Tag Archives: The Catholic Post

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.

Meet a Reader: Todd Volker

“Meet a Reader” appears on the monthly book page of The Catholic Post, and it features someone within the diocese of Peoria who enjoys reading.  Here are the four questions I ask “readers” to answer: how you (meaning Post readers) know me, why I love reading, what I’m reading now, and my favorite book.  This month, I feature author and reader Todd Volker from Ottowa. Todd, thanks for being a “Reader” here.


How you know me: I grew up in Princeton, went to school in Galesburg and Urbana, and have lived in Chillicothe, Peru and Ottawa. I’ve recently been helping with the local Theology on Tap program in Ottowa.  My wife, Linda, and I have a nine year old son, Leo, who goes to Marquette Academy grade school, and we are members of St. Columba parish.  I’m a lay Dominican.

I’m also a published author, having written two outdoor guides with history and geography in them:  The Starved Rock Almanac and The Complete Grand Illinois Trail Guidebook. The Starved Rock Almanac focuses on Starved Rock State Park and the Grand Illinois Trail Guidebook is a thorough guide to a 575-mile trail loop through the top part of Illinois.

Why I love reading: Reading is liberation. You get to go everywhere and get into everything, and it’s also addictive: the more you read, the more you want to know and learn. I get into nonfiction a lot more than fiction.

What I’m reading now:  This is pretty heady stuff, but I’m reading a book on contemporary physics and theology, New Proofs for the Existence of God, Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy by Robert Spitzer.

I’ve been scanning the Phaidon volume on Gustav Stickley. We recently bought a nice Morris chair.

Before picking these up, I finished a new book on intellectual history, The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century by Peter Watson. It’s a look at specifically German contributions to areas like chemistry, physics, psychology, biology, sociology, jurisprudence. These advances were based on certain education ideals.

My favorite book: Nancy, this is your toughest question! I’ve been thinking recently about the ten most important books in my life, so it’s tough to sort out just one. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. For nonfiction, I can recommend The Last Fine Time by Verlyn Klinkenborg, which is a micro-history of a family bar in Buffalo, New York. For fiction, you have to find a way, and some time, to wrap yourself up in Moby Dick, which can be forbidding, but which is really a masterwork of language and plot. It’s really something that can be enjoyed if you prepare for it.

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?

Kids Books for Christmas: Focus on Trusted Authors

Did you know that some families have a tradition of giving books on Epiphany instead of Christmas?

I sincerely hope families still have this tradition, because otherwise I fear this post on great Christmas books will be a little late for giving on Christmas Day itself.  Remember, though, Christmas season goes for much longer, so consider giving books after Christmas for great reading.

My general principle this year: focus on TrustedAuthorsTM.

What is a TrustedAuthorTM? I’m joking (mostly), when I make the phrase a TM. There are some writers, whether Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who can be trusted for their entire canon.  Certain authors can be relied on to write from a certain worldview that is compatible with a Catholic ethic.  I feel like I wanted to add a Trusted AuthorTM after the author’s name when I write about writers like C.S. Lewis.  You can basically trust everything they have written.

Not surprisingly, most of these are not living authors, but there are a few that are go-to authors at our house, and we anxiously await each new book.  So who are some of our other TrustedAuthorsTM?  John Flanagan (for children; we discovered about a year ago that he has written some grown-up thrillers, but there’s a little too much violence in them for kids), and his  Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series; Regina Doman, who writes excellent and compelling fairy-tale retellings; and of course many more.  Most of these are known as Catholic or Christian authors, or we suspect as much because their work is entertaining and is in line with a Catholic worldview.  And of course Catholic authors writing on Catholic themes (such as saint books) also would be in this category.

Other authors we put in a “good, but be careful” category.  A good example of such an author (and there are plenty, I’m just picking one at random) is Wendy Mass.  She’s written a slew of popular middle-grade novels, most with some great themes about being yourself.  But there are some cautions about her books, and annoying things like having someone “thanking the universe” instead of God.  Since I’ve read a few of her books, I’ve been able to have some discussions with my younger readers about her style and what I don’t like about her style.

Some authors we don’t even consider–Philip Pullman, for example. We just won’t even start a book by this kind of author.

What I want for my own children is for them to love and enjoy TrustedAuthorsTM best of all, but be able to read and enjoy stories by “careful” authors with discernment.

Here are just a few good book gift suggestions that would be for Christmas, Epiphany or any other nearby giving opportunity. Consider them pre-screened for your family as wholesome, enjoyable books:

*Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by TrustedAuthorTM Ben Hatke.  My kids devoured this second in the series about Zita.  Graphic novels can be fun reading, but sometimes the illustrations can be less than appealing.  Not so Ben Hatke’s works–they are delightful to read and enjoy.

*Habemus Papem: Pope Benedict XVI.  Another graphic novel, this one by Trusted AuthorTM Regina Doman, portrays the life of Joseph Ratzinger before he became pope, from his earliest days.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of manga, I really love the books by Manga Hero (Should I make a TrustedPublisherTM?).  We own and love all the Manga Hero titles.  Here’s one small thing we didn’t like about Habemus Papem (that’s new from the prior Manga Hero titles): it’s written in the traditional manga fashion, so you read it from the back to the front.  This takes some getting used to, and I definitely prefer normal way.  It’s still a great story and shouldn’t deter people from reading it.

*The Prairie Thief by TrustedAuthorTM Melissa Wiley. Wiley writes the lovely blog “Bonny Glen” and she’s definitely a kindred spirit when it comes to reading. She loves and blogs about Betsy-Tacy, the Anne of Green Gables books, and many other TrustedAuthorsTM.  She has six children, she’s a homeschooling mom, and in all her free time she writes books, most notably the “Little House” Martha and Charlotte books.  The Prairie Thief is her latest middle-grade novel, and it’s a little silly, a little sweet and all great read about prairie and family life.  Here’s a wonderful review that captures what’s so terrific about this book.

*Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I can’t say whether or not Palacio is a TrustedAuthorTM, because this is her first book, but what a great beginning.  Palacio writes about Auggie Pullman, who has a facial deformity that prevents him from going to school–until now.  Auggie’s experience of belonging and rejection is beautifully crafted. I must admit that when I started it, I thought it might be depressing or otherwise too realistic and gritty, as these kinds of modern novels for kids can be. But instead, it is a gently realistic and hopeful story.

Here are a few really excellent saint books for younger readers:

My Soul Magnifies the Greatness of the Lord: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha by Bernadette Nippert and Brenda & George Nippert.  This book was very sweet!  I especially liked this for being multifaceted and having a pro-environmental theme that’s not done for PC reasons but just naturally in the story and Kateri’s life.  Best to order this book from Hillside Education (A TrustedVendorTM ? Are you getting annoyed with me yet?)

Juan Diego:  Mary’s Humble Messenger by Barbara Yoffie and also Kateri Tekakwitha: Model of Bravery by the same author.  These are nice little volumes with the saint stories for little ones.

Meet a Reader: Amy Dyke

This month on “Meet a Reader” I’m happy to feature someone I’ve known for many years.  Amy Dyke has a new role as the NFP Coordinator for the Diocese of Peoria.  Thanks, Amy, for being willing to share your love of books with Reading Catholic!


How you know me:  I am happily married to Craig Dyke, the proud mother of five daughters and have recently begun working as the NFP Coordinator for the Diocese of Peoria.  I happen to also be one of five girls and am originally from the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We have settled here in Peoria, quite content to be rooted in the heart of the Midwest.  St. Jude is our home parish, where we are blessed with an incredibly warm, faithful and loving community.

Why I love reading:  My spiritual director told me years ago, “the minute one stops moving forward in their spiritual journey, they’re actually moving backward.”  I find this to be especially true in regards to literature and spiritual reading.  I love to immerse myself in books that challenge my heart and mind, and bring me to a greater love, knowledge and understanding of Christ.  I also love reading because it’s a great way for me to grow closer and connect with my husband.  In addition to books we read on our own, we love to cozy up and read to each other before going to bed.  It’s a standing joke between us of who can be more animated so the other doesn’t doze off to sleep.

What I’m reading now:  Saint Gianna Molla:  Wife, Mother, Doctor by Peitro Molla.  St. Gianna shines brightly for the women/wives/mothers of our day in a powerful way.  Written by Gianna’s very own husband, Pietro describes Gianna’s many virtues, in particular he mentions her prudence, how Gianna truly wanted to do only what the Lord wanted from her, and she did it whole-heartedly.  Gianna’s simple witness speaks volumes, especially in today’s fast-paced, self-centered culture.

Her devotion to God first, followed by a devoted relationship with her husband and children, allowed her to live her life in a way that was selfless, sensitive, complete.  St. Gianna wrote that “our task is to live holy the present moment,” which was abundantly evident in her interior life, her family life, in her public role as a doctor.  In a culture where our children are desperately needing parents to be ‘present’  (and vice-versa!), we see that the mission of the family has perhaps gotten side-tracked with an unhealthy fascination of instead being ‘present’ on social network sites, etc.

Technology is literally in the palm of many of our hands, and begs the question: could these fun and exciting novelties be causing families to be distracted from our mission, and lose sight of the amazing privilege and gift of authentic love to be lived out more fully within our home, within our vocation?  St. Gianna says, “our earthly and eternal happiness depends on following our vocation very carefully.”  Such simplicity.  Incredibly revealing to spouses/parents in our sincere pursuit of a happy family, showing that we must take heed to nurture and protect the precious relationships within our family, under our very roofs, at all costs- recognizing that each day is a gift from God to grow closer to Him and closer to the family with which He has blessed us.

I’m also reading George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral.  Craig and I recently polished off Weigel’s fascinating look at the de-Christianization of Europe and the role that secularism and government have played in seeking to wipe out their deep-rooted Christian heritage.  Weigel points out that the state of Europe should give the attentive reader pause, as we Americans can see the seeds of secularism boldly taking root in the United States today.  Drawing on Blessed John Paul II’s rich understanding of God’s rightful place within society, Weigel shows the stark difference of the people of the “cube” and the people of the “cathedral,” and that in the end, atheistic humanism places society on a path to destruction, whereas authentic human enlightenment comes from God’s illuminating presence in the world.  Written in 2005, we found Weigel’s book and insights to be incredibly prophetic, especially in light of the government’s recent HHS healthcare mandate being forced upon Catholic institutions throughout the U.S.  

Pope Benedict XVI: The Infancy Narratives:  Jesus of Nazareth.  We just received our Holy Father’s newest book, and are excited to keep each other awake (!) and prepare well as a couple to enter into Advent more fully.  We appreciate the pointedness and direct style that our Holy Father uses in his writing, constantly seeking to bring Jesus more alive to those that are sincerely longing for truth, for Christ.

My favorite books:

G.K. Chesterton:  Orthodoxy.
Karol Wojtyla (JPII): Love and Responsibility.
St. Teresa of Avila:  Interior Castle.
St. John of the Cross:  Dark Night of the Soul.
Thomas a Kempis:  The Imitation of Christ.
Fulton Sheen: Life of Christ and Three to Get Married.
St. Francis de Sales:  Introduction to the Devout Life.
Louisa May Alcott: Little Women.

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.

Book Traditions for Advent and Christmas

I’m excited to share that I’ve been invited to be part of the Advent series hosted by Bonnie at A Knotted Life.   Kicking off the series this Sunday will be Lisa Hendey.  I truly look forward to following along with it, and of course I’m delighted to be included among the bloggers writing guest posts.  I will be writing for the feast of St. Nicholas.

As a little sneak preview, I am writing about–surprise, surprise–books for Advent and Christmastime.

But I wanted to share here in a more general way how I have used books during Advent, as well as offer some resources and suggestions.  After I wrote in part of my November column for The Catholic Post about some newer books to help keep Advent well, I realize that literature (and for kids in particular, picture books)  can be just as good as devotional works, to get in the spirit of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Here are some of the nuts & bolts of how we use literature during Advent at our house.

I keep a basket of Advent- and Christmas-themed books tucked away in a closet.   I’ve kept this basket for years, and added to it over time via book sales, library cast-offs and Barnes & Noble “after Christmas” (though during Christmas season) sales. There are perhaps a dozen books that we truly treasure, but the rest are seasonal enough to hold interest and keep us reading.  There are about 50 books in our Advent/Christmas book basket, and I usually also order a lot of other books from the library, either new ones, or old classics we don’t own.   So there is plenty to read this time of year.

I began the Advent/Christmas basket of books when my oldest (now 15!) was a toddler.  I learned about the tradition from Catholic moms on various e-groups (in the Wild West, before we got all our great ideas from blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest).

At that time, some moms shared on the e-groups about how they wrapped (sometimes in liturgically correct purple or pink) each one of the books well ahead of Advent, and then unwrapped one each day of Advent and Christmastime.  

That idea makes me tired just thinking about it, so needless to say that has never happened here.   I used to have some guilt, like I wasn’t quite “mom” enough to pick out and wrap dozens of books.  Now that I’m a little wiser, I leave that behind.

In reality, I feel accomplished simply that I am able to keep those books tucked away all year and bring out the basket at the beginning of Advent.

I won’t list all the books in our family’s basket (though I will share one special book on Bonnie’s blog next week, and a few others later in Advent here).  For one, I think there are fewer than a dozen that we cherish.  Mostly, though, it’s because so many moms over the years have made some great lists that I don’t need to re-invent the wheel.

Here are just a few sources if you are interested in starting this tradition at your house:

*Elizabeth Foss, whose endless energy and generosity has enriched her own family and shared freely with other families great book suggestions and themes, takes special care with Advent.

*Mary Ellen Barrett has a blog devoted to keeping Advent at O Night Divine.  Here are some of her many, many book suggestions.

*Jessica at Shower of Roses has a nicely curated list of Advent books (and trust me, I hold nothing but admiration for her for actually wrapping the books, God bless her).

*for those who would like a book rather than a web resource, Cay Gibson’s amazing Christmas Mosaic  has a list of dozens of books, crafts, recipes and other ideas for making Advent and Christmastime special for families.

Picture books and Christmas-themed literature are unique and wonderful to move and inspire us during this season of preparation, and then as we celebrate Christmas.

Do you have an Advent and Christmastime book tradition?

Envoy for Christ: Patrick Madrid in Peoria

Patrick Madrid is coming to Peoria later this week, speaking on Evangelization and Apologetics (visit this Facebook page for more information and how to register)

I’m super disappointed that I won’t be one of the many people to attend Patrick’s talk this weekend and get the chance to meet him.   Our family has multiple conflicts Friday and Saturday.  But many of my friends will be there to hear him speak, and I look forward to hearing all about it from them.

But I am happy to be able to write about Patrick Madrid’s newest book, Envoy for Christ: 25 Years as a Catholic Apologist.  I’ve had a copy for awhile, but didn’t get the chance to read through it until about a month ago.

I’ve read Patrick Madrid’s work since I subscribed to Envoy magazine back in the 1990s.  I have always enjoyed his work, and loved the magazine and found it a great way to grow my faith as a young mom.  I recall the Top 10 lists, quizzes, or other humor that were great for a laugh.  The graphic design and “feel” to the magazine was first-rate.

Madrid has a popular blog that I admit I don’t visit often enough, as it’s a great resource and source of reflection and encouragement.  (Note to Patrick Madrid: add an e-mail subscribe button to your blog!).  It’s just top-notch.

I must confess that one of the reasons that I didn’t turn to the book is concern it wouldn’t be as great as I remembered Envoy magazine to be.   Maybe it wouldn’t measure up to my memories, like going back to the house you grew up in and finding it much different.

But Envoy for Christ is great.  I recommend it highly.  It’s especially good for busy moms and dads who might not have time to read a full-length book, but would benefit from the short chapters on different subjects Madrid tackles.

Envoy for Christ would also be appealing to people like me, who might have fond memories of reading Envoy back in the day, or who have following Patrick Madrid through his radio show or elsewhere.  Madrid tells the story of how he got into the “apologetics” business (can I call it a business?), and I love hearing those kinds of stories.

In addition, Envoy for Christ would be great just to have around the house for younger people to pick up.  At our house, I will often tell others, “this is a really good book,” and then leave it out for them to pick up when they get the chance.  Often this leads to great discussions.

My one quibble with Envoy for Christ is that I wish it were a little more well-sourced.  After many of the chapters, where the essay originally appears is listed–perhaps Envoy or another catechetical magazine.  But some are not sourced, and so it leaves me hanging a little–is that from his blog, or some online writing, or is this original to that book?

Otherwise, this is a terrific read.

One humorous aside: while writing this post, several times I  mistakenly wrote “Envy” instead of “Envoy,” and since it’s a word, it wasn’t auto-corrected.  I had to chuckle a little at a book titled, “Envy for Christ.”   I think I caught all of my too-fast typing mistakes, but in case I didn’t, there you go.

Are you going to see Patrick Madrid this weekend?

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.