Word on Fire Ministries has completed the New Testament of The Word on Fire Bible with the publication of Acts, Letters, and Revelation. Like the first volume, The Word on Fire Bible: The Gospels, this is a richly detailed Bible that contains much more than the portion of the Bible its title indicates. How much more? The book, at 841 pages, is measurably thicker than the first volume, with twice as much commentary to accompany the Scripture it includes.
You can use The Word on Fire Bible for reading, study, and prayer. It’s packed with commentary by saints and scholars; for example, 1 Corinthians features commentary from St. John Henry Newman, St. John Chrysostom, René Girard, Origen, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, St. Maximus the Confessor, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Flannery O’Connor, Wilfred Rowland Childe, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Fulton Sheen, Dante, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Plus, essays by Bishop Robert Barron appear throughout that epistle. All of that, in addition to the sacred art and lettered embellishments that appear throughout, contribute to the book’s large size but make it an extremely useful edition of these New Testament books.
In an introductory essay, Bishop Robert Barron notes:
The Church has realized from the beginning that we need assistance if we are to read the Scriptures with profit. We require precisely the interpretive lens provided by the great scholars, saints, mystics, popes, and prophets who have gone before us—those who have, in the course of time, been recognized as masters of the sacred writings. (17)
At the beginning of this volume, icons depicting each of the books included are introduced. These icons relate to the content of the books, and are another example of the attention to every single detail in the publication of this Bible: details that make this a Bible that will appeal to readers who are new to the faith, questioning the faith, or longtime faithful.
Unlike many other Bibles available today, the Word of God is presented in single-column format. The font is large and easy to read. A different font is used for the commentaries and essays, which are also presented on light-colored backgrounds to set them apart from Scripture. Essays and commentaries take the place of the footnotes you often find in other Bibles. The Word on Fire Bible uses the New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE).
This Bible is available in three formats: leatherbound, hardcover, and paperback. The leatherbound version which I received feels sturdy but not stiff, immediately comfortable in my hands. It’s heavy, but I expect that from a Bible anyway, and has a very inviting feel—I just wanted to keep on reading it. That’s probably the best endorsement an edition of the Bible can get. For anyone interested in exploring the Bible, this is a beautiful, gift-quality edition.
It’s time to wrap up the 2021 reads with a “Best Of” roundup. I haven’t been great at keeping up with Goodreads this year, or keeping any kind of records of what I read last year. If it weren’t for my Kindle (which lets me see what’s been completed) and the pile of nonfiction books in my office, I’d be even harder pressed to come up with a list.
In no particular order, here are the most memorable books of 2021.
Moms need friends to inspire us in our vocation, no matter what our stage of motherhood. Kelly Guest’s book introduces you to 25 saintly friends to encourage you in the challenges of parenting. Meet a new holy BFF, and gain a fresh perspective on familiar motherly saints. Saints highlighted in this book include the Blessed Mother, St. Monica, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Rita of Cascia, Venerable Margaret Bosco, St. Gianna Molla, and more, and for the most part are arranged in chronological order. (Advance copy received from publisher; full review coming soon. Really. I promise.)
Erin McCole Cupp reaches out to parents who don’t feel equipped for the task because they didn’t have good parenting models as they grew up. If your childhood was marked by dysfunction, difficulty, and a lack of nurturing, you’re not doomed to repeat that scenario with your own family—you need a new parenting toolkit than the one you were provided. This book is not designed only for parents just starting out. Of course, parents of newborns or expectant parents will benefit from the information and encouragement in All Things New, but parents of children of any age (even young adults) can learn strategies for forgiving, trusting (where appropriate), making emotional connections, practicing gratitude, and more parenting skills of the kind those regular parenting books don’t teach you—because they assume you learned them during your formative years. (Read my full review. Advance copy received from publisher.)
For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens. When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension(and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time). I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me. (Read my full review. Advance copy received from publisher.)
This big, beautiful book of the saints is a collaborative effort of the Daughters of St. Paul, often nicknamed the “media nuns.” Their mission is to spread God’s word and make disciples through a variety of media, including writing and publishing. In Caelo et in Terra features a saint for each day (and contrary to the subtitle, they’ve covered February 29 as well). As the book is larger than an average hardcover (about 7X10 inches), there’s plenty of space to include two substantial paragraphs about the life of each day’s saint on the page, along with a short reflection (with a great journaling prompt) and a prayer. Information on the saint’s patronage and feast day are included. You’ll also find a robust index, which lists the saints by name, liturgical feast day, and patronage – so this is a reference book as well as a devotional. Each page is beautifully embellished not only with designs of leaves and clouds, which symbolize earth and heaven, but also with drawings of the saint of the day or sacred symbols related to that saint. The interior art, by Sr. Danielle VIctoria Lussier, FSP (who also designed the cover), is done in a consistent style that is simple and beautiful without being distracting.
This novella series features relatable stories with memorable characters in real-life situations. This series combines compelling fiction with facts about saints whose lives and actions can inspire teens today: Blessed Carlo Acutis, St. Joseph, and St. Margaret of Castello. These novellas are appropriate for readers 12 and up.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where I’ve identified so deeply with a character as I did with Miriam Tedesco, who undertook a cross-country road trip a year after the death of her husband and their twin teenagers in order to handle some unfinished business that was deepening her grief. It wasn’t so much Miriam’s circumstances as it was her personality that I related to: she reacted to things in much the same way I do. Along the way, Miriam encountered a young pregnant woman traveling alone and clearly hiding a medical secret. Outside of a few misses in the Catholic details (Miriam was the music director at a Catholic church) this was a flawless read.
Ellen Gable’s newest novel, based on her own father’s experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a predator priest and her own experience of the consequences in his life, is difficult to witness. But we owe it to victims of clergy sexual abuse to listen to their stories. Listening, understanding, and awareness of warning signs are steps toward preventing such occurrences in the future. Ellen is to be commended for her courage and honesty in bringing this story to light. Where Angels Pass is not an easy read – but it’s an important one. (Read my full review.)
In this richly detailed post-Revolutionary War love story, Rhonda Ortiz transports the reader to 18th-century Boston. Molly Chase, the beautiful and talented only child of a prominent Boston fabric merchant, suffers nightmares and other mental-health challenges after discovering her father’s body following his suicide. Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. A King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. At one point when I was reading this book, I emailed the author and said, “Did so-and-so seriously just …” (I can’t tell you more, because I don’t want to spoil the fun!). This novel is even better the second time around! (Read my full review.)
This is not at all the kind of book I usually read. I don’t touch horror or vampire fiction at all. It is a testament to Karen Ullo’s skill as a writer that I stuck with this book beyond the first 2 chapters – and more than that, couldn’t wait to keep reading. Normally I think of horror books as about as anti-Catholic as they can be, with religion either anathema or afterthought or, at best, superstition. But this is a very, very Catholic book, dealing with themes of conscience, our immortal souls, and the overarching power of the sacraments. The many sides of the title character are well explored: Jennifer as vampire, Jennifer as teenager trying to fit into that world, Jennifer as a child abandoned by her mother (and clearly traumatized by the facts of her own situation and what her mother has taught her), Jennifer as a young woman raised in a convent by religious sisters who don’t know the whole story.
Maddie Evans saved the best for last in this final novel of the Castleton String Quartet series. Longtime musical rivals Lindsey and Jason vie for the leadership position in the quartet, even as Lindsey dreads her father’s final days and the two violinists discover a bond they didn’t know they had. A peek at the vulnerability Jason never shows sheds new light on his character, both for Lindsey and the reader. Keep tissues handy for the most beautiful funeral I’ve ever seen in a book. (That’s not a spoiler, BTW, if you look at the blurb offered by the author.) ARC provided by author.
I highly recommend you read the full series, in order. Some fun elements: there are characters from the author’s Brighthead Running Club Romances who make appearances in these books, Maddie Evans is unparalleled in writing clever banter, and the musician in me enjoyed a series featuring musicians and a music school.
If this book doesn’t make you want to take a road trip, nothing will. Courtney Walsh’s Christmas romance brings together a Hollywood set decorator who tries her hardest to avoid all things Christmas and her childhood crush. The two embark on a road trip from California to Illinois, and despite Lauren’s bad attitude and rude demeanor right from the first mile, you’ll find yourself rooting them on. She’s no fan of Christmas. He is. Find out why in this fun, sweet read. And how cute is this cover?
Such an excellent novel! Stephanie Landsem places themes from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in 1930s-era Hollywood in this compelling tale of ambition, glamor that’s all on the surface, family loyalty, and forgiveness. While aspiring starlet Minerva Sinclaire is meant to be the star of the show, I was much more fascinated by the two young men, Oscar and Max, who opened themselves to considerable risk in order to protect and help her. Yes, this is kind of a meta choice for this category, since the book is about life in Hollywood in the heyday of the movie era, but I’d watch it just for the costumes, architecture, and cars! I’m hoping there will be another novel about some of these characters.
Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? 10 Ways the Gospels Can Help You Combat Teacher Burnout and Rediscover Your Passion for Teachingby Amy J. Cattapan
Written for new and veteran teachers alike, this book is the perfect read for anytime in the school year, offering Bible-based strategies teachers can use to battle discouragement, stress, and burnout. In August, I interviewed the author about this book; I asked whether feelings of burnout make you a bad teacher, what you can do to combat faculty-room cynicism, and which chapters are most beneficial to teachers feeling extra stress due to the pandemic. Traditional publishers don’t usually allow authors to title their own books, and this book’s title is the exception to that rule. I recommend it for anyone involved in education.
Ellen Gable’s newest novel, based on her own father’s experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a predator priest and her own experience of the consequences in his life, is difficult to witness. But we owe it to victims of clergy sexual abuse to listen to their stories. Listening, understanding, and awareness of warning signs are steps toward preventing such occurrences in the future.
Ellen is to be commended for her courage and honesty in bringing this story to light. Where Angels Pass is not an easy read – but it’s an important one.
In all the years I’ve been invited by authors to read their books, I don’t think I’ve ever had an offer come with a disclaimer: “maybe you won’t want to read this.” Due to the sensitive nature of this book, I understand why such a disclaimer is necessary, however. Ellen didn’t gloss over the details of the predator priest’s grooming of his young victims, nor the acts of abuse, nor the emotional fallout afterward that drove her father into mental illness, addiction, and dangerous behaviors. That disclaimer was more of a trigger warning, really.
Where Angels Pass shows another side of the clergy sexual abuse scandal that has come to light in the past two decades: the effect of abuse as felt by the families of the victims, extending into the next generation. What happened to Hank in high school affected his marriage, friendships, work … and his children, in tragic ways.
This story is clearly told not from a place of anger or revenge-seeking, but out of the author’s love for her father and for the Church. By sharing her family’s story, Ellen has taken steps not only toward her own healing from the trauma she faced, but toward helping others understand what life was like for one victim – before, during, and after the abuse.
Ellen explains why she wrote this book:
It’s my hope that the reader will be able to learn that just because a person has suffered clerical abuse (in this case, my father) does not mean his life had any less value than any other person. Did he make mistakes because of his woundedness? Of course, he did, because we’re all born with original sin and with free will.
And despite all these things that happened to him, he was really an incredible father and, I believe, made the world a better place (again, despite his nervous breakdown and alcoholism).
Most importantly, I hope the reader can understand that the Catholic Church is not an evil institution, and we should not leave the Church because of the sins of some of her members. One thing I didn’t realize until recently was how widespread the clerical abuse problem has been for many years. And while it saddened me that my father was abused, it breaks my heart that so many others suffered like my father.
Teenager Evie Gallagher is stunned when her 45-year-old father dies tragically and suddenly. Too many unanswered questions accompany Evie’s challenging journey to adulthood. When she finally discovers the reason her father led such a troubled life, shock turns to anger. She is determined to find justice for her father.
Nervous about the first day of his freshman year, 14-year-old Hank Gallagher steps inside Holy Archangels High School for the first time in September of 1954. Although the majestic Holy Archangels statues inside the school’s grand lobby present an air of protection, it is not long before Hank passes right under them and into the hands of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Confused and cornered by threats, Hank attempts to abandon his secret to the past, but a horrible wound on his heart eventually leads to a catastrophic breakdown.
Based loosely on actual events, chapters alternate between Evie and Hank to reveal a life haunted by betrayal and a revelation of true justice and hope.
More Stops on the Virtual Book Tour for Where Angels Pass:
The saints and Mary cannot answer our prayers; only God can do that. But they can, and we believe they do, hear our prayers and pray for us, acting as intercessors on our behalf with God.
Our holy helpers, the saints, are the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews who surround us, helping us “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2).
By uniting our prayers with those of Mary and the saints and learning more about their lives and their example, we can draw closer to God.
If you’ve ever found it a bit puzzling to listen to Advent readings at Mass and hear so much about the Four Last Things (death, judgment, hell, and heaven), Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP’s latest devotional is for you. Memento Mori: An Advent Companion on the Last Things is based on the daily Mass readings for Advent (the Gospel is included, and you can find the rest on the USCCB website or look up in your Bible as you go along; references are provided). Each day’s entry contains a meditation on the daily readings, inspiration from a saint, and questions for journaling and prayer. Space for journaling is not provided each day, so you’ll need a separate journal or notebook for that.
A few years ago, Sr. Theresa Aletheia began a devotional practice that used to be fairly commonplace, but is much less so in the 21st century: she put a skull on her desk. Every day, she tweeted a spiritual observation about the Last Things — observations that resulted from this practice, using the hashtag #mementomori. This turned out to be so popular on social media that Pauline Books & Media published several devotionals and journals by Sr. Theresa Aletheia. Her author bio reads, in part, “Meditating on her death daily has changed her life and led to greater union with God.”
This devotional will help you remember that in Advent, we don’t only recall the Incarnation — Christ coming into the world as a baby — but we look ahead to the coming of Christ at the end of the ages. And we anticipate in hope our own entrance into new life with Christ.
Advent would mean nothing if Jesus did not come to save us from death, humanity’s most intimidating enemy and impossible adversary. (3)
The Advent Companion is divided into four sections to correspond with the four weeks of Advent. Each section focuses on one of the Four Last Things. There is also an entry for Christmas Day and an appendix with a daily Memento Mori examination of conscience.
This Advent devotional can be used in any year, so if you find that you’re not able to focus on each day’s entry, you can save it and use it for your prayer time next year. Each day’s entry includes a beautiful full-color illustration, either by contemporary Catholic artists (who are credited in a banner next to the art with their website or social media information) or sacred art in the public domain. The art, in a variety of styles, will have wide appeal. The book’s design was done by Sr. Danielle Victoria Lussier, FSP, who also created the illustration of the skull on the cover.
If you’re not keen on the idea of keeping an actual skull on your desk, the Memento Mori: Remember Your Death and Live for Heaven daily desk calendar is the perfect alternative. Its design is simple and beautiful, with the same skull design as the Advent Companion on each day’s page. The font for the reflections is easy to read, and the presentation is very eye-catching but not at all garish. Some of the daily reflections are written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia; others come from Scripture and the wisdom of the saints.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
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Advent is a busy time for moms. Advent is a time when we can definitely give in to that temptation to be “anxious and worried about many things” — after all, we’re usually the ones who take care of all those details that make our family’s Advent and Christmas celebrations meaningful and special. That means we’re often taking on too much, and midway through Advent finding ourselves nowhere near that ideal of peaceful, intentional preparation.
It’s good, during Advent, to take a little time for ourselves and use the techniques Claire McGarry shares in Grace in Tension to acknowledge our feelings, make an effort to view the situation through God’s eyes, and take action to scale back, even in small ways, so this holy season doesn’t become an unholy frenzy.
Why I love this book:
For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens.
When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension(and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time).
When Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet while Martha chooses to serve, I think initially Jesus approves. He knows both decisions are made with the sisters’ hearts. Each sister is living out her “better part” by drawing closer to God with her choice. It’s clear that sitting and listening to all that Jesus has to say definitely brings Mary closer to God. After all, Jesus affirms her choice by calling it “the better part.” Yet choosing to serve Jesus as Martha does can bring her closer to God too. There’s a sacrifice that comes from serving and a beauty in putting others’ needs before our own. Both paths lead straight to God. Martha’s problem isn’t that she chooses to serve. It’s that she eventually compares her choice with her sister’s. (67)
It’s not highly likely that I’ll be able to change my natural Martha tendencies. Cooking for my family and our guests is a big part of how I show my love. And over the years, I am happy to report that I have mellowed, so my family doesn’t have to live with Screaming Meemie Party Mom (yes, I’ve been called that and yes, I’m 100% guilty) every time company is expected.
I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers of Grace in Tension, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me.
Advent is a time to sit at God’s feet. And it’s usually a time when we wrap gifts. This Advent, unwrap God’s gift to you: the grace within your tension and the transformation of your heart and mind.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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