Tag Archives: author interviews

What Are You Reading for Lent?

Lent is next week, and even though I’ve been allegedly “looking ahead” since right after Christmas, but I feel ill-prepared and not a bit “ready” for Lent, whether in body, or spirit, or in books.

Many books have arrived recently with Lenten themes, and I hope to review some of them, but this will not be happening before Lent, much as I’d like to be able to tell you about them.  They will have to be mid-Lent reading pick-me-ups, so look ahead for that.

Do you have a practice of spiritual reading for Lent?  I usually take out my well-worn copy of St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life, and I will do so again.  I always get something new from it.

Last year, I highly recommended God Will Provide: How God’s Bounty Opened to Saints–And 9 Ways It can Open for You, Too by Patricia Treece, pointing out that the book “brims with wisdom and grace.”  I really love Paraclete Press books–they are always well-produced and just feel good in your hand, both because the size of the books feel “right” and the paper is very… I don’t know, I’m not a book-making expert–but the paper feels heavy and nice.

Here is my Q&A with Patricia  that ran last year.

Also last year, I blogged about the Prayer of St. Ephram. (And my friend Marcia also posted about this ancient prayer last week–well worth a look).   I’ll be printing off copies of this prayer to leave in conspicuous places (bathroom mirrors and such) for us to pray at our house.  Do you have a special prayer to say as a family during Lent?

If you might be looking around for Lenten reading, here are past reviews with some ideas:

2012:  This Lent, Let Mercy Lead

2011:  A Good Spiritual Library is a Hospital for the Soul

Finally, on the Lenten theme, one of my most popular posts is “Do Sundays Count During Lent”?  As I wrote there, I’m definitely in the taking-Sundays-off camp, but I’m always interested in hearing what other people and families do.

Do you have a plan for Lent?  Care to share?  I’d love to get some great ideas.

Author Abby Johnson in Peoria this Week

Abby Johnson, author and speaker, will be in the Peoria area this week, and I for one am very excited to hear her speak.  She will be speaking at St. Jude Church in Peoria this Tuesday, February 5, at 7 p.m.  If you’re interested in attending, you can contact the parish for more information.

“Prayer, friendship and conversion are at the heart of a new must-read,” as I wrote in my 2011 review of Johnson’s memoir, UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line (you can read the entire review here).

This book is a great read for teens on up, perhaps especially for teens and young adults.  As I wrote in my review, Unplanned raises a lot of questions about how young people can be formed as people of life:

Young people are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set.  How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?

Johnson’s conversion happened in a moment, but UnPlanned makes clear it was the sustained effort of many people praying, fasting and acts of friendship for and to her that made that moment possible.

I did a Q&A with Abby that you can read in case you’re getting ready for her talk.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing Abby tell in person how she was “loved from one side to the other.”   I’m also intrigued to hear about the new initiative she has begun, “And Then There Were None,” to help  abortion industry workers leave the industry.  Abby recently became a LIFE Runner (like me!) so I hope to connect with her there about that.

Will you be there?  Is there an author you would like to hear speak in person?

Five Ideas for the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout pregnancy.  It’s a sad anniversary, but one we need to keep marking.

I’m glad to see a lot of discussion about the anniversary, the March for Life and other pro-life events and ideas, on Facebook and Twitter.  And it’s the younger people who are really active about this, (along with some of us more seasoned veterans of pro-life work).  I’d like to share five quick thoughts about marking the anniversary, though even as I compiled this list I came up with many more.

1.  Day of Prayer for the Protection of Unborn Children.  The U.S. Bishops have declared January 22 each year as “a particular day of prayer and penance for abortion.”  Consider attending Mass, giving up something, or saying a Rosary or other prayers specifically for unborn children.

2.  The March for Life.  The March actually doesn’t take place until this Friday, January 25.  I wish I could be there this year, especially to be able to participate in #3 (see below), but I hope to in future years.  The night before the March, there is a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Both events will air on EWTN, so we will be watching along at our house.

3.  The 5K for Life.  As I wrote about here and here, I’m a LIFE Runner now, and I so wish I could be in Washington, D.C. this Saturday for the inaugural 5K Run for Life.  Race director for it is Jeff Grabosky, who wrote Running With God Across America (my review is here and Q&A with him here).  I may try to run a 5K if schedule permit this Saturday, so I can run along in spirit with my fellow LIFE Runners.  Any one who r

Last year, I wrote about three books on pro-life themes.  I’ll share two of those for the remaining two “ideas.”

4.  Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman.  This stands the test of time as a beautiful reflection of unborn life, suitable for the littlest children.  It should be read to kids of every age, and I dare you to do so without choking up.  Wonderful!

5.  UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Director’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line by Abby Johnson (here’s my review and Q&A with Abby . For local readers, Abby Johnson will be speaking at St. Jude’s Parish in Dunlap, IL, February 5 (the best way I could find to give details was by directing to the parish bulletin here.  I, for one, cannot wait to hear her speak in person, and I think I will bring along my copy of UnPlanned for her to sign.  Her book is a great read and very eye-opening.

What are you doing to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade?  Do you have any other ideas to share to mark the occasion?

The "Cravings" Blog Tour: My Q&A with Mary DeTurris Poust

Today is my day on the blog tour for Mary DeTurris Poust’s latest book, Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God.   I reviewed the book in my January column for The Catholic Post.  Since Q&As are one of my favorite things, I decided to do a Q&A with Mary as my part of the blog tour.  Thanks, Mary, for letting me wrap up your blog tour here at Reading Catholic!  Please visit this link to enter to win a $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card as part of this tour.  In addition, I have a copy of Cravings from the publisher to giveaway at the First Saturday gathering early next month.  If you leave a comment on this post, you can have an extra entry in the giveaway.

Q.  Mary, tell Reading Catholic readers more about yourself, your work and your family.

I’ve been a writer focusing on Catholic issues for almost 30 years. These days my passion is my blog, Not Strictly Spiritual, and my books. As I get older, I find myself focusing more on the spiritual side of Church and less on the “business” side of things, such as issues and news and events, which I covered for many years as a Catholic newspaper reporter. When I’m not writing, I’m usually driving my kids around or cooking or doing yoga. We have three children, ages 7, 12, and 16,  so our home life is pretty busy. The dual vocation – Catholic writer and mom – can be a bit of a challenge, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Q.  As I wrote in my review of Cravings, I thought you saved the best for last, and that the last two chapters were the most compelling.  Did you have a favorite chapter or concept from the book?

It would probably depend on the day. Different chapters suit different situations, moods, seasons, struggles. I think as I was writing, whatever chapter I was working on was my favorite.

Q.  Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of people I know maintain health with various and contradictory food plans that have been popular in the last decade (vegan, paleo, low-carb).  It strikes me that one’s diet (meaning general food choices, not a “diet”) is as individual as a fingerprint, and finding what works to maintain health is important for each individual to work out.  Your thoughts on this, and how you’ve come to embrace a vegetarian diet as best for you?

When it comes to diet plans and food choices, I’m a bit of a rebel. I don’t like to stick to any one plan, and I tend to go against whatever the latest fad might be. Mainly I choose what feels right for me and what I know tends to work long-term. Yes, I’m a vegetarian, something I chose after my mother died of colon cancer at age 47, but I am not rigid about it. I think balance is the most important thing. We see, as you mention, all of these extremes – no carbs, mostly carbs, no meat, all meat. From one week to the next diet recommendations change drastically. Eat eggs. Don’t eat eggs. Drink wine. Don’t drink wine. So I think we have to stop listening to everyone else and listen to our own bodies and hearts and minds. We ultimately know what’s good for us, even when we don’t always do it. When we find a balance, enjoying what we love in moderation, we find we don’t need all these crazy diet plans. We just need to bring some common sense and some mindfulness to our meals.

Q. I am a (mostly) healthy eater, but I am not at all a mindful eater.   Reading your exploration of that makes me want to give it another try, not just for myself but for the whole family.  For those new to mindful eating, can you describe how that might look, especially in a family setting? 

Well, mindful eating isn’t necessarily something you can do on a full-time basis, at least not if you have a houseful of kids. Try it on your own at first to get a feel for it. In our house there are certain things we never do during dinner: No TV, no phone calls, no texting, no computers. Dinner is dinner, with no outside interruptions allowed. So that sets the stage. Even when the dinner table feels more like a something out of a three-ring circus there are certain elements of mindfulness built in. The next step is to try to keep the mealtime calm – no fighting, no tension. This is not the time to start talking about things that will lead to arguments. That may not always be easy, but it’s the ideal. And last but certainly not least: prayer. We always start our meal with a blessing. Sometimes when we’re out at a restaurant, the kids will be the ones who remind us that we should pray. So something’s sinking in even when it feels like we are totally off course. Little steps. Don’t expect to turn your kitchen into a monastery if you’ve got kids. Again we need to be realistic and gentle with ourselves and aware of what we can and cant’ do. It’s when we hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations that the healthy food plans and diets often go out the window.

Q.  What do you mean by a food ritual?  How can it be beneficial?

Try to develop something that brings a sense of the sacred to a meal or snack. In Cravings I talk about my “mindful oatmeal” practice, where I clear the kitchen table, light a candle, pray before I dig into my regular oatmeal breakfast, and then eat in silence and with total mindfulness. It can really transform a meal into a meditation. Even something as simple as making a pot of tea with attention and intention can become a ritual. When you slow down the meal or snack or whatever you’re doing and bring some awareness to it, it becomes more satisfying. You really taste your food as opposed to eating without thinking or while you’re doing something else, and that makes you less likely to go looking for more food a few minutes later – because you’re feeding yourself on a deeper level.

Q. What is the one thing a person who is struggling with their relationship to food could do to make the new year healthier?

First, I’d recommend bringing even five minutes of prayer into everyday life. It’s amazing what that can do for your heart and head. Then I’d suggest keeping a food journal. When you write down everything you eat – and I mean everything – it really makes you aware of your habits and it allows you to see patterns and begin to understand why you might eating if you’re not really hungry. It’s really what makes programs like Weight Watchers work – you track every single bite, not to be obsessive about calories but to be aware. It’s not about counting fat grams or carbs but about understanding the reasons behind the food habits. When I keep a food journal, I’m much more accountable. And I’ll jot down whether I exercised that day or if I have any particular aches or pains or discomforts, even my moods. As a result, I can actually go back and notice where I was last year and whether I repeat certain patterns at certain times.

Q.  You are a prolific author.  Can you share any upcoming projects?

Right now I’m focusing on spreading the word about “Cravings” and about my other new book, “Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality,” which focuses on finding the divine in the mundane moments of our lives. So I’m hoping to do some retreats and workshops related to both books. I’d also like to have time focus on my blog, Not Strictly Spiritual. This past year I was so busy writing two books that I didn’t have a lot of time to blog, which I really love because it allows me to connect directly with readers and explore the spiritual journey day by day.

Mary, thanks again for answering all my questions about your book and letting me be the “grand finale” of the blog tour.  Readers can visit this link to the blog tour to see all the prior stops, and don’t forget to enter to win the $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card.  Remember, if you leave a comment on this post, you can have an extra entry to win a copy of Cravings, that I will be giving away at the First Saturday gathering on Saturday, February 2.

Speaking about Food…

Serendipity is pretty cool, if you ask me.

It seems like I’ve been thinking about and reading about food a lot lately, whether online or in real life, since I reviewed Mary DeTurris Poust’s Cravings.  Part of this is following along with the stops on Mary’s blog tour and what others have had to say about it, but part is just the new year/new you.  Strangely, I haven’t been doing much running this month, even though I reviewed Jeff Grabosky’s book Running with God Across America.

Now about that serendipity—one of my favorite websites, and probably my most-used App on our Apple devices, is Universalis.  My husband Joseph introduced me to Universalis back when we had Palm Pilots, and I’ve used it through the years to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Sometimes very consistently, sometimes not. You know how it goes… but Universalis is always there, making it easy for me to jump back in.

Occasionally, Martin Kochanski, the creator of Universalis and its associated Apps, writes a reflection for the saint of the day.   Often these relate to the “big saints,” but often there is something about an obscure British or Irish saints, since he lives in the UK.

The “about today” regarding St. Wulstan, relates to food, and is well worth reading and pondering (emphases mine):

In the Chapel of St Oliver Plunkett at Downside Abbey, a stained glass window depicts a less official story concerning Wulstan: that one day, whilst celebrating Mass, he was distracted by the smell of roast goose, which was wafted into the church from the neighbouring kitchen. He prayed that he might be delivered from the distraction and vowed that he would never eat meat again if his prayer were granted.

The modern world needs stories like this more than it realises. The watered-down puritanism that serves so many of us as a moral code today equates pleasure with evil – cream cakes, the advertisements tell us, are “naughty but nice”.. or even “wickedly delicious.” Messages like this are a libel on the name of God, who created the pleasures, and on his Son, whose first recorded public act was turning water into wine. There is nothing wicked about delicious food in itself, or in any other pleasant or beautiful thing. 

Let us enjoy God’s creation all we can and rejoice in its creator as we do so, and if, like Wulstan, we have to deprive ourselves of something for our spiritual or bodily health, then let us suffer our deprivation cheerfully, blaming the weakness in us that made it necessary. Let us never devalue our sacrifices by denigrating the things we sacrifice, or the sacrifice will be pointless. Let us remember what God did, day after day, as he was creating the world: he looked at it, and saw it, and behold: it was very good.

Tomorrow is my day on the Cravings blog tour, and I’m excited that I get to be the “grand finale” (sort of!).  I hope you’ll join me then.

Q&A With Jeff Grabosky, Author of “Running With God Across America”

As I wrote in my January column for The Catholic Post, I truly enjoyed Jeff Grabosky’s memoir Running With God Across America. And since I became a LIFE Runner myself last year when I ran my second marathon in St. Louis (read about that experience here and here), we are sort of “teammates.”  So grateful to Jeff for being willing to do this Q&A.

Q. Jeff, tell me a little more about yourself, your writing and your running–what you are currently doing.

I have always been a runner and have always loved my faith. I ran my first marathon in college and also received a supplementary degree in Theology while studying at Notre Dame. After graduating and dealing with personal tragedy, I continued running marathons and 100-mile races. My run across America was a way in which God called me to use my passions to bring the message about the power of prayer to others. It was difficult to leave my family, friends, and job to undertake the journey, but I felt an unmistakable call to run for the prayers of others.

After the run was over, I worked with 3rd graders at a Catholic school in Phoenix for a year. While there, I also worked part time at a running specialty store and spent my free time writing the book. I then moved back to Northern Virginia to be near family, where I now working at my previous job as store manager of a specialty running store and also coach runners. Periodically, I give talks about the power of prayer and appear at book signings. I have been so blessed and recently got engaged to a beautiful and holy woman named Mary.

I’m also the race director for the Cross Country Relay for Life, which will correspond with the 40 Days for Life (February 13 to March 24).  We are currently filling 5K segments for the relay, and encourage pro-life groups to sign up.  Visit the LIFE Runners Relay for Life page for more information about that.

Q. I was really impressed with the quality of your writing and narrative in Running with God Across America .  Since you self-published, I am curious what kind of editing help you had.  Have you always considered yourself a good writer, or was this a unique experience to share?

Whenever I would give a talk about my run across America, the first question people always asked me was when the book was coming out. I have never been a big writer, but settled into the project and approached it with the same persistence I do with anything I go after. I must have read through it a dozen times to get it as accurate and readable as possible. I had it read over for spelling and grammar, but that was it. My goal was to tell a simple story and bring people with me on the journey. I wanted the reader to feel what I was feeling at the time and to realize the power of prayer and to hopefully develop a deeper relationship and belief in God in the process.

Q. As I wrote in my review, I found myself envious of two aspects of your run; one pretty serious and one kind of funny.

First, you had so much personal time and space for prayer, and for running, of course.  This time and space helped you have a lot of spiritual and emotional breakthroughs.  Do you miss that aspect of the run, and how have you tried to bring that spirit into your daily life now?

I found that on my journey, the further I stepped back from daily life, the more I was able to concentrate on prayer and on the Lord. Spending so much time each day lost in prayer was an incredible experience that solidified my relationship with Him, especially in the midst of great discomfort. Now that I am back in a much more normal daily routine, I find myself truly missing that time alone with God. In order to incorporate prayer more into my life, I have since started praying the rosary daily. I love searching out new prayers and devotions. I try to go to confession and adoration more often. Essentially, I came to realize just how much I need the Lord in my life and it is my desire to get as close to Him as possible.

Q. The other aspect I envied was the sheer amount of food you needed to eat to keep up your weight!  I know how good food tastes after a long run or lots of exertion, and so you descriptions of some of your more memorable meals stuck with me.  Did you enjoy that aspect either during the run or in your writing?  Do you miss that now that you are living a more normal day-to-day life?

The amount of food I ate during my journey always makes for good stories. People were always shocked at how much I consumed and how quickly I made the food disappear. For the first part of my run, I really looked forward to dinner because it seemed to be the one comfort of the day. Sitting down and eating a good meal always sounded so incredible when I was out on the road and I could not wait for that moment. What I learned was that it was just that – a moment. The moment of enjoyment from dinner was so fleeting and it only sustained me for a very short time. I learned a lesson through that experience of just how fleeting the pleasures of this world really are. It made me focus more on Christ, because He is the only one who will sustain us forever. He will never abandon us or let us down. The experience only helped to deepen my desire for Christ in my life.

Q. You are a Notre Dame grad, and you ran through campus on the run.  What kind of reaction have you had from the Notre Dame community about your run and its goals?

I’ll never forget how the weather was cold and the skies were overcast as I approached the campus of Notre Dame. Just before the Golden Dome came into view, the skies opened and the sun shone down. When I caught site of campus, the dome was glistening and my aches seemed to melt away. It was essentially a 500 mile detour to run through there, but it was well worth it. I loved seeing some of my old roommates still in the area and praying at the Grotto. It was a wonderful experience and the reaction from the Notre Dame community was fantastic. I’ve been told by the Notre Dame community that my journey embodied the Catholic identity Notre Dame was meant to have. The important messages of focusing on prayer, giving glory to the Lord, and encouraging a devotion to the Blessed Mother is something inherent to Notre Dame. I am honored that the run across America for prayer can be associated with my school and I hope it makes the community of Notre Dame proud.

Q.  You wrote at the end of Running with God that you don’t run long distances any longer.  Any plans for a long-distance run in future years? 

Since finishing my run across the country, I have very little motivation or desire to compete in long distance races. In the past year I have run a marathon for fun, paced a friend through 25 miles of an ultra marathon, put in a 100 mile week, and gone out for a 30 mile run on my own. Despite these runs, the amount I have been running has decreased significantly. However, I find my passion for the sport has not diminished, but has been redirected. Through multiple coaching programs at the store I work at, I have been able to help others train for distance races and become more fit. The satisfaction I have in hearing about others finishing races is much greater than any pride I would have from completing a race of my own. I am honored to have the opportunity to help others reach their goals and I hope it is something that I can continue to do in the future.

Q. You are a LIFE Runner, and I just joined the group in to run my second marathon as a LIFE Runner.  Tell me about how you got involved with the group and what you are doing with them now.

If the wheel on my stroller had not broken in St. Louis, then I may not have become involved with the LIFE Runners. It essentially opened up a window of time where I met Pat Castle for breakfast in Alton, IL. He got me involved with the LIFE Runners as our missions were very much aligned. I am so excited to use my passion for running to help the Pro Life cause. We have a very exciting relay planned that goes over 4,000 miles across the country. I am the race director of the relay and also of the 5K we are holding in conjunction with the March for Life in Washington, DC. The LIFE Runners do so much for the unborn and also to assist the mothers and children who choose life. I am truly honored to work with such great people and for the cause of protecting the right to life for the most innocent of us.

Q. Any plans for future books?

As of now, I do not have any specific plans for another book. However, I know God works in amazing ways and if I find myself called to something that warrants another book I will gladly oblige.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add or wish I would have asked?

I would just like to add that I am no superstar runner or extraordinary human. The only thing I did was say “yes” to the calling the Lord placed on my heart. He met me where I was at and took care of the rest. Things were not always easy, but I have realized just how beautiful a picture the Lord can paint with our lives if we allow him to use us. Ever since I placed myself in God’s will for His glory, my life has taken on a completely different direction. My life has certainly been difficult and even painful at times, but it has developed into something bigger than I could have ever dreamed of on my own. I will continue to put my trust in the Lord and follow wherever he calls me to go. I am just hoping it does not involve another run across America!

Reading Catholic on the "Cravings" Blog Tour

Tomorrow, my column that appears in this weekend’s edition of The Catholic Post will post here on the blog.

This year, for my traditional “new year, new you” column, I review one book about food and one book about running. –covering both those who resolve to eat healthier and those who resolve to get in shape.  Most of my resolutions this year have to do with organization, so I’m sure I will try to share books along those lines as well.

The exciting news is that one of my reviewed books, and I will be part of the blog tour for Mary DeTurris Poust’s latest book, Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God.  I’m on the schedule for January 20th, which means I get to finish the blog tour.  Pretty exciting!  I’ll be doing a Q&A with Mary on my date, and I look forward to reading all the other tour stops as well.

If you click on the link, (here it is again if the image doesn’t work), you can see all the stops on Mary’s blog tour, as well as enter to win a Williams-Sonoma gift card.

What are some of your New Year’s resolutions?

First, What Are You Reading? New Year’s Edition (Volume 29)

Well, I jumped the gun a little by doing my traditional new year’s post several days back, so I’m going to re-post here as my “first, what are you reading?” since it’s a survey about what were my favorite books of 2012, and resolutions for the new year.  I’d love to hear yours!

Faith at “Strewing”answered a series of book-related questions about the books she read this year, and that inspired me to come up with a quick list of questions related to books and invite you to share your favorites, too.

I want to clarify that I do always recommend all of the books that I review, and you can find them all in the book review tab up at the top of the blog.  (Note:  I need to add the last few months, but I resolve to do so as a year’s end housekeeping).

So here is my 2012 Book Survey and Reading Resolutions for 2013.  Please share your answers on your own blog, or here in the comments if you are so inclined. Happy reading!

What was the most important/best book that you read this year?

I’ve got two here, and I reviewed them both in my July columnAdam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution by Mary Eberstadt and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints by Dawn Eden.  Must reads.

What book was most spiritually fruitful for you this year?

God Will Provide by Patricia Treece is a tremendous book.

What was the most enjoyable read this year?

Two memoirs come to mind.  Amy Welborn’s Wish You Were Here and Colleen Carroll Campbell’s My Sisters the Saints were both great reads.

Actually, I really enjoyed and found lots to ponder from all the memoirs I read this year, from Alberto Salazar’s 14 Minutes to Chris Haw’s From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart.  

What was the favorite book you read (or re-read) this year?

Re-reading (and reading out loud to my children) Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy has been a highlight.

What are your reading resolutions for the new year?

I have three:

Get more organized. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve started a list for review books that I add to each time books come in with the title, author and publisher.  If I get a chance to glance through it or even read it, I give it a grade and a couple of notes about the book.

I also hope to get up to speed on GoodReads or one of the other websites to help organize reading with everything I am reading, including with the kids, and books I want to share with my husband.  For many months, I kept a book log on my phone of all the books I read–usually a dozen or more a month, yay me!– but I’ve gotten out of that habit and I need to do so again.  I find it so satisfying to look back at the list of all that I have read.

Get more opinions.  I really enjoy getting to host other bloggers or other people reviewing books, and I want to make that a bigger part of Reading Catholic next year.  I really hope to tap into the local Catholic community for this, and have more voices chime in on all the great books out there.

Share more in real life.  I am determined to start an in-real-life book group again, and this one will not be about Catholic books–there, I said it!  I am definitely up for the fun I had several years back with a now-defunct Jane Austen book group.  I need that kind of talk and enjoyment with fellow readers.

What about you?  What are your favorite reads from 2012, and are you making any reading resolutions for 2013?

My St. Nicholas Day Present–Radiate by Colleen Swaim

I was so grateful when Bonnie Engstrom of “A Knotted Life” (as part of her Advent series) asked me to write about Advent traditions in our family.  I must have been feeling a little discouraged when I wrote about not being well-prepared for Advent, because it was very encouraging for me to have the   chance to articulate what we do well this time of year.

I write about “go with your strengths” and our family’s strength, of course, is using books to celebrate Advent and Christmastime.  The one book I featured was The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan and beautifully illustrated by Judith Brown.  We finally read our copy of The Miracle of St. Nicholas  until after dinner, but it was a nice quiet after-dinner time.  There was a lot of chocolate eaten today (including by me!)

But my St. Nicholas Day present (a surprise, and welcome surprise!) came in the mail this afternoon–when I picked up the mail and saw a copy of Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim.

I am a huge Colleen Swaim fan since I read her first book Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints.  It’s a book intended for teen readers, but I loved and all my kids (8-13 at the time) loved it.  I’ve given it as a gift multiple times, and everyone I’ve given it to or recommended it to has loved it, without exception.  I reviewed Ablaze here (calling it a “gem”) and interviewed Colleen here.  I hope to have another Q&A with Colleen again soon, since she is willing. Look for that here soon!

I’ve been anxiously awaiting this book’s release ever since I saw it had a November 1 release date, and actually planned to review it for my November print column in The Catholic Post.  The publisher told me it was a little delayed, so I held off so I could review it for my December gift books column.  Unfortunately, I wanted to be absolutely sure it was officially available, so that prevented me from reviewing it for my December column, which appears in this weekend’s Post.

But I was really, truly excited to see in the mail this afternoon a hot-off-the-presses copy of Radiate.  Now do you believe me that I am really into books? 🙂

This isn’t actually a review of the book, since one of the kids has run off with it.  From my first look at it, it looks just as handsome and well-produced as Ablaze, with both new and well-loved saints.  Review soon!  In the meantime, if you need a book suggestion for a tween or teen reader, Radiate is your book.

 

Q&A With Sister Helena Burns, Author of "He Speaks to You"

As I wrote in my October column, Sister Helena Burns is an expert on media literacy and Theology of the Body, a Catholic new media maven, and a great friend to the Peoria diocese, speaking here often and living in nearby Chicago.  Turns out she’s also a gifted author, writing the excellent and deceptively simple daily book for young women, He Speaks to You

Sister Helena, who is often busy at her own blog, Hell Burns, or on Twitter, graciously agreed to do a Q&A with me here.  Thanks, Sister, and thank you for your great book.


Q.  Sister Helena, tell Catholic Post readers more about you, your religious community, and your work.

The Daughters of St. Paul are an international congregation of women religious dedicated to evangelizing with the media. We try to use as many forms of media as possible, and now with the new media, we’re like kids in a candy store. When I was discerning my vocation, I was very drawn to sharing the Faith and helping people in spiritual pain (like I had been), and I thought: “What better way to bring God directly into someone’s heart and mind than through a book, a song, a magazine, a film?” I also loved that the Daughters had a kind of “mixed life”: contemplatives in action. Even though we’re an active order, we have approximately 3 hours of prayer each day, including an Hour of Eucharistic Adoration, which was very important to me. Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, www.MediaApostle.com wanted us to “share the fruits of our contemplation in action.”

Q.  You write in the introduction: “The sisters and I have long talked about wanting to find a way to share …basic principles of the interior life and how to live them in daily life.”   Why do you think this is so important, for young women in particular?

My Sisters and I often meet young women who want to pray more, go deeper with Jesus, but don’t always know how. Often they say: “I pray, but He doesn’t talk back.” We knew that if we could share some of the basics of prayer, of how the spiritual life “works,” we could really help young women not become discouraged, or give up on their interior life. Although each of our relationships with Jesus is unique, still, there are patterns that saints and mystics, spiritual masters and spiritual directors have identified that are universal.

I believe young women in particular need to look to and develop their interior lives because there really is a “war on women” today (but it’s the exact opposite of what the media says it is)! 

Ever since the Sexual Revolution and Women’s Liberation Movement, women have been encouraged to think and act like men interiorly and exteriorly. Women are told to squelch their essential feminine nature (body and soul) because it is “weak, irrational and limiting.” Women’s gifts (the feminine genius) are devalued, most of all by women themselves! But women are naturally “receptive,” (body and soul). We are receptive to men and to new life, but first of all to the Infinite, and we teach men and children how to be receptive to God. 

Women are supposedly “more religious” than men (the world over), but can we say that of our young women today? I’m afraid many (young and older) women’s “radar” is broken today. We don’t know what it means to be a woman. We don’t know our own identity in Christ, in Mary (the New Creation: the New Adam and the New Eve). But our radar can be fixed! It’s IN us. “He Speaks to You” is my little attempt to help “fix women’s radar.”

Q.  How long did it take you to write the book?

Approximately two years, very part time. Which was great because new ideas sprung up all along the way.

Q.  How did you come up with the themes for every month?

We tried to cover the essentials of a ground floor for the building of an “interior castle”!

Q. Was it difficult to write any one part of the book?  I enjoyed in particular the “speaking” quotes beginning each day from Jesus, and I wondered if it would be difficult to write so many.

I’m probably going to have an “extended stay” in Purgatory for putting words in Jesus’ mouth! A priest got it right, though, when he guessed: “Sister, is this how YOU hear Jesus?” Jesus is always comforting and challenging at the same time when He speaks to me, and I think that might be a universal for how He speaks to everyone. 

He also has a sense of humor. I think probably one of our biggest sins is to take the unimportant things too seriously, and the important things not seriously enough. Actually, Jesus’ parts in the book were the easiest to write. I’m REALLY hoping the Holy Spirit had a big hand in that, because I was asking Him to!



Q. Do you have a favorite section of the book?

I think it’s the month of October–dedicated to Our Lady–because the BVM is my BFF. I loved learning about her different titles and apparitions and sharing them in the book.

Q. What do you recommend as one or two good ways for a young woman to make the interior life and prayer a reality in our culture’s busy lifestyles?

Fidelity to daily prayer is essential. Sporadic prayer is like a sporadic relationship. You never really get to know the other person. There is NO other way.

Q.  You are busy with so many projects.  Anything in particular you’d like to share as particularly noteworthy?

We’re doing a 90-minute documentary on the life of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione. We’ve finished shooting, laying audio and are now completing the visuals. A rough cut is due January 25, 2013. We’re still fundraising for it and have a pledge of a $10,000 matching grant if we can raise that by December 31! The trailer can be watched (in 10 languages so far) at www.MediaApostle.com  and donations can be made securely on the website. 

GIFTS for donations to the Fr. Alberione Film (from November 1–December 31) are:

$20 donation–Fr. A medal

$50 donation–Fr. A medal and DVD when completed

$500 donation–Fr. A medal, book (biography), and DVD when completed

$1,000 donation–Fr. A medal, book, DVD, and 12″ resin statue.

Q.  Is there anything you would like to add or wish I would have asked?

Yes, the question would be:  “If you were to write the same book today, would you do anything differently?” (I wrote it about four years ago.) 

The answer?  Yes. I would make it even more mushy, lovey-dovey with Jesus and stuff it with even MORE Theology of the Body. Women need to go to Jesus FIRST for their love, self-esteem, self-dignity and to feel beautiful. THEN go to your earthling guy. God’s love never changes.