Tag Archives: The Catholic Post column

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?

Discipleship as Conversion and Journey

What does it mean to be “an intentional disciple”?

What does it mean to be a disciple at all?

Are you one?  How many do you know?

An excellent new book, Forming Intentional Disciples:  The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry A. Weddell, explains the term “intentional disciple,” as well as the steps to journey there, for both individuals and parishes.

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With such a wide appeal and important content, Forming Intentional Disciples is one of those rare “for just about everyone” books, in my opinion.  Whether you are a pastor, a DRE, a leader in a ministry in your parish or just an average parish member like me, you will find much food for thought and prayer here.

What’s so great about Forming Intentional Disciples?

Weddell is founder (with Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P.) of The Catherine of Siena Institute “to form lay Catholics for their mission in the world.”  This book distills their work to help Catholics become more committed in their faith and communities.

As Weddell writes, “What we are called to do is to truly see and then make disciples of the anointed ones who are wandering in and out of our parishes right now.”

Forming Intentional Disciples outlines now as a time of challenge—-with only 30 percent of those raised Catholic who still practice their faith.  But as this book makes abundantly clear, there is also great opportunity for growth in faith life and discipleship among everyday Catholics.

In every chapter, there are great insights, stories and statistics that help readers to understand the problem–and to be part of the solution.  On more than one occasion while reading this book, I got chills, thinking of ways to become more of a disciple myself and encourage those around me to do the same.

As Weddell points out, what’s at stake in fostering discipleship is nothing less than
“*the eternal happiness in God (salvation) of every human being.
*the complete fruition of the Mass and the sacraments,
*the next generation of Catholic leaders, saints and apostles: priestly, religious and secular, (and)
*the fulfillment of the Church’s mission on earth.”

How does Weddell propose we do that?  Here are just a few of the many ideas in Forming Intentional Disciples:

*By a careful understanding of and respect for the five thresholds at which a person’s faith can grow or shrink, and how we can help ourselves and others cross those thresholds.

*By imitating Jesus in that we ask more questions than giving answers, to foster a deeper understanding and integration of faith into each person’s life.

*By recognizing and harnessing the importance and power of intercessory prayer to help others in their journey toward faith, especially at time of spiritual warfare.

*by creating space and community for committed parish members to grow spiritually once discipleship is awakened.

This may seem bold, but if you are reading this review, I urge you to read Forming Intentional Disciples.  If you are committed enough Catholic to read The Catholic Post and be inspired by the Holy Spirit  to read this blog post, I believe this book is meant for you to read and ponder.

"Choose to Eat Mindfully and Prayerfully:" A Guest Post Reflecting on "Cravings" UPDATED

Update: I’ve updated this post to reflect more of how this guest post came to be written and shared here. 

When I was getting ready to review Cravings by Mary DeTurris Poust, I knew another person whose feedback I wanted was my dear friend and fellow blogger Marcia Mattern of “I Wonder Why.”  Mostly, I wanted someone more “expert” than I to read the book.

It was really helpful to get some thoughts and ideas, since Marcia has a background in nutrition and is a deep thinker when it comes to spiritual things.  After a fun (dare I say mindful?) talk over coffee and treats last month, Marcia shared that she, like me, found Cravings a great read and very thoughtful.

She also said there were quite a few books written by dietitians on these themes, especially mindful eating, ones not mentioned in Mary’s excellent bibliography.  Marcia also liked, as did I, how Mary drew on different religious traditions, but noticed that Eastern Catholic thought was not represented.  Since Marcia’s family often worships at a Byzantine Catholic parish, I asked her to write a guest post for Reading Catholic, sharing some of the other resources, and even bringing in Eastern Catholic thought on food and eating.  

Once Marcia sent me this reflection on Cravings, I shared with her that it was more like a reflection than instructive, and would really benefit from photos.  That’s how I looked around for some photos from my library (of coffee and chocolate, as if there were any doubt!) and asked Marcia for some other ones, and she graciously shared.  

I’ve updated this post to reflect some of the additional books that are helpful for additional reading, as well as some of Marcia’s prior writing on these issues.  I think they make a good complement to Marcia’s guest post, as well as provide additional reading for those interested.

Thanks to Marcia, for being willing and for reflecting on these themes so beautifully.  And thanks to Mary, for writing such a timely book, Cravings, that inspires discussion and reflection on these themes.

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It’s all the hype in early January.  What ever shall you do to lose that weight?  Eat differently, right?  And we make great lofty plans…But now it’s nearly the end of January and…  poof.

We are back to our “regular” eating habits.

But what is regular, healthy, normal eating?  Is it the Paleo, the vegan, the TLC diet, the DASH diet, the raw food diet?  We try various approaches with hope and goals in mind.

Some believe that the best diet for you is the one that you choose and are able to stick to the rest of your life.  Does the word “diet” present challenges for us? Might we instead speak of our relationship with food?  Mary DeTurris Poust skillfully discusses this in her book, Cravings:A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God.

Think you can do that with the Paleo?  Probably not.  Can you go without meat or eggs or milk the rest of your life?  Perhaps no.

But you can choose to eat mindfully and prayerfully the rest of your life.

If we think of food as simply nourishment for our physical self, then choosing more grains and vegetables with smart meats sounds ideal.  But we have options for chocolate and candy at our disposal.  Aren’t they tasty too?   There is room for everything wonderful (and not so wonderful) in this world in our diet.

What if we ate what we wanted and liked, but carefully opted for being thankful before, during and after it?

God has given us a bounty of goodness.

How often do we just hurry through our eating without having tasted anything past the first mouthful? When I slow down and taste the goodness of food, I am encountering something of the goodness of the Lord.

So how do we practice being thankful and mindful during eating?

We can begin by a prayer before every meal.   You might think this simple, but do you ever miss a prayer before a meal?  Remember the meal you ate in the car?  Over the kitchen counter?  Those are meals too!   What if you prayed over the cookie you got at the drive thru with your coffee?

If a prayer before meals is a habit for you already, how about choosing a personal prayer rather than the memorized prayer?  We say in the Creed each week “I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth…”. So why not begin by thanking THE ONE, in your own words, who creates the substance from which all our foods come?

To begin first pause, to recognize his presence.  Then say in your own words what you want to say.  It could be: “Thank you God for this peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Make it nourishing to my body.  Help me to feel full and strong to accomplish my work today. Amen.”

Simple?   Yes.  Mindful?  Yes.

Next stop during your eating and thinking about what you enjoy.  Take a moment to again thank God for it.

” Wow, God.   You created some amazing things for me.  Today this peanut butter is salty.  The strawberries in this jelly is so sweet. I enjoy this very much!”

And again when your meal is over.  Once again thank Him.

“I’m full, God.  Thanks again for making this world for me.   Help me to remember how great this lunch was when I get distracted from all your gifts for me today. Amen.”

So what if mindful prayers over food has already become habitual for you?   Can you add to your prayer even more?  Would being prayerful about each mouthful you take impact what kinds of foods you eat?  Would you choose a greater variety of foods this way?  Would you be less likely to mindlessly eat a whole bag of cookies or things less healthful for your physical self?

What IS the connection between faith and food?

It’s the abundant blessing that God has already provided for us his sheep (John 10).

It’s Eve and Adam when they allowed their physical passions to contribute to broken communion with God (Genesis 3).

It’s God continuing to see our fragile humanity and providing always for our physical need of food even in the desert (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11).

It’s the restoration to wholeness at the Eucharistic Banquet (John 6).

God creates us in his image.   We reflect His image when we foster growth of the virtues gifted at our baptism.  When we see the greatness of God and desire to know him more, this honors Him.  We are responding to His love for our human needs and this draws us closer to Him.    But we don’t live our our faith in isolation.  We live it with others!  We participate in the Liturgy with others each time we go to Mass.

Eating and sharing a meal is sacramental and has a foundation in the very life of the sacramental economy. When we receive the Eucharistic presence of Christ as food, we are nourished. Eating is a profound form of communion!

Research over the past few years has linked families eating together with healthier lives.  It’s not just about the food you consume, but also the smiles, laughter and chatter around the table.  Building relationships with those we eat in our own home is basic to life.  We know this about the Liturgy as well.  We worship, adore, petition and praise as well as consume the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ with others that profess the faith with us.  And those we eat with can encourage us to eat better.  Just as those who we worship (and eat the Blessed Sacrament with) encourage us in our life of faith.

It’s still January.  Let’s begin again towards a better relationship with food.  Can we make a new step in growing in love of God as we draw closer to Him around the table?  The mindfulness we have at prayer over food is a step toward living healthfully.  We can find persons (even in our own family) to help us make wise choices each day and support us in those good decisions.  Embrace the gift of normal, regular eating God has given us and thank Him.

For further reading and exploration:

21 Days of Eating Mindfully: Your Guide to a Healthy Relationship with Yourself and Food by Lorrie Jones.

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole

Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth.

Marcia has also written about food and Eastern Catholic thought on her blog, “I Wonder Why.”  Here are just a few posts that relate to the spirituality of food.

The St. Phillips Fast

Adjusting to new circumstances: home management meets food changes.

What are we eating.  Marcia’s written a number of times about The China Study (I’m not a fan, which has made for interesting discussions around the dinner table when our families gather, wink), and her entire family at least once has done the book’s 30- day vegan challenge.

Marcia Mattern fosters wonder and awe with her husband and six children around their dinner table and at the door of the refrigerator.  Her experience as a Registered Dietitian and conversion to Catholicism has impacted her study of food and faith.

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?

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.

New Year, New You: Be Mindful, Be Inspired

Here is my January column that appears in this weekend’s edition of The Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here or elsewhere online.

A new calendar year offers many a chance to start fresh with eating right or maybe a new exercise plan.  Bookstores shelves are full of how-to books this time of year to help kick-start that process.

That’s all well and good, but many times a shift in thinking is what’s really needed.  Two great new books offer just that.

Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God  is Mary DeTurris Poust’s personal and spiritual journey about the intersection of food and faith.

“For Catholics, any conversation about the food-faith connection will always come back around to this one central theme. Ours is a faith centered on a meal,” Poust writes, and she shows in Cravings how it is vital to understand and internalize the link between our spiritual and physical well-being when it comes to food.

A big strength is that Poust’s book is both Catholic and catholic, tapping into a wide range of spiritual practices and traditions related to food and meals.  So much of our Catholic liturgical year relates to fasting and feasting, and seeing how other cultures and religious traditions share this is constructive and broadening.  Poust also shares stories of various people who have struggled with weight, food issues or spirituality related to food, and how they handle their struggles.

Cravings is more spiritual “how-to” than healthy-eating “how-to.”  Considering the many competing theories that seem to change by the week (is it paleo or vegan that’s best these days?), that seems healthy in more ways than one.

At the same time, Poust takes the time to make the case about how our modern American food promotes unhealthy lifestyles rather than healthy ones.  And her helpful appendix, “Practices for the Journey Forward,” summarizing healthy eating and lifestyle principles, is sensible and balanced without being too much.

Poust saved the best for last, in the final two chapters: “Soul Food: Turning Meals into Meditations,” and “Just Desserts: You Can Have Your Cake and Spiritual Life, Too.”  I’m not just saying that because I love dessert best of all.  Her own experiences of mindful eating, both alone and with her family, as well as her ideas for creating food rituals, are encouraging rather than daunting.

After reading Cravings, I feel motivated in many ways, and so grateful for our Catholic faith’s rhythms and rituals.  My take-away is to practice small times of mindful eating, and make more intentional and positive food rituals at our house.

Running With God Across America is decidedly not a “how-to” book about getting in shape, but many readers will find it inspiring and compelling.

Running is University of Notre Dame grad Jeff Grabosky’s account of his decision to embark, after a rough post-college time, on a cross-country run, praying for others’ intentions the entire way.

Each short chapter is titled by “day” (day 1, etc.) and covers one day of his  3,700-mile, months-long journey.  Most days he ran more than 30 miles, and he relates with openness his spiritual, physical and emotional state through many ups and downs.

“I set out on my journey to help bring our world closer to God,” writes Grabosky at the end of Running with God Across America, but it’s his own spiritual journey that takes center stage, with a endearing narrative and flow.

This book is hard to put down–I would resolve to set it aside for dishes or some other responsibility, but kept reading and telling myself, “just one more day.”

As a busy middle-aged mom (and runner), I found myself envious of two aspects of Grabosky’s trek, one serious and one kind of funny.

First, Grabosky had tons of time and personal space for prayer, while running, of course. That’s why the book reads like a retreat journal or spiritual memoir in many ways.  His spiritual highs and lows are recounted in vivid and emotional detail.

Second, food lovers will marvel as Grabosky relates the sheer amount of food he needed to eat to keep up his weight on this long run. I know how good food tastes after a long run or lots of exertion, and so his descriptions of memorable and delicious meals stuck with me.  Talk about mindful eating.

Most people aren’t going to embark upon a solo cross-country run, though some might want to join in Grabosky’s latest effort, as he organizes the LIFE Runner’s cross-country Relay for Life that begins next month.

Still, most readers will glean from Running With God Across America spiritual fruit from his journey, and be inspired to consider their own spiritual and physical life more like the real journey that it is.  Just one more day ….

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Note:  I will be doing Q&As this month with both Mary DeTurris Poust and Jeff Grabosky.  My Q&A with Jeff will appear next week, and I’ll be part of the blog tour for Mary’s book; Reading Catholic’s “stop” is scheduled for January 20.

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?

2012 Book Survey and 2013 Reading Resolutions

Year’s end is a great time to take stock of the past calendar year and make some new-year resolutions.

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 promise 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.  First, 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?

Memoirs Help Give "A Reason for Hope"

Here is my December column that appears in this weekend’s print The Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Pop quiz:  why are you Catholic?

Could you tell your story in a way that makes your friend want to be Catholic, or your children glad that they are Catholic?

It’s harder than it appears at first thought, isn’t it?

And yet as St. Peter tells us, we should “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”  Personal stories, more than statistics or arguments, are one of the best ways to transmit faith, whether ourselves or those closest to us.

You might be strong in your Catholic faith, or looking for a booster shot for a faith grown anemic.  Or you might be looking for a gift for someone wavering in his or her faith.  Consider one of the compelling and enjoyable newer memoirs, where others share what gives them hope.

 Here are two very different choices among recent offerings:

*My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell recounts Campbell’s spiritual journey from nominal Catholic college student through young adulthood as she struggles with faith, work, dating, a parent’s decline, and infertility.

What keeps her moving closer to, instead of away from, her Catholic faith, are a series of women saints whose lives point the way for her to experience life fully–and fully Catholic.

Many know Campbell as a gifted author–she wrote the 2002 book The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy.  I enjoyed that book, and found it well-done, but My Sisters the Saints is far richer and more compelling, because it is Campbell’s own story, shared honesty and sensitively.

I confess that I shed a few cathartic tears at Campbell’s own story, since I’ve been through similar struggles.  Her account of losing a parent over time, in particular, is handled with grace and candor.  Campbell writes warmly and well, and her book should be widely read.

*A very, very different memoir, but equally compelling, is Chris Haw’s From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism.

I have much more in common with Campbell, as I’m a cradle Catholic who never left the Church.  Chris Haw, while raised Catholic through young childhood, began his faith life as an “non-denominational” Christian, basically anti-Catholic, at the mega-church Willow Creek in the Chicago area.  But Haw’s book is hard to put down.

Learning of worship and faith life in mega-churches is interesting.  And yet, it is Haw’s journey from evangelical and anti-liturgical/anti-denominational zealot to–of all things–a faithful, liturgical Catholic that makes this book fascinating.

For a non-theologian like me, some of the middle chapters of From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart are a little too theology-rich (or theology-laden, depending on your tolerance for straight theology).  I wish there had been a bit extra “personal story” in those middle chapters. The story of how Haw and his young family live their faith radically in a poverty-stricken area of Camden, New Jersey, is remarkable, and I wish there were more about how they live it out, day to day.

Still, I read each chapter with interest and attention.  Haw’s voice challenges one to “think different” about the meaning of Catholicism.  His perspective is radically unique, like a kind of Dorothy Day for the millennial generation (and even those of us just  a bit older than that).  Most of us are not called to live or worship the way Haw does, but reading about it prompts questions and challenges about how we do live out our Catholic faith.