On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

On My Bookshelf: Ashes, Visible and Invisible

The Catholic Teen Books authors, many of whom I have the pleasure to call my friends, have put together their fourth short-story collection. Ashes: Visible and Invisible releases January 31, 2023 on the feast of St. John Bosco, the patron saint of teenagers.

 

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Ashes contains ten short stories by Theresa Linden, Marie Keiser, Cynthia Toney, Ellen Gable, Antony Kolenc, Amanda Lauer, Carolyn Astfalk, Leslea Wahl, T.M. Gaouette, and Corinna Turner. All of them have some connection to Lent, and each story stands on its own. You can enjoy these stories in any order.

Ashes, like all the CTB story collections, is packed with well-written stories that are faithfully Catholic. The stories feature teenagers growing in faith and virtue—teenagers facing true-to-life situations, teenagers dealing with moral dilemmas, teenagers seeking to know the right thing to do. Settings for the stories vary from the time of Jesus to the Middle Ages to modern times and a dystopian future. There’s something for every reader, and you might even enjoy exploring a new-to-you genre.

One of my favorite things about the CTB story collections is that many of the stories are connected to these authors’ larger-format work. The characters you meet in these collections might be minor characters from a novel, or a story might include a bonus scene that picks up where a novel leaves off. These stories are a great way to get to know a particular author’s work, and after each story you’ll find a note from the author explaining where you can read more about that character.

 

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Take a peek into the stories you’ll read in Ashes:

  • When Liz’s faith journey hits a roadblock, will an unexpected detour and chance encounter set her back on track?
  • A teen’s future was all set—before his tragic loss. But his friend’s secret past just might save it.
  • Justin’s religion is outlawed. When an unbeliever asks him about the meaning of life, what can he say?
  • Could God be asking Paul to sacrifice a piece of himself for Lent—literally?
  • A modern American teen discovers what faith, life and love are like in seventeenth-century Scotland.
  • Teenager Lexie Dugan struggles to understand the sacrifice of Lent when she’s asked to help take care of her siblings while her pregnant mother is on bed rest.
  • Asher’s desire to prepare for the Messiah intensifies after he’s robbed by bandits but would fighting alongside the Zealots be the best way?
  • When a risky Ash Wednesday mission to sterilize T. rex eggs goes wrong, fasting is the least of Joshua, Darryl, and Harry’s worries.
  • A medieval girl stranded on a forsaken path confronts threats from without and turmoil from within.
  • Struggling with loss, hunger, and temptation, Ethan finds himself walking in the steps of Jesus.

Visit CatholicTeenBooks.com to learn more about the authors behind this story collection and the mission of Catholic Teen Books.

 

 

Catholic Teen Books is offering a fun prize pack in conjunction with this giveaway! Enter today to win a copy of Ashes, Lenten socks, a handmade rosary, devotional for teens, and more! This giveaway ends on release day, January 31.

 

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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: courtesy of CatholicTeenBooks.com

A copy of this book was provided to me for the purposes of this article.

This article contains Amazon affiliate links, which provide a small compensation to the author of this piece when purchases are made through the links, at no cost to you. Thank you for your support. 

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

On My Bookshelf: Summer at West Castle

Theresa Linden deftly bridges the gap between her West Brothers series for young adults and the new-adult Anyone But Him with this novel that details the summer Caitlyn spends working in the Wests’ castle, while Jarrett, her friend Roland’s older brother who had yet to redeem his reputation as a ladies’ man, ponders God’s plan for his life. Caitlyn had looked forward to spending the summer as a kind of working retreat, but Jarrett’s presence challenges and upsets her.

Summer at West Castle is a fascinating story of two young people seeking to figure out God’s will in their lives.

 

 

Summary:

College student Caitlyn Summer arrives at the Wests’ castle-like house to fill in for their live-in maid. After a recent decision blows her vision of the future, this ideal job and the peaceful surroundings are just what she needs to seek God’s will for her life. That is, until Jarret West, not wanting a repeat of past mistakes, backs out of a summer-long field study overseas and returns home. The two have never gotten along, and unforgettable baggage from the past makes it hard even to be cordial. While Jarret’s faults convince Caitlyn he hasn’t changed, she forces herself to offer kindness. Her act of mercy puts them on an unexpected path where Caitlyn is challenged to look beneath the surface and Jarret struggles to trust that God wills good for him. (Note: to avoid spoilers, read this story only after reading Anyone but Him.)

 

Looking back on the West Brothers series as a whole, seeking and following God’s will is the overarching theme of all the books. There are definitely moments where Theology of the Body takes center stage, particularly in Book 2: Life-Changing Love, but discernment is top of mind for the teens in these stories, as it is for every teen: What will I do with my life? Where will I go to college—or will I? Am I in love, and is this person the one I will spend my life with?

I’ve enjoyed watching Caitlyn, Roland, Jarrett, Peter, Keefe, and the other characters in the West Brothers series grow as the stories progress, and I’ll admit I’ll be sad when Theresa announces that the series is complete.

 

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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Amazon affiliate links are included; your purchase through these links supports the author.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the author for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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7 Quick Takes: Un-Christmas-ing Edition

Today in the USA we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. With that, the Christmas season comes to an end.

(One) It’s time … to take down the Christmas tree.

This is me, with a big case of the “I don’t wannas.” I put the tree up, strung all the lights, and decorated it all by myself this year. (Normally I do the lights, because nobody else in the house is willing to bother with a Christmas-light total that has a comma in the number, and the kids decorate. Empty-nest problems.)

I’m back at work, but my husband is still using his banked “use or lose” vacation time and my college student has another week of winter break. I think this task needs to be delegated this year.

 

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(Two) And put it in the body bag.

The bag for this Christmas tree is 5 feet tall, and so wide it barely fits through the exterior doors of the house. We keep our tree in the shed. This year I’m going to be smart about it. It’s easier to carry the 5 pieces of the tree down the stairs, out the back door, and through the porch to the backyard and THEN put them in the body bag than it is to bag everything up in the living room and wrestle it outside without damaging anything.

 

(Three) On the up side, I’ll get my living room back.

As a creature of habit, it does drive me crazy that I have to move my Reading Chair every year to make room for the Christmas tree. I look forward to putting that chair back by the window, with its lamp nearby, the way it belongs.

 

(Four) My reputation precedes me.

Overheard after Mass yesterday, when the usher came over to hand bulletins to the musicians:

Singer: Oh, Mass tomorrow is for my mom, but I can’t be there because I have an appointment.

Music director: Barb will be there! She’ll pray for your mom!

Join me in praying for the repose of the soul for Mrs. B, would you?

 

(Five) Regarding Mass intentions

Do you pay attention to the list of Mass intentions in your parish bulletin? It’s not just there for the people who go to daily Mass. You can pray for the repose of those souls whether you attend daily Mass or not. Consider adding that prayer after a meal, just like we used to do after lunch in the Catholic grade school I attended:

We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, Almighty God, who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

 

(Six) Tonight, swap out the breviary!

Don’t forget to move the holy cards! If you pray the Liturgy of the Hours using the 4-volume breviary, tonight after Evening Prayer you’ll need to bring out the Ordinary Time I volume and put away Advent/Christmas.

My husband likes Ordinary Time I because it means summer is coming. I’m not ready to think that far ahead (after 7 weeks we’re switching again, into the Lent/Easter volume) but his particular liturgical year revolves around the opening of the pool, conveniently timed right around Holy Saturday if it doesn’t rain that day.

 

(Seven) Book News

There’s a great sale right now on The Handy Little Guide to Prayer: it’s more than 50% off on Amazon right now! There’s no better time to order a copy for yourself or your friends.

 

 

If you’ve read this Handy Little Guide, would you kindly do me a favor and leave an Amazon review? One sentence is plenty; those reviews help other Amazon customers who are thinking about what book to purchase AND they help get the book in front of other readers in Amazon’s recommendations section. Thanks!

In other book news, my next book comes out in less than three months! You can preorder The Handy Little Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours now (and if the price drops before the release date, you’ll get it at the lower price). Did take 6 leave you puzzled? This new book will explain it all.

 

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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
Amazon links included; I make a small profit when you use these affiliate links, at no additional cost to you.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: Self-Improvement Edition

#OpenBook: (Month, Year) Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Since it’s January, “new year new you” and all of that, I thought I’d focus on some self-improvement books that have come my way recently.

I read these differently than I read fiction, dipping into and out of them and flipping around, rather than diving in (as I do with a novel) and not coming up for air until I’ve finished.

A different kind of planner

nullI was offered a review copy of The Saintmaker Catholic Life Planner, and I’m always willing to try out a new planner. This is different from any planner I’ve used before. First of all, it’s a quarterly book (and it’s as big as a full-year week-at-a-time planner already). It has daily, weekly, and monthly planning sections as well as goal-setting sections, a generous notebook section (that’s my “bullet journal” for various lists, monthly meal planning, things like that. There are three ribbons to help save my place in the different sections of the planner as well as three virtue tracker bookmarks, one for each month the planner covers.

There’s a lot in here, as you can see from this photo of the 2-page daily spread. I have not used all of this in the course of a day, but as the week has gone on, I’ve tried these various sections—appointments, to-do list, notes are my big three, and there are also gratitudes, daily cross, devotions, meditation journal, and examination of conscience. Slowly I’m figuring out what works for me. Even with all the structure this planner has, there’s room for flexibility and customization, which I appreciate!

Bonus features include weekly examination of conscience worksheets, discernment journal, prayer intention list, Catholic themes for day, week, and month, and novena starter guide. I’ll be sharing more about The Saintmaker planner on my social media as the quarter goes on.

You can save 10% on The Saintmaker planner with affiliate code FRANCISCANMOM.

 

Habits of Freedom

nullI am not very familiar with Ignatian spirituality, but I have heard it said (more than once) that the saint was very practical-minded, and I am all about that! Habits of Freedom: 5 Ignatian Tools for Clearing Your Mind and Resting Daily with the Lord by Christopher S. Collins, SJ (Ave Maria Press) is an excellent book for a new beginning.

Discerning how to proceed with life—not just with big decisions, but with more immediate habits of daily living—is crucial if we want to stay on track. To be happy. To be free. To be free enough to love and to live fully. (ix)

Each chapter ends with Exercises to Cultivate Habits of Freedom. These are great journal prompts. And at the back of the book, there’s a small-group discussion guide that makes me wish I were part of a small group reading this book.

My friend Deanna Bartalini has been dedicating episodes of her Not Lukewarm Podcast to a chapter-by-chapter discussion of this book, and I’ve enjoyed hearing a second perspective on what I’d already read on my own. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

 

Ignatius on Forgiveness

nullIt’s pretty curious that two Ignatian books have landed in front of me at the same time, but sometimes that’s how things happen, and that often means God’s trying to tell me something. The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness: 10 Steps to Healing by Marina Berzins McCoy (Loyola Press) is an excellent guide to letting go of the paint that keeps us from moving forward with forgiveness, and with our lives.

The author walks you through stories from Scripture, Ignatian teaching, and real-life stories in each chapter, concluding the chapters with prayers and (often) practical ways to apply the principles described in each chapter.

I’m still reading this one, bit by bit in the Adoration chapel. This is definitely a book that lends itself to this approach.

 

Too Busy? Read this one!

nullI moved The Busy Person’s Guide to an Extraordinary Life by Deacon Greg Kandra (The Word Among Us Press) to the top of my “to be read” pile when I realized I’d purchased it more than a year ago and never gotten around to reading it. There’s no excuse! I’ve been a longtime fan of Deacon Greg’s work because his writing is clear, precise, simple, and accessible. There’s nothing complicated here; Deacon Greg is a terrific writer and inspiring storyteller.

Chapters are brief and can be read in any order. They include a meditation, which sometimes comes with an anecdote or three; “Consider This” with long quotes to ponder; “Try This” with a challenge; and “Pray This.”

 

This Bible Is Much More than a Pretty Face

nullThe brand-new Living the Word Catholic Women’s Bible from Ave Maria Press is undoubtedly beautiful, inside and out. I don’t know who did the book design for this, but the design team outdid themselves on this one.

I think it’s good to have a beautiful Bible. First of all, beauty invites you to look inside, and the first step to reading the Bible is opening the Bible. There are lovely touches throughout, from colorful headings to invitations to further reflection to the “Women of the Word” and “Living in the Light of Faith” and several other series of reflective essays sprinkled throughout the book. These essays, along with the boxes labeled “Take It to Heart” and the ruled journaling space on nearly ever page, offer opportunities to personalize this Bible by frequent reading, reflection, prayer, and writing. If you want to read the Bible more this year, this is the Bible for you. (Review copy received from publisher)

 

Visit the January #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!


Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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7 Quick Takes: End-of-Year FOMO Edition

I know, I know, 7 Quick Takes isn’t a thing anymore. But Rita over at Catholic Review keeps up with it, and I thought it would be a good way to try to stay active in this space for more than just book reviews. So away we go! This week, among other things, we’re talking about why I probably should be avoiding social media right now.

 

One: I’m exasperated with the Pope Benedict coverage.

Yes, I want to keep up with the story as much as any other Catholic. But yesterday (and the news only came out yesterday that he was likely in his last days) there were already articles popping up about his legacy. Could we maybe wait to break stories with a legacy angle until after he’s actually dead?

(For the record, I’m fine with tweets urging people to pray for him and others who are dying. It’s always good to remind people to pray for the dying. And I’m even OK with seeing people reminisce about Benedict’s impact on their spiritual lives. But please … don’t frame it as a legacy while he’s still alive.)

Two: I’m generally grumpy.

It’s a bad idea to go on social media when you’re grumpy. You’ll only wind up feeling worse. Even though I’ve worked hard to curate my Instagram feed to avoid the Manufactured Perfection™ crowd, that kind of thing creeps in sometimes. And tempting as it may be, it’s not nice to subtweet.

 

Three: FOMO caused by everyone’s “Word of the Year” and “Saint of the Year” posts on All The Socials.

Picking a Saint of the Year is an excellent spiritual practice. So excellent, in fact, that Franciscans have been doing so for years, in a ritual known as “Extraction of Saints” that takes place around Epiphany.

In my Secular Franciscan fraternity, we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us, and then a patron saint for the year, a virtue, and a maxim (usually from the writings of St. Francis of Assisi) are chosen for each member, along with the name of another member who’s your Prayer Partner for the year. This means YOU are interceding for THEM in prayer (the term’s a little vague, but that’s the intent). My fraternity, though, doesn’t meet until the end of the month, so I’ll have to wait until January 28 to find out my saint and virtue for the year.

So I’ll get a saint for the year, but it’ll be a while yet.

 

Four: What about last year’s Saint of the Year?

This is the second time I’ve had St. Angela of Foligno as my patron saint. Clearly I hadn’t learned enough the first time around, and I don’t think I’ve done better this year. We’re supposed to spend some time studying about our saint, learning about their lives. I know that St. Angela had a radical conversion experience and was a mystic and poet. Being the practical sort, I tend not to even try relating to a saint who was a mystic and poet.

 

Five: What’s for dinner?

Tonight we had Barbecue Chicken Shepherd’s Pie. I had some leftover potato filling from last week’s pierogi, and I didn’t want to waste it. Probably wouldn’t have had leftover pierogi filling, but the children insisted that we try filling some pierogi with buffalo chicken dip. (I didn’t try those.)

Anyway, the shepherd’s pie with the pierogi potatoes? Highly recommend.

 

Six: What’s the plan?

I’m road-testing a new-to-me planner this New Year: the Saintmaker planner. It’s got a LOT going on, and I think I’ll be easing into it, but I spent some time today working through some goals in the extensive goal-setting section right up in the front of the book—and that was definitely a useful practice. This planner is a combination spiritual journal/planner, and I’m excited to try it out, since it’s completely different from other planners I’ve used before.

You can use code FRANCISCANMOM to save 10% off your planner, and expect some peeks inside on Instagram in the near future.

 

Seven: What am I looking forward to?

Tomorrow, Notre Dame plays in the Gator Bowl. I’m ready! My daughter gave me ND pajamas, and I don’t care that the game starts at 3:30 PM: I’m wearing them. I’ll also have my Joe Montana jersey, ND socks, and leprechaun sneakers to complete the Obnoxious Fan look. Still need to think up a good meatless game-day dinner (something quick that I can whip up during halftime). But at the moment, I’m not motivated (see also: take 2).

 

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You can tell this is a stock photo and not really me, because nail polish doesn’t happen around here.

 

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Stencil
This post contains affiliate links.

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Still shopping? Grab these for Christmas stockings!

Are you still shopping for Christmas gifts? Me too! I’m starting to tense up, just thinking about everything I still need to get done. And I still need some ideas! But today I have an idea for you, if you’re shopping for small children (and maybe not-so-small children): the new plush figures from Little Drops of WaterThey fit perfectly at the top of a Christmas stocking—I tested it myself!

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That’s Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Francis of Assisi peeking out of two of my kids’ Christmas stockings. Aren’t they adorable?

There are no choking hazards on these plush toys; the little birds on St. Francis’ shoulders are embroidered on, as are the golden roses and the Rosary on Our Lady of Lourdes. Our Lady’s veil is sewed at the top, but it does move around (and might wind up being used as a “lovey” by a toddler; how sweet would that be?). These plushies are about 8 inches tall and as soft as can be, just right for cuddling by your little one.

Besides the St. Francis and Our Lady of Lourdes designs shown here, you can also find St. Rita, Padre Pio, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Anthony, and Pope Francis. They’re calling these #CutestCatholicPlushEVER and I’m inclined to agree.

 

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I’ve written before about the saint figurines and Nativity set from Little Drops of Water, and I’ve since learned that I’m not the only grownup who collects these little sturdy and unbreakable statues.

Little Drops of Water now ships from Chicago, so they’ll reach customers within the USA pretty quickly.

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

These product samples were sent by the manufacturer for my honest review.

books on a bookshelf

#AnOpenBook: December 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Christmas Books

I don’t wait until Christmas to read Christmas novels. I don’t even wait until Advent. Bring on all the Christmas stories!

Christmas Town Bake-Off, a novella collection with 7 connected stories by different authors. It’s pretty impressive that not only did the authors connect the stories, they continued a narrative begun in the first one so that the reader sees the whole bake-off going from beginning to end as the stories progress. To find out who wins the contest, you need to read all the stories.

 

Merry Ex-Mas by Courtney Walsh. Marin, angling for her own morning show, arrives unnanounced at her parents’ home (which she hasn’t visited in several years) to film a series about her mother’s Christmas traditions—only to find that they’re hosting her ex-boyfriend, who’s staying in her old bedroom. Max agrees to a fake relationship to boost ratings and social-media stats, and it quickly becomes clear that he’ll do just about anything for her and that she’s oblivious to her own feelings for him.

 

One Imperfect Christmas by Myra Johnson. This is not your standard Hallmark-movie Christmas novel. It’s the story of a family in crisis: Natalie, the mom, feels guilt about the injury that landed her mother in a nursing home—even though it wasn’t actually her fault. She has allowed this guilt to paralyze her emotionally, affecting her relationship with her husband and their teenage daughter. Unable to pull it together to celebrate the holiday with her family, Natalie throws herself into her work as a graphic designer, even as she suspects that someone is sabotaging her work in a fledgling small business.

YA/Children’s

A Bellwether Christmas by Laurel Guillen. This novel based on true events takes place in and near Greccio, Italy. Franciscans know this place as the birthplace of the Nativity scene! St. Francis of Assisi organized a living Nativity as a way to teach the people of Greccio about the birth of Christ. In this novel for middle-grade readers (grades 4 and up), a smart and curious lamb named Bart sets some events into motion that allow him to meet St. Francis, participate in the Nativity, and bring about a sweet reunion. Recommended for independent readers or classroom read-alouds. This book has terrific woodcut-style illustrations to go with the story, and Bart is quite the unforgettable character! (review copy received from publisher)

 

The Merchant’s Curse by Antony Barone Kolenc (Harwood Mysteries Book 4) continues Kolenc’s series for middle-grade and teen readers with an extra dose of suspense. As Xan and his companions progress through their teen years, the challenges they face—both in their faith and in their struggle to protect themselves and those they love from the very real threats they experience—have ever-higher stakes. In this story, Xan’s uncle William, who has provided him with both meaningful work and shelter, comes under threat when his business partner becomes deathly ill. His partner’s nephew, Nigel, blames the illness on a curse from a woman reputed to be a witch, but evil also seems to be lurking around William’s shop in the form of a group of thugs, and Nigel furthers the danger by befriending an enemy of the king. While you don’t have to read this series in order, I recommend that you do. Check out my reviews of Shadow in the Dark, The Haunted Cathedral, and The Fire of Eden(review copy received from publisher)

 

Into the Spotlight by Leslea Wahl is a re-release of the author’s YA novel, originally titled An Unexpected Role. This story gets to the heart of a character who just can’t fit in! This story is about a high-school theatre geek who doesn’t fit in with the cool kids and who’s been the target of some in-person pranks and cyberbullying. Seeking a fresh start, she spends the summer with her aunt, only to keep running into one of the cool kids from home. Josie and Ryan get wrapped up in trying to solve a rash of local robberies. Great characters, painfully real situations, mystery and even a love interest—with some wisdom on the side. Well done! (Netgalley)

 

Nonfiction

One Church: How to Rekindle Trust, Negotiate Difference, and Rekindle Catholic Unity by Charlie Camosy is an important read, but not an easy one. It’s not that the writing style or subject matter is particularly complex or scholarly, but rather that the material hits home in a way that’s sometimes uncomfortable. Dr. Camosy examines a number of stereotypes in Church life (the boomer, the millennial trad, the “Christmas & Easter Catholic,” and others). After describing the “thin caricature” he goes on to deepen the discussion by examining what is in the heart of the person fitting the stereotype, what gifts and truths are proclaimed, and opportunities for unity in diversity. The author plays no favorites throughout the book, but treats each of the represented groups fairly, with continued reminders that everyone brings something important to the Church as a whole, and that stereotypes rob people of their dignity. A must-read for anyone who serves the Church, in particular. (Netgalley)

 

America’s Mary: The Story of Our Lady of Good Help by Marge Steinhage Fenelon. This book tells the story of Our Lady of Good Help, the only Church-approved Marian apparition in the USA. It’s fascinating, especially the Franciscan connections I’m seeing throughout—the visionary, Adele Brise, was a Secular Franciscan! I learned so much from this beautiful new book.

 

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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Sacramental Stories

Recently I read the new book by Allison Gingras, Encountering Signs of Faith: My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God. Interspersed with stories of Allison’s own spiritual journey as she and her husband adopted a profoundly deaf young child from China is “sneaky evangelism” about grace and the ways it’s shown to us—and the ways we hold our faith in our hearts. Allison had to make the faith visible and tangible to her daughter, but the Church made that easy for her through its traditions of sacred art and sacramentals.

 

This book contains not only a fascinating testimony but also an invitation to make your faith personal, by incorporating meaningful devotions, developing relationships with saints, and learning to see God’s grace and providence in every aspect of your life.

 

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As I read Encountering Signs of Faith, I was reminded of the many sacramentals with which I’m surrounded every day. I’ve had this little prayer card of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in my kitchen window for at least fifteen. My grandmother kept a larger version of the same image in her kitchen, and having this image in my kitchen not only helps me recall my grandmother, but reminds me to look to the Blessed Mother as an example of my motherly vocation.

While I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I do have her statue of the Infant of Prague. That’s another treasure from her house that is now in my office, behind my desk, watching over me (and my work) every day. I remember from my childhood that my grandmother would keep blessed candles in front of the statue, and if a bad storm came, she would light those candles and pray there. I don’t know the story behind that devotion, or whether it’s something she did on her own, but that was her custom.

 

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This little grouping of crosses hangs near the Infant in my office. I have several San Damiano crosses around the house; as a Secular Franciscan, those are precious to me. There’s so much going on in that icon! I purchased the tin Sacred Heart cross at the Catholic Marketing Network trade show one year, and my daughter gave me the milagros cross, which she purchased at the Shrine of Saint John Neumann in Philadelphia.

 

 

In my office window, you’ll find this tiny Nativity scene, figurines of various saints (those move around; some are on my desk as prayer reminders, and others are near the window), my jar of rosaries and chaplets—which would be full if I collected the ones in my handbag and on various tables around the house—and a big bottle of holy water.

 

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My sacramentals might be a little dusty, but they’re reminders of what I believe in and what I’m here to do each day. To me, they’re simple treasures.

Ask for Encountering Signs of Faith at your local Catholic bookseller, or order it from Amazon.com or the publisher, Ave Maria Press.

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Your purchases made through the Amazon affiliate links in this post support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

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New Season, New Devotionals

‘Tis the season to think about a new devotional. Whether you prefer a daily or weekly format, you’ll find something to love about these five new prayer resources. The first three are weekly devotionals; the final pair offer daily reflections.

One Sunday at a Time by Mark Hart

I’ve had this book for weeks and have been impatiently waiting to really begin reading it—because it’s designed to help prepare for Sunday Mass! One Sunday at a Time: Preparing Your Heart for Weekly Mass by Mark Hart is a companion to the Cycle A readings that begin in Advent (November 27 this year), from Ave Maria Press. This is a companion to Cycle A (2023, 2026) so I’m hoping we can expect similar volumes for Cycles B and C.

You’ll want to have the readings available when you use this book (or a Bible where you can look them up). After an opening prayer, you’ll get a look at the message in these readings—and some behind-the-scenes info, always fascinating to me—and then there are some journal questions and a challenge for the week. You can even use the journal questions as conversation starters! This book will help you dig deeper into the meaning of each Sunday’s Mass readings and apply them to your life.

As a musician in my parish, I admit that I need to be focused on the next cue, to be ready to start hymns and acclamations at just the right moment. This means I’m not paying attention to what I’d really like to pay attention to. I look forward to using this book this year, outside of Mass, to help fill in what I’ve missed.

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Loving God, Loving Others from Blessed Is She

Of the five devotionals listed here, this one wins the prize for Most Likely To Be Given as a Gift. Loving God, Loving Others: 52 Devotions to Create Connections That Last is a beautiful book that would make a lovely gift for a friend, mother, or sister. This multi-author volume is set up in a fascinating way: each of the six authors has written a particular section of the book, each exploring the different types of relationships we experience throughout our lives and sharing from her heart about her own path of growth within that particular type of relationship.

Authors Beth Davis, Megan Hjelmstad, Nell O’Leary, Bonnie Engstrom, Sarah Erickson, and Emily Stimpson Chapman offer three-page-per-week meditations, followed by a brief recommended Gospel reading and two questions for prayer and journaling. A brief discussion opens each section, and reflections are interspersed with simply illustrated pull quotes. The book is printed on lush, thick paper and includes illustrated end papers, a white ribbon bookmark, and a dedication page.

Loving God, Loving Others is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year, so you (or your friend) can begin praying with this book at any time.

 

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel by Pope Francis

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel: How to More Fully Live Out Your Relationship with God by Pope Francis (Image Books) is a compilation of homilies or talks given by the Pope at the Angelus prayers over the years and readings from the Church Fathers. Each weekly entry begins with an excerpt from that Sunday’s Gospel, but not the full Gospel, so you’ll want to have a Bible or missal nearby.

The homilies are brief, running about 3 pages each, with an additional page or so for the reading from the Church Fathers. The Introduction by Pope Francis is excellent, accessible catechesis about paying attention at Mass, teaching our children, and “encountering the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord”—and what the homily is there for in the first place.

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel is for the Cycle A readings only, though I had to go hunting to verify that information. The back of the book provides dates for each Sunday in the next 3 incidences of Cycle A (2023, 2026, 2029) and a table of sources for both the Pope’s and the Church Fathers’ selections.

 

What Matters Most and Why by Jim Manney

For anyone interested in Ignatian spirituality, Jim Manney’s What Matters Most and Why: Living the Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola offers 365 daily reflections inspired by Ignatian wisdom. Each daily entry begins with a quote, mostly from Jesuits throughout history but from other sources as well, including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous, and occasionally Scripture. Following that is a brief two-paragraph reflection on this quote.

Jesuit spirituality ultimately invites us to a way of living and leading characterized by heroism, self-awareness, love, and ingenuity. (Chris Lowrey in the Foreword)

The entries in What Matters Most and Why follow monthly themes, including Awareness, God, Love, Freedom, Work, Desire, Humility, Compassion and Trust, Choosing Well, Relationships, Practical Truths, and Becoming the Person You Are Meant to Be. This daily devotional is a good way to dip your toe into this powerful spiritual way of life.

 

 

A Year in the Word by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

If your goal is to read the Bible in a year but podcasts aren’t your thing, Meg Hunter-Kilmer has your answer with A Year in the Word Catholic Bible Journal from Our Sunday Visitor. You’ll need your Bible handy as you use this journal. A one-year reading plan is the first thing you’ll find as you open this book, with a checkbox next to each day’s reading, so if you miss a day (or more than a day) it’s easy to pick right up where you left off.

You can start using A Year in the Word whenever you want, as the reading plan is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year. In the Introduction, the author explains that her reading plan (which includes a psalm or part of one, a section from the Gospels, and chapters from either the Old or New Testament each day) is not a chronological approach but one that mixes the “harder books” with easier ones (her words) to keep you moving along and motivated to do so. By using this reading plan, you’ll actually work through each of the four Gospels twice.

This hardbound journal, with its sage-green cover, thick cream-colored pages, and simple design, will appeal to men and women alike. Wide lined spaces at the bottom of each brief daily reflection invite you to record your thoughts, and a timeline at the end traces the writing of the books of the Bible and the major events in salvation history.

 

 

 

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Images: Canva

New Advent Resources for All Ages

‘Tis the season when you can find books and booklets designed for Advent devotion and meditation. If you haven’t done so yet, check a couple of items off that to-do list: purchase your Advent candles and decide on an Advent prayer practice for yourself or your family. Try one of these resources:

For the Whole Family

5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath by Lisa M. Hendey. This booklet is filled with Scripture-based, simple prayers for the Advent season, plus questions to ponder for each day as you prepare to welcome the newborn Christ. These Advent prayers are appropriate for individuals as well as families, classrooms, and small faith sharing groups. Available in paperback or Kindle format. Read my full review. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullThe Adverbs of Advent: Daily Devotions for Children and their Families by David Mead. This devotional covers the story of salvation history, from Creation through the story of the Adoration of the Magi, with hints at what is to come for the Child born in the manger. Each day, one adverb is chosen as the focal point. A brief Scripture passage, short meditation, and prayer comprise the daily entries. Best for families with children in primary grades. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

nullLight Shines in the Darkness: Family Devotions for Advent by Karla Manternach. Some of the activities in this booklet require a printable coloring sheet. There’s a QR code inside the front cover to download and print the page. Family members can take turns coloring the sheet, or each person can use his or her own. Along with daily Scripture verses and a brief reflection and one-line prayer, this booklet offers a call to action based on each day’s reflection. Best for families with children in elementary and middle school. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

For the Kids

nullCome! Lord Jesus: A Coloring Book of Advent Devotions, illustrated by Brian King. Independent readers will enjoy this coloring book with two daily entries on one side of a spread and a picture to color on the other. Each entry includes a Scripture verse, short meditation, and prayer. Appropriate for children ages 5 and up. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

For Teens and Young Adults

nullIt’s About Time! Daily Thoughts for Our Advent Wait is a devotional focused, very gently, on the virtue of patient waiting. It’s not a heavy read, and the writing is in a very informal tone. Bible verses are referenced but not included in the text, so readers will need to bring their own. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

 

 

For Adults

nullMessages of Light for Advent and Christmas 2022: 3-Minute Devotions by Michael White and Tom Corcoran is an uncomplicated daily devotional in a conveniently-sized format. Monday through Friday, entries begin with Scripture passages and end with a call to action, and weekend devotions are structured differently. Saturday’s reflections are the Responsorial Psalm from daily Mass, and Sunday offers a devotion and call to action but no Scripture. Available in paperback or Kindle format. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullWelcoming the Christ Child with Padre Pio: Daily Reflections for Advent by Susan De Bartoli offers longer reflections for those able to devote more time to daily spiritual reading during this season. Because this book is undated and can be used in any year, there may be more reflections than you need—but in 2022, with Christmas on a Sunday, you’ll need them all! Franciscan spirituality is incarnational, so this book’s focus on Padre Pio’s love of Advent and “hope that he would one day be with Jesus and Mary in Paradise” (1) fits right in with that. Bonus content includes a brief outline of important events in Padre Pio’s life. Available in paperback or Kindle format. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullMy Daily Visitor: Advent 2022 by Fr. Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP, focuses on the hope of the season. Each single-page daily entry in this small booklet begins with a Scripture citation (bring your own Bible!), then includes a brief reflection, prayer, and call to action. At the beginning of each week of the season, a longer reflection sets the tone for the week ahead. This booklet offers daily entries through January 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (the last day of the Christmas season). Daily video messages based on the reflections in this booklet are available free at MyDailyVisitor.com, and a free newsletter is also available. (Our Sunday Visitor)

 

Behold: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT continues Sr. Miriam James’ ongoing Lent-and-Advent series of journals. As are the others in the series, this is a beautiful book, with weekly art by Josiah Henley and plenty of room for personal journaling. This undated book can be used in any year. The themed Advent journal focuses on the journey of the Holy Family: Mary as healer, Joseph as protector, the Child Jesus, and the Holy Family. Each day’s entries include a Scripture quote, one-page meditation, two journaling pages (with a writing prompt for each day) and closing prayer. Visit AveMariaPress.com/Behold each Sunday in Advent for free companion videos. Available in paperback or Kindle format, but I don’t recommend the ebook format as this is a journal, meant to be written in. (Ave Maria Press)

 

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
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