benefit from having a “tribe” of like-minded friends.

Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us by Elizabeth Scalia is a very different book, but it focuses on the same concepts: growing in virtue makes us happier, holier, and healthier in every way.

Scalia, a longtime blogger known as “The Anchoress,” and currently English language editor-in-chief of the online publication aleteia.org, is a gifted writer with a knack for developing complex topics into compelling reading.

Little Sins Mean a Lot covers a baker’s dozen of minor bad habits that could become ingrained vices if not addressed: for instance, procrastination, passive aggression, gossip, self-neglect, suspicion, among others.

Little Sins is intensely personal; at times amusing, at times distressing, and always perceptive. As Scalia shares: “Writing this book has been a toothache of a process, mostly because it turned into–as I had predicted it would–a kind of mini-memoir, where I have been forced to confront myself.”

But that vulnerability and the personal nature makes Little Sins Mean a Lot so much more convincing, as Scalia’s stories help be personally challenging to readers self-reflect on his or her own bad habits, and consider prayerfully the remedy.

Scalia also recommends different strategies for overcoming faults, and those strategies become great nuggets of advice. In one chapter, she shares about how reading the lives of the saints can inspire action and change:

“ (It’s) not simply reading about saints, but using the examples of their lives, their own discoveries as they drew nearer to spiritual perfection, and their insights, as a kind of “lectio divina,” which means- simply put – to notice when you feel jolted or intrigued by something you have read, accept the feeling as a prompting of the Holy Spirit, and give yourself over to really thinking about the idea or biographical episode before you.”

Scalia writes with wisdom and grace about topics common and obscure. I’m not aware that Scalia is an official spiritual director or adviser, but her words in Little Sins Mean a Lot are a kind of spiritual advice compendium for our current times.

The quote from St. Francis de Sales on the back of my son’s cross country t-shirt sums up beautifully the perspective shared by these two excellent books: “Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.”

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 Writer: Marie Taraska {@TheCatholicPost}

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This month, the book page of The Catholic Post features a local Catholic writer, her new book, More Than Heaven Allowsand her love of writing and reading.

How you know me: Most people know me as the Spanish teacher who taught at Peoria Notre Dame High. I also set up Spanish programs at St Mark’s School, St. Thomas School, St. Patrick School in Washington and St. Mary School in Metamora. I have also tutored the sisters from Mexico in English at the Spalding Center for many years.
Why I love writing: I have always loved writing. I write in a diary every day. I’ve also published two children’s books:Villie the Germ and The Crust Fairy. I’ve written many other children stories, had them professionally illustrated, and gave them to my grandchildren, who always have a lot to say about them. Since I was a teacher for nearly 30 years, my children’s books always teach a lesson. The Toe Ring and The No-No Boy were about some of my grandchildren.

My current book: More Than Heaven Allows was my first memoir/novel, and it’s the story of my and my husband’s life.

My journey begins with having met my husband in college and continues with our lives in medical school and through his residency with little money. It talks about the birth of our five children. It encompasses our struggles when a horrible explosion endangers the lives of two of our children leaving scars both physically and emotionally. The story continues with my journey of forgiveness, love, and faith in Our Lord and the family’s ultimate triumph over adversity.
What I’m writing now: I am working on another book about my husband’s life having grown up during the Depression and his endeavor to become a pathologist.

What I’m reading now: At present I am reading Treasure in Clay the wonderful autobiography of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheens life. I find it fascinating.

The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl {Kidlit Corner}

It is really hard to get Catholic fiction “right” for younger readers, especially for tweens and teens. That’s why it is so satisfying to finish a book like The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl.

The Perfect Blindside is a fast-paced mystery/romance told through the lives of two teens in a small Colorado town— Jake, an Olympic medalist snowboarder who’s new in town, and Sophie, an honor student who’s judgmental and skeptical of Jake’s intentions.  The book is an excellent novel, period, and it also happens to weave in Catholic themes.  That’s a win.

“Mystery” is the primary focus of the novel, as the two teens, often at odds, improbably work together to find out what’s going on in a nearby abandoned silver mine.  The romance is a subordinate, but lighthearted aspect.

At times, The Perfect Blindside reminded me of a Nancy Drew novels, which I adored as a young reader.  What I loved was all the excitement of solving a mystery by yourself, or with the help of a few trusted same-age friends.  When I began to introduce Nancy Drew to my children when they were young, I was momentarily horrified to see how much Nancy put herself and her friends in danger solving mysteries.  But the situations she puts herself in are so improbable that it’s not really an active inspiration to younger readers.  They just enjoy the stories and the excitement, as I did as a kid.

In the same way, the teens in The Perfect Blindside make over-adventerous decisions when it comes solving their mystery, but it’s so far “out there” that it wouldn’t inspire younger readers to be reckless in solving their own mysteries.  Instead, it’s just a diverting and an entertaining plot device to move the story along.

A “blindside” in snowboarding is a trick that a boarder makes without being able to see the path, and this book improvises on that theme to explore how the teens try to make their way without being able to see the path ahead.

While the primary enjoyment of this book is in the mystery and the perilous situations, it is also present in the very natural progress of both teens’ spiritual and emotional development.  Both Jake and Sophie learn where they’ve been wrong, where they can improve, and how to avoid rash judgment and rash decisions.  Catholic life and faith is woven seamlessly throughout the book without seeming “preachy” or moralistic.

Leslea Wahl has written in an interview (here) that she “simply wanted to write good, moral, young adult novels full of adventure and excitement.”  Consider that goal richly fulfilled in The Perfect Blindside.

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.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? {My August column @TheCatholicPost }

In a word, no.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is the title of an award-winning graphic novel/memoir by the artist and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s an amazingly funny, poignant, unapologetically honest account of the decline and death of Chast’s parents, and how she processed it both emotionally, physically, and artistically. If you’ve been through caring for elderly parents, you will find yourself nodding at this book.

For obvious reasons, the title of that book was prominently in mind when I began to review an important new book about at the scourge of pornography on our culture.

Believe me, I’d much rather talk about something more pleasant. As frequent readers of The Catholic Post  can tell from the books normally reviewed here, I genuinely try to focus on the positive aspects of life as a modern Catholic. And there is plenty of positive to focus on. But every so often, a cultural moment making it vital to tackle uncomfortable truths.

The tipping point for me was the open letter written and read in court earlier this year by the young woman who was raped by a student at Stanford University. The details of her account convinced me and many others that there is a huge crisis of depersonalization in our culture, and that sexuality is the center of that struggle.

If you don’t think this kinds of event is directly related to the epidemic of porn in our culture, you haven’t done even the tiniest bit of research on how pornography affects the brain, especially those of the young. And some of the generation growing up right now are, to put it mildly, adversely affected by easy access to pornography.

Cleansed: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn by Marcel LeJeune is a sobering, but ultimately hopeful, book about the cancer that is pornography.

LeJeune works in college ministry—he’s the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, the largest campus ministry in the country. LeJeune writes candidly about his own struggles as a young man with porn, but much more importantly, he writes both about the ways that people who struggle can break free from this pernicious addiction, as well as the ways people can avoid and help young people especially stay away from it.

Cleansed first outlines the incontrovertible evidence that pornography is highly addictive and corrosive to healthy relationships, families, and society at large, and why that matters. LeJeune then shares a Catholic vision of combatting porn, from virtue development, to accountability groups, to prayer and penance, to protecting those under one’s care. He points that in extreme cases, professional counseling may be needed, as porn is widely recognized as a “process addiction” such as gambling.

Cleansed isn’t just for those who struggle  with pornography. It’s also for parents who want to know how to keep kids safe from encountering pornography. Mostly, it’s for anyone who would want to be aware and equipped.

Because of the subject matter of a book like Cleansed, it’s obviously is not for young readers. Yet one of the key points of the book is keeping the very young from encountering and potentially becoming addicted to pornography online. LeJeune gives a lot of excellent advice for parents, including close monitoring of Internet use, a well-adjusted relationship, and a willingness to talk to young children candidly about the beauty of sexuality and how pornography distorts and even kills its healthy expression.

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For parents who want to talk about this sensitive area in a careful way with children of all ages, I highly, highly recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Kids by Kristen A. Jenson M.A. and Debbie Fox.

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures shares a large amount of information to help even very young children understand that “bad pictures” are out there, and it’s likely they will encounter them, but must work to keep away from them to grow up healthy emotionally, physically, and developmentally.

Parents should absolutely read the book first to decide how to present the material, but the narrative provides not just data about how pornography is freely available, but can be extremely damaging to children’s developing brains.

Even with the best internet filters, children may be in a situation where they encounter pornography or something that could lead them towards the damaging, hard-core images. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures helps children develop their own “internal internet filter,” and compellingly makes the case for why they should do so. The book offers a five-point CAN-DO plan to help kids who might accidentally encounter troubling images, and helps them have a pro-active stance towards internet use.

Healthy parents want for their children what’s best. And healthy parents want their children to grow up healthy in every way, so they can flourish in relationships, from friendships to marriage, and in every area of life. Giving children the tools strategies to do that is a gift parents can give in so many ways. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, is a vital resource book for parents to help give that gift to their children.

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?

Book reviews, author interviews and more.

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