The Right Kind of Encouragement for Family Life {my July column @TheCatholicPost}

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

To be honest, I sometimes get irritated at the topics or titles of books because of the potential hubris involved.

“The Best and Only Diet for Everyone. “The One Fool-Proof Way to Get Your Baby to Sleep.” “Have a Perfectly Organized House in 3 Hours or Less.” These aren’t real book titles, but could be, because we all recognize something similar in books or articles out there.

Maybe that’s because the more I live, the less convinced I am that there is ONE WAY to do any one thing. Think you have it all figured out? You probably don’t. Even if an author has expertise in a field, the most effective books will inspire people with gentle guidance and information, and encourage people.

That’s why I appreciate three newer books that offer a tremendous amount of sensible advice and encouragement for three stages of life—wedding, childbirth, and child-raising— with none of the guilt or stress that can vex readers. If you’re in one of these stages of life, or know someone who is, these books are first-rate.

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Like many women, I have always enjoyed bridal magazines and seeing the fun crafts, food, and other details that go into wedding planning.

The lovely book  Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner by Stephanie Calis, provides a Catholic perspective on these topics.

The first half of Invited focuses on the practical, complete with checklists for budgeting, other marriage prep and ideas, the Mass, and the reception. The latter chapters are a very gentle, very well-put, explanation of Catholic teaching on various areas related to marriage and the wedding, from “holding on to your sanity” to starting your life together.

Particularly strong were the chapters on beauty, inspiring women to have a healthy sense of beauty without going overboard or playing the “comparison game” too much; and what Calis terms “the sex chapter,” a sensitive and thorough explanation,rooted in the Theology of the Body, of Catholic teaching on sexuality. Calis’ husband Andrew writes periodic “from the groom” sections providing a male view of things.

Each chapter ends with a “for conversation” paragraph meant to spark healthy discussion between bride & groom.

Invited would make an excellent gift for a recently engaged couple.

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The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust is like a motherhood retreat, for both expectant and new moms, and even moms of any age.

Theologian and mother of five Windley-Daoust has written a personal, Catholic, and realistic look at the process of birthing, both normal and not-so-normal circumstances. Her writing style is theological, but with a mother’s heart. She shares some of her own birth stories, as well as those of many others. The book is suffused with the spiritual as well as physical, emotional, and practical aspects of childbirth.

Though the title may make it seem like it’s for the title, it’s not just for pregnant moms or moms of young ones.

I thought I would be less interested or affected by this book, since it’s been more than a decade since I have had a baby. But I found as I read that it was both lovely and healing to reflect back in a spiritual way, my own experiences of giving birth. The Gift of Birth offers space for moms to reflect and consider the awesome things, the good things and the less-than-great things that happen during pregnancy and childbirth.

The Gift of Birth spans four sections: “The Theology of the Body and Childbirth,” “Reading the Signs of Birth,” “When Childbearing is Difficult, Where is God?”, and “Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories.” It’s hard to pick a favorite section, but the chapters of “Reading the Signs of Birth” follow the progression of labor and birth, and the spiritual meaning present. The range of birth stories shared in “Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories” is both fascinating and prayerful as eight women reflect on giving birth in their own lives.

Obviously, a book like The Gift of Birth would be ideal for an expectant mom, but would also be excellent for women of any age.


Once-local author Marc Cardaronella, who previously worked in evangelization in the diocese of Peoria, has written a remarkable new book called, Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick. [Cardaronella is now director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for Faith Formation at the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph, Missouri.]

The title of Keep Your Kids Catholic gave me the most worry, since any kind of parenting book or advice always strikes fear and sometimes amusement into the heart of many parents, myself included. Perhaps it’s because I, like so many others before me, vowed when I didn’t have kids that I would parent differently (and so much better) than all the parents I saw around me. You know, the statements like “my child will never eat candy before lunch” or “my children will never interrupt two grown-ups having a conversation.” Etc. And then you laugh at your younger self.

Keep Your Kids Catholic is by no means one of that kind of book. It could be titled, Keep Yourself Catholic more than anything else, since Cardaronella stresses the importance of personal witness and a vibrant Catholic home environment as being vital to fostering faith among young people.

The book is divided into four sections, all leading towards encouraging young people to explicitly embrace the Catholic Faith as their own: “How Does Faith Work?”, “Is Your Own Faith Secure?”, “What Kind of an Education Fosters Faith?” and “How Do You Create An Environment of Faith?”

Cardaronella emphasizes two interconnected goals: one, as a parent, having a rich faith and prayer life; and two, having a strong relationship with your children, especially as they grow older. Those two features are also key for a healthy family atmosphere. He also covers the importance of strong mentoring relationships with others in teen and young adulthood years and having healthy relationships with a Catholic community in one’s parish, among families, and among children themselves. The maxim, “It takes a village,” is certainly relevant here.

Cardaronella combines his own story of reversion to the Catholic faith along with what he’s learned as a parent and catechist. He admits he is not an expert in child-raising, but Keep Your Kids Catholic provides ample good advice and information for parents everywhere.